Tuesday, 23 July 2024

Saving 'Soda Bay': Foster home saves neglected horse

Soda Bay, an Appaloosa/Thoroughbred gelding, at Animal Care & Control before he went to his new foster home. Photo courtesy of Animal Care & Control.


LAKEPORT – In the past few years, Lake County Animal Care & Control has had several high-profile cases where horses were malnourished and neglected so severely that it rose to the level of abuse.


Animal Care & Control Director Denise Johnson recently found her department in possession of another such horse, but while a sad story, Johnson said it looks like a happy ending could be on the horizon.


The story begins with a severely malnourished 20-year-old Appaloosa/Thoroughbred gelding whose owner surrendered him to Animal Care & Control May 24 in the hopes that they could find him a new home.


Animal Care & Control staffers dubbed the horse “Soda Bay.”


Johnson said they immediately requested a local veterinarian come out and give Soda Bay a checkup, which they hoped would determine if he had a medical reason for being as thin as he was, or if Soda Bay was the victim of animal neglect that the department would need to investigate.


Dr. Susan Cannon of Wasson Memorial Veterinary Clinic examined and evaluated Soda Bay and the evaluation findings were not good, said Johnson.


“Although the blood work showed no internal problems, he was clearly suffering from malnutrition,” Johnson added.


Next came the hard part: What to do for the horse.


The options, said Johnson, were starkly simple: try to save him, which though costly could be assisted through offered donations to cover his feed, which would help defer the “enormous” cost of rehabilitation; or put him down.


Johnson said they called Cannon and the District Attorney's Office to make the best decision for Soda Bay.


Next came serendipity.


Kelseyville resident Valarie Sullivan owns Pikes Peak Appaloosas. She happened to be delivering hay to Animal Care & Control on May 31 when she spotted him, with his ribs painfully visible under his bay hide, his hip bones jutting out at severe angles.


As any true horse lover would do, Sullivan said she stopped and visited with the horse, and then she asked about him.


She said she was told he was slated to be euthanized.


And then she went home and a had a long, sleepless night. Again, as any horse lover would do.


“I was awake all night,” she said. “I thought long and hard about it.”


The next morning Sullivan called Johnson, asking if she could foster Soda Bay.


“I'm just a softy,” said Sullivan, who has loved horses her entire life.


Sullivan offered to pay for his care, said Johnson, including following special feeding instructions which includes a diet of Equine Senior grain, alfalfa meal with molasses, and grass and alfalfa hay. She also promised to follow Cannon's veterinary recommendations to rehabilitate Soda Bay.


Five days later, on June 4, Sullivan took Soda Bay to his new home in Kelseyville.


Sullivan said she gave herself 60 days to see whether or not Soda Bay could be saved. She's seen neglected horses before, she said, but added, “This is the worst case I've ever seen.”


For the first few days, she said Soda Bay seemed very depressed. In the meantime, the farrier came out to trim his hooves and treat the abscesses in his front feet.


In recent days, Soda Bay has begun to seem more at home and is showing improvement, said Sullivan.


He's walking better after his hoof trim, he has new horse friends and the neighborhood kids are coming over to visit. After he's had a chance to put on some more weight, Sullivan said he can start going out for walks.


She said the bay gelding is “super mellow,” enjoys attention and is gentle with the children.


“He likes to be touched, groomed and petted,” she said.


And Soda Bay now has his own Myspace page, designed by Sullivan's sister-in-law, Kenna Sullivan. You can see him online at www.myspace.com/SodaBay and see his wish list, which includes everything from volunteer help to stable supplies, food and horse shampoo.


Sullivan said she has about half a dozen horses now, counting Soda Bay. Some of them have been given to her by people who no longer want them.


Because there's such a need for equine rescue, she's now working on forming a nonprofit to rescue horses, rehabilitate them and find loving families who will give them good homes. Sullivan also wants her organization to provide opportunities for horse ownership for less-privileged children.


Sullivan said it will take a long time to get Soda Bay back to good health. “I expect it to take every bit of a year to get him in some sort of reasonable shape.”


Once he's rehabilitated, Sullivan said she hopes to find him a family of his own.


What does her husband think about her bringing home another horse?


“I think my husband has given up,” she laughed. “There's an imaginary line between the house and the barn, and he never crosses it.”


Johnson said they don't know whether Soda Bay's former owner neglected him, and they're currently investigating the horse's case. She said that she'll review the case with the District Attorney's Office once the investigation is complete, which she estimated could take up to 45 days.


For those interested in making a donation to help with Soda Bay's rehabilitation costs, Dave's Hay Barn in Upper Lake has set up an account; call 275-9246 for more information.


Johnson said Animal Care & Control will be monitoring Soda Bay's rehabilitation on a weekly basis and updates of his progress will be posted on the Animal Care and Control Web site, www.co.lake.ca.us.


Updates on Soda Bay's condition and future also will be posted on www.lakeconews.com.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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