May 4, 2010
Today I spoke with John Neill, Manager of PVC and Broken Arrow in Fallon. The topic of discussion was the currently-underway gelding of the male horses four years and younger from the 2010 Calico Gather. Recent reports have been posted on other internet sites and blogs about this situation, and, well, let’s just say they’ve not been painting a very pretty picture. So I went to “the source” to get the information I needed to answer both your questions and my own: John Neill.
Before I get started with the gelding updates, I want to share something with ya’ll. Dean Bolstad returned my phone call yesterday afternoon. Dean was not his normal, cheerful and welcoming self when I answered the phone. He was actually a little flustered. I inquired as to what was up with him. He hesitantly responded that there had been a verbal attack by an individual upon his staff and upon himself. Such was the nature of this attack that he was personally offended by its content.
Now, Dean – being the Deputy Division Chief of the Wild Horse and Burro Program in Reno, Nevada – has had to develop some pretty tough skin over the years as a result of his position. More recently, he has had to further bolster his hide as a result of the controversy surrounding the Calico Gather. So for Dean to be personally offended, it must’ve been something pretty low down. I soon learned that it was.
Name calling, mud-slinging, petty personal agendas and the ever-present quest for that 15 minutes of time in the spotlight has absolutely no place in the world of Wild Horse Advocacy. True advocates are not here doing the work we’re doing for our own personal selfish reasons. We are here for the horses, the burros, and recently I think we’ve pretty much begun to include just about anything that is wild and keeps its home on public lands. We’re here for their benefit, not ours.
I will not go into details about the who, the what, the how, or the why, but I will say this: If these are your reasons for being involved in this campaign, please find the nearest exit and proceed through it. We have no room for more problems, got enough of them as it is. Destroying relationships and trust between advocates and those in positions of power and information at BLM and WH&B does not help anything. In fact, it hurts the progress toward our ultimate goal. Bottom line here is this:
If you can’t be part of the solution, DON’T be part of the problem.
Now, on to the matter at hand…
John called back this afternoon. I had compiled a small list of questions from the ones ya’ll have sent to my inbox and had asked on TMP, and added a few of my own. These questions and their answers are below. (Further discussion and explanation will follow them. You will definitely want to see / read these.)
Q. What – if any – preparation is done prior to the procedure?
A. They are not fed 24 hours prior to the procedure to prevent gastric aspiration during the procedure, much like a person would not have food prior to having surgery.
Q. What are the drugs used during the gelding procedure?
A. Sucostrin, Ketamine, and Rompun. The Sucostrin is a neuromuscular blocking agent and paralytic. The Ketamine is an anesthetic. The Rompun is a pain medication. Once the medication has been administered, the chute is opened and the horse moves to the corral in front of the chute where the ground is soft sand. Once there, the drugs have begun to take effect and the horse will lie down.
Q. How do the horses lie down? Is it a “collapse” or is it a simple lying down like he would normally do?
A. No, there is no “collapse” as if their feet and legs just fold out from under them. It’s just like any other time they would lie down, like if they were in the pasture. They don’t just fall.
Q. Then what?
A. Doc administers a cocktail of Ketamine and Rompun for sedation and pain relief. Then he does the procedure. It usually takes anywhere from four to eight minutes. After about ten minutes, the Sucostrin has worn off and they begin to stir. Then they get up and go back to the holding pen. It’s a very simple process.
Q. Why not leave the horses inside the squeeze chute and use the tilt feature to facilitate doing the procedure there versus the horse walking out into the corral?
A. This is not a safe practice to use. There are too many risks that the horse could injure himself (his legs, head, body, etc.) while inside the chute during the “going down” and “coming back around” from the anesthesia. As well, this is not safe for Doc as he would have to climb up on top of the chute once it is tilted in order to do the procedure. In the rare case that the horse did not respond correctly to the anesthesia and /or had a reaction, Doc and any of the wranglers around could also be hurt – in addition to the horse itself – by his kicking and struggling. It’s just much safer for the horse and for the handlers to be in an open area where everyone can move around.
Q. Once they’ve been gelded, do the horses stay in the general population or do they go to the sick pens?
A. They go to a pen that has just the gelded horses in it. They don’t go back to the general population. They only go to the sick pens if they show signs of excessive swelling and/or infection or if they have injuries.
Q. How many horses have had to be removed from the other gelded horses and placed into the sick pens as a result of excessive swelling and/or infection or injuries?
