At just two and a half months old, Bob Montgomery's precious little foal named Phoos Boy experienced the most horrific ordeal only imaginable in a Hollywood battlefield scene. With part of his neck blown away from a gunshot in an unexplained act of cruelty, the determined colt was left battling for his life.
But with the heart of a fighter backed by an incredible team of talented veterinarians, the miracle colt not only survived, he prospered.
On Sunday, April 22, a beautiful brown colt from the first crop of the ill-fated Art Colony was born at Dr. Garth Henry’s Russell Equine Veterinary Service clinic in Russell, Ontario. As the colt took his first breaths and learned to stabilize his wobbly legs, owner Bob Montgomery decided to name him Phoos Boy, a perfect fit for the son of his tough race mare Miss Poole, who was fondly referred to as ‘Phoo’ around the barn.
Phoos Boy developed into a strong and healthy foal, but that strength would be tested in the first few months of his life and those friendly faces that greeted him into the world would ultimately become his saviours.
On the afternoon of Friday, July 6, Miss Poole and her frisky two-and-a-half-month-old foal arrived at trainer Rod and Patsy Zeron’s farm in Bishops Mills, Ontario, located about half an hour from Rideau Carleton Raceway. The pair was turned out in their paddock for the evening with the Zerons checking in every few hours to make sure they were adjusting well to their new surroundings.
“We dropped him off in the afternoon and we went back at four and we went back at eight and my son lives over there and he checked at 10 and all was fine,” recalled Patsy Zeron.
But sometime between late Friday night and early Saturday morning, the foal was involved in a tragic incident.
“My sister-in-law lives down the road and she was driving past our place and stopped to see the foal because she knew he was coming home and found it lying down with all this blood at its neck,” said Zeron, who was immediately called to the scene. “But he’s such a little fighter, he kept walking the field. He just kept walking and walking and the mom was right behind him keeping anything else away from him.”
Zeron and her husband contacted Russell Equine and arranged to meet the veterinarian on-call at the clinic with the mother and foal.
“I thought he was going to die,” recalled Zeron. “I don’t know how they saved him because I didn’t think he would make the trip there and my husband didn’t think he would make it through the night.”
Initially, the Zerons had thought the foal was attacked by a coyote so when he arrived off the trailer at Russell Equine, Dr. Tiffany Richards was shocked to discover that he had actually suffered a gunshot wound to the neck.
“It’s not something we do on a daily basis,” noted Dr. Richards, who has been practising veterinary medicine for more than three years. “We look at lame racehorses everyday, we don’t look at gunshot wounds in three-month-old colts. We were pretty floored.”
As Montgomery received the devastating news and made his way to the clinic, he anticipated the worst.
“When I got the call I went over to the vet clinic and I figured I’d have to put him down,” said the veteran horseman. “But I walked into the stall and he walked over to me and that was it, I said you have to give this colt every chance to live as possible and we did.”
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The bullet had entered the foal’s neck on the right side producing an entrance wound close to one inch in diameter and a gaping exit wound on the left side approximately 10 inches wide.
“When he got here he was very somnolent – very quiet – because he was in shock,” recalled Dr. Richards. “He had a massive amount of blood loss.”
Initially concerned that there may be shrapnel in the foal's neck due to the large size of the exit wound, Dr. Richards first took x-rays to determine if any of the vertebrae were damaged, which could drastically reduce his chances of survival.
“Once I realized that a) there was no shrapnel in the wound and b) that the vertebrae seemed to be all in tact and the spinal cord was not damaged then we went ahead with stabilizing him,” explained Dr. Richards. “So he was on IV fluids and we gave him some anti-inflammatories to obviously help with the pain because his head and neck were about three to four times the size it normally is. Then we put him under general anaesthetic and I just explored the wound to find out what was involved and how much damaged had been done, what tissue could be saved, what was already dying and necrotic, and what was going to be a source of infection.”
Ammunition experts identified the bullet as an open-tip rifle bullet, generally used for hunting large animals as they maximize tissue damage and blood loss upon penetration of the target. However, a police investigation was unable to identify the shooter and provide answers as to why the seemingly senseless attack occurred.
“Rod and I have gone over every circumstance possible and we can’t think of why anybody would want to do it,” said Montgomery, who had posted a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible. “We put it down to kids with a car, a case of beer and a gun.”
Dr. Richards and her colleague Dr. J.D. Adams worked together throughout the summer with their technicians to continue to treat and care for the colt. Phoos Boy remained at the clinic until mid-September in recovery. He was then taken to Rideau Carleton Raceway in order to wean him from his mother. The pair is expected to be reunited at the Zerons’ farm next week.
“Well he’s done fantastic. He’s absolutely fantastic. I didn’t think he would live at the start, but as Dr. Henry said he had a great will to live and he wasn’t going to lay down and die,” said Montgomery. “It’s a miracle. He’s 99 per cent healed up. It’s unbelievable how he progressed.”
Phoos Boy, whose treatments and boarding costs have run into the tens of thousands of dollars to date, has grown taller since being released from the clinic and his wounds have healed remarkably well.
“From a distance you can’t see the wound at all, but at the right hand side where the bullet went in there’s a dent about the size of the end of your finger and on the left hand side there’s a little hollow about the size of an egg,” explained Montgomery. “That’s all that’s left and they figure that will fill in too.”
Following the incident, Dr. Richards said Phoos Boy initially had difficulty nursing due to his injuries preventing him from turning his head and was reluctant to bottle feeding.
“I would say that he was kind of behind nutritionally for a couple of weeks until he discovered that hay and grain were also delicious and then he actually did regain his ability to nurse and kind of nursed normally after that,” she said. “I would say he was a little bit behind in his three to four month period – he didn’t really grow at that time – but he seems to have caught up pretty good since then. You wouldn’t look at him now and say that he’s an abnormally small colt by any means.”
In fact, the friendly colt that has come to adore attention with the constant handling from his recovery process may just make it to the races in the years to come.
“We’re hoping he does,” said Dr. Richards. “It’s hard to tell right now. He had a lot of muscle damage so when you look at his neck there’s kind of a concavity to it because of the scar tissue and the fact that he did lose so much muscle tissue at the time. He seems to be able to lift his head normally and turn it side to side normally, but as a competitive racehorse I’m not sure yet. We’re hoping for the best, but obviously there’s no precedent here. There’s no journal article you can look up and see what the chances are that something shot in the neck at three months old is going to make it to be a competitive athlete.”
Whether Phoos Boy makes it to the races or not, there’s no doubt the strong-willed colt will have a cheering section for life.
“I think he’s a pretty special guy,” said Dr. Richards. “I think most colts would have probably given up and he is a fighter through and through. That’s why we think maybe of all horses he’s going to make it back and maybe you’ll see him in the Sires Stakes one day. He’s in everyone’s hearts around here so we all wish him the best.”
Please be aware that there are graphic images of the wounds at this linkhttp://www.standardbredcanada.ca/news/11-10-12/miracle-colt-survives-shooting.html