Although the UK’s fire and rescue services are not obligated to rescue a cat stuck up a tree or a horse stuck in an overturned trailer, the skills and resources of their firefighting teams lead to the assumption that they are the best people for the job – but while they are excellent at what they do, there is a high probability that many team members will have little or no handling experience with horses.
So, once the fire service has arrived with ropes, angle grinders and all manner of other equipment, who then is the next port of call? An experienced horse handler who, if required, has access to sedation.
In short: a vet.
The need for both parties to cooperate has led to the availability of animal rescue training to members of both professions – and, this week, my year group took part in the first part of our practical large animal rescue training, which will be further developed next year.
Glasgow is the only UK vet school that houses it’s own life-size, weight appropriate horse dummy. Its joints all move in the anatomically correct direction to keep things realistic, and while “Lucky” might not be thrashing around, startled by noises and sudden movements, he is still a useful aid to emergency and rescue training.
We were shown various techniques for manoeuvring a recumbent horse – including flipping it over if necessary – before forming a team in order to navigate an “assault course”, which allowed us to put these methods into practice while trying to avoid getting kicked, bitten or head butted.
Teamwork and planning was essential, with some students taking on particular roles such as safety officer, incident commander and vet.
We also discussed the involvement of the horse owner, whose presence could be either advantageous or detrimental to the situation. For example, while their presence could be calming to the trapped animal, an (understandably) hysterical owner may well add unnecessary stress for the horse and escalate the problem.
These situations highlight the value of people skills, including the ability to quickly evaluate the “usefulness” of an owner and decide whether it is better to remove them from the scene or keep them close at hand.
Another consideration is cost: if you, as a vet, are called out to a rescue scenario, who will pay you?
While we are not the money-grabbing fiends the public often takes us for, this is a perfectly legitimate question; a rescue is considerably time-consuming for everyone involved. With this in mind, a discussion must be had with the owner (although preferably not right in the middle of a critical life-or-death moment), which may mean bringing up the topic of euthanasia if that is the only affordable option.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the sessions, with all of us being able to appreciate the need for the training and the benefit it will have to the wider community if an emergency should arise.