A. None so far that have been text-book. They’ve all responded very well to the procedure and have all done well in their recoveries, and no injuries. We have had one horse that was a cryptorchid (testicles were not “dropped”; stored in the abdominal cavity and are surgically removed). He was placed directly into the sick pen following the procedure for closer monitoring and to prevent possible suture rupturing. He recovered well and is doing fine.
Q. What is the “normal” recovery time for them after being gelded?
A. Usually around ten days. Some of the older horses may take up to two weeks because they are older and have more blood vessels to the area. As they grow and mature, so does the reproductive vasculature in preparation for reproduction. If they need more time, we give them more time. We don’t try to push the recovery. If we did, we’d have a lot more problems with infections. We just let them hang out until they’re healed.
Q. What is the protocol for the geldings as far as pain medications following the procedure?
A. There aren’t any prescribed, as is usually the case even in domesticated horses following the same procedure. There are however prescribed daily exercise routines to prevent the horses from having possible blood clots from inactivity, and to promote circulation to the area to facilitate better healing. Each day, the geldings are moved from their pen (one pen at a time) down the alleyway to another pen. They move around, get the stiffness out of their legs and bodies, and then they go back to their original pen the same way. This takes about 30 minutes each day. We don’t push them rather we let them go at their own pace. It’s just to get them moving around.
Q. How many geldings are in each pen?
A. The max number is 80 head, but they usually aren’t at max.
Q. How many horses are gelded per day?
A. Just whatever time and weather allows for each day. There is one week left for the 2-4 year olds. Then there will be approximately 70 head of horses who will be done under the observation of Dr. Davis from HSUS and Dr. Carolyn Stull, MS, PhD, Animal Welfare Specialist from UC Davis. We’ve invited them to observe the procedure and give us their feedback.
Q. What is the reasoning behind doing the gelding procedures now versus waiting until after the judge’s ruling in the pending lawsuit?
A. All of the horses currently being gelded are under the age of four years old and are being prepared to be moved to PVC for an internet adoption this summer. Most of them have been requested by members of the general public after seeing pictures of them on the internet. These horses are in very high demand for adoption.
Q. Everyone would like to know the status of the horses commonly known as “Tomahawk”, “General”, “Lightning”, “Mouse”, “Red Man”, and the horse that has been claimed by some to be “General’s” son. Have they been gelded, and are they slated to be gelded?
A. No, none them have been gelded and none of them will be gelded. Because of the high demand for each of them, they will be placed into an internet adoption as well. It’s the only fair way to adopt them out – to require potential adopters to bid on them. There are just so many people who want to have them.
Q. And of course, there has been a lot of concern over a horse commonly known as “Legacy”. How is he faring?
A. I don’t know of which horse specifically he is because we don’t name them; we go by their numbers. Of course we know who the others are because there has been so much attention given to them. So all I can say is that there haven’t been any horses separated out due to complications (with the exception of the one cryptorchid), and that all of the gelded horses are doing fine in their recoveries.
Q. Have all of the gelding procedures been done at Broken Arrow?
A. Yes, they’ve all been done at Broken Arrow.
So! Now for an explanation of all of this info:
Sucostrin is a neuromuscular blocking agent and paralytic with anesthetic properties. It is commonly called “Sux” because of its common name, Succinylcholine chloride. It has a profound effect on the central nervous system which causes the paralyzed state of the horse. The degree of anesthesia varies with dosage and may reach the level of unconsciousness. Even at clinical dosage levels, however, the eyes remain open and certain reflexes (corneal, palpebral, laryngeal, pharyngeal, pedal and pinnel) are intact. These reflexes and responses can commonly be seen the body’s muscles as they will typically begin to fasciculate (or tremor) after administration of Sux.
These side effects are most often controlled by the administration of a supplemental drug such as Rompun or Ketamine, and in some cases – depending on what the situation calls for – both medications will be used. Such is the case with the gelding procedure currently being used at Broken Arrow.
There have been reports made across the internet and on various blogs about the use of Sucostrin in horses.
“One must, however, take into account that Sucostrin does have its shortcomings. Sucostrin is not a tranquilizer, but a muscle blocking agent—it essentially paralyzes the animal. These paralyzed animals are fully awake, aware, can feel pain, and are subject to stress.”
“With Sucostrin an overdose must always be considered a possibility, so artificial resuscitation may be necessary and has been proven effective.”
These quotes are from a document known as “Tranquilizer Use in Wildlife Damage Control” by Jerry Hoilien and David Oatesy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1981. The purpose of this document was to illustrate the problems associated with restraining wildlife by animal and wildlife control officers who needed to restrain the animals because they were posing a danger to themselves and others around them. The following is the abstract from this document:
“Acceptable handling of problem or nuisance animals has been a concern of the general public and many local, state, and federal agencies. In the past, handling of these animals involved physical restraining techniques. These techniques exposed not only the “restrainer” but the “restrainee” to potential physical damage. Equipment utilizing Sucostrin as the immobilizing agent was developed to minimize these hazards.”
The only mention of horses in this entire document is the following in reason number 7:
“The immobilizer selected was Sucostrin (Succinylcholine chloride). Sucostrin was selected for several reasons:
- Relatively safe for human handling, especially at the levels used for immobilizing wildlife
- Commercial availability in various strengths
- Fast acting
- Only small amount needed
- Good shelf life
- Its veterinary success on horses.
There is no illustration or mention of the drug being used on a horse and therefore the data it contains does not pertain to administration specifically to horses and their physiology, which is quite different than some of the species listed in the data. Additionally, much greater research and understanding has been gained regarding the pharmacokinetics (how it works in the body) of medications since 1981.
Also used during the procedure is the drug Rompun. Rompun (Xylazine) is an alpha-2 receptor agonist which acts as a sedative, analgesic, anesthetic, a central muscle relaxant and for post-operative pain relief. When given intramuscularly (IM) as it is during the gelding procedure used at Broken Arrow, it produces an “excellent tolerability thanks to Xylazine’s potent action as a local anesthetic. Rompun’s major advantage lies in the timing of the onset and cessation of its three important anesthetic effects of sedation/anesthesia, central nervous relaxant, and analgesia. The muscle relaxant effect ceases before the sedative effect, so that when the animal recovers consciousness, it can rise with no risk of accidents. Rompun’s distinguishing features are its rapid onset of action, quick restoration of normal body functions and a calm recovery of consciousness.”
The same website that reports this information has been quoted as stating the following:
“To increase the depth of sedation, Rompun is widely used in combination with other sedatives and analgesics for minor surgery such as skin suture, excision of small coetaneous tumors, or standing castration under local anesthesia.”
However, this quote comes from a page that is speaking of intravenous (IV) injection. In the case of the horses at Broken Arrow, the drug is not used as the sole sedative / anesthetic. If it were the only drug used, this statement would apply, but it’s not. In this situation, the drug is used for its analgesic properties mainly, but also for its ability to bind with the Sux and Ketamine to produce the desired effect: anesthesia for a surgical procedure in a horse.
Ketamine is the third drug used during this procedure. For years now, Ketamine has also been known as “Special K” as a result of its widespread use as a recreational drug by humans. Ketamine belongs to a group of medications known as dissociative anesthetics. These medications induce a state of sedation, immobilization, amnesia, and marked analgesia. This means that once administered, the horse does not feel pain, does not move, and does not remember the events that occur while under its influence.
There have been statements made that the horses being gelded are fully awake during the procedure and that they can see, feel, and / or hear everything going on around them; that they could feel the pain of the procedure itself as well as the after-pain of the procedure as soon as the Sux wears off enough for them to get up and walk away. This statement is simply not true. These medications are given together for a reason: they induce a state of unconsciousness in the horse to allow for a surgical procedure to be done without him feeling the effects of that procedure. If these medications were given individually and not as a cocktail, then yes, there would be a huge issue here for an act of cruelty. But this is not the case.
This procedure is almost completely identical in the clinical aspects to the same gelding procedure and protocol used by most every large animal veterinarian in the US. The amount of swelling, the horse’s reactions, the look of the wound, the general impression and disposition of the horse following this procedure – all of it is nearly identical to every other horse who has undergone this procedure without complications. There are not normally pain medications prescribed following this procedure for a variety of reasons but mainly because of the way a horse’s bodily physiology works: the meds simply do not act on his body in the same way most people think they do. In order to achieve the same type of effect that a human receives from pain meds in a horse, the dosage would be have to be so great that it would put the horse down again. Horses cannot stay lying down for extended periods of time. Their circulatory systems will not allow it. This is one of the principal reasons that a horse sleeps standing up. They must move around in order to maintain circulation to their extremities.
I have tried my best to explain all of this as clearly as possible. