Dorothy came to SAFE from Pierce County Animal Control after being seized from a neglectful situation. PCAC does a tremendous job of vetting and rehabbing the horses that come into their care before they even come to SAFE, but Dorothy came to us still in need of a significant amount of TLC, which speaks to the gravity of her initial situation. She was recovering from a bad UTI that had led to caslick’s being placed, and while she was a much healthier weight, she was still in need of calories to hit her ideal body condition. Upon intake to PCAC, Dorothy experienced a colic episode attributed to poor teeth, resulting in her being placed on a mash-only diet. Years of neglect had left her teeth unable to safely manage dry hay without the risk of choking. However, her most pressing health issue lay with her feet.

Thoroughbreds are not known for having great feet – they tend towards thin soles as a rule, and Dorothy is no exception to this. She was dealing with the fallout of some pretty horrendous abscessing upon arrival, with deep abscess tracks on both front feet that were making movement very painful. We got Dorothy outfitted in boots, and thankfully our farrier was able to come out within the week to assess her hooves and give her a trim. Her opinion, which mirrored ours, was that the condition of Dorothy’s feet was very poor – the abscess tracks had left what were essentially portals to live tissue in her hooves, signs that this would be a lengthy and difficult healing process. Her suggestion, which we took, was to cover Dorothy’s soles with the antimicrobial Artimud and keep her hooves booted 24/7. In addition, we would also try to bring Dorothy into a stall at night to help mitigate risk of her hooves being in the continual wet environment of a PNW winter. Even the best boots are not infallible.


Unfortunately, in addition to her physical issues, Dorothy suffers from extreme anxieties that complicate her experiences, such as being in a stall. It became evident from the outset that she suffers from intense stall anxiety. Despite our efforts to ease her transition into the stall at SAFE — staying nearby to prevent self-harm, providing visual access to her companions through opened windows, and offering food for distraction — Dorothy remained inconsolable. Even after ceasing her pacing and somewhat settling, she continued to display signs of extreme anxiety, including frantic mouth movements and head bobbing. Despite repeated attempts to bring her inside, Dorothy’s distress persisted. Instead of continuing on this route, we instead prioritized her comfort, resolving to address her hoof issues while allowing her to reside outdoors where she feels most at ease.


As an offshoot to her general anxiety, Dorothy is extremely herdbound. This can be a challenging issue to combat even in young, healthy horses, and seeing as Dorothy is neither of those things, we did not feel it would be fair to her to put her through a ‘divorce’ like we might do in other circumstances. Even simple alterations to her routine negatively impacted her eating habits, highlighting the delicate balance required to manage her well-being. When any change occurs it takes her several days to eat consistently again, even when coaxed with different grain varieties. It is clear that any kind of change is difficult for Dorothy to handle, even when we do our best to control the surrounding circumstances. In order to keep her comfortable, we had to place her in a location where her friend/neighbor was likely to stay put.


Despite ongoing efforts, Dorothy’s hoof issues persisted, necessitating long-term pain management strategies. In the boots, Dorothy’s feet were at least protected and given a fighting chance to heal, but even with the inches of padded support, she was still unsound. We had our vet out to evaluate Dorothy, where she observed the extent of her lameness and discomfort. She also took a look at the radiographs that Pierce County had taken of Dorothy’s front feet, which showed significant changes/remodeling of her coffin bones.


To alleviate Dorothy’s pain, our vet recommended a dosage of Bute supplemented with Tylenol. While this medication offers temporary relief, relying on a strong NSAID like Bute for an extended period can have adverse effects on her health. Despite this, we’re consoled that the medication has brought her some comfort, allowing her to walk without constant pain for the time being.


Several trim cycles have come and gone, and while Dorothy’s feet have improved, it is our farrier’s opinion that to take her out of the boots would compromise the foot we have worked so hard to heal and strengthen. To pull Dorothy out of the boots, even on soft ground, would put her at risk for a potential backslide, and it does not seem worth it to us, or fair to her, to risk that.


The harsh truth is, considering all factors, we’re compelled to question Dorothy’s quality of life. While it’s heartening to see her now, at a healthy weight, moving comfortably with the aid of medications, and acknowledging her improvement since our initial encounter (and certainly since her rescue), several challenges persist, preventing Dorothy from enjoying a full and comfortable life. While we strive to provide the best care possible for horses like Dorothy, we must also weigh the long-term implications and make decisions in their best interest.


Considering Dorothy’s myriad of health issues coupled with her anxious disposition, it became apparent that she would likely remain at SAFE indefinitely. As caretakers, it falls upon us to ensure she lives out her days with comfort and dignity. As spring approaches and environmental conditions improve, we plan to introduce Dorothy to a pasture environment, allowing her to enjoy a semblance of normalcy despite her ongoing health challenges.


Dorothy’s journey serves as a reminder of the complexities involved in rehabilitating neglected animals. While her progress has been significant, her ongoing needs highlight the importance of responsible stewardship and compassionate care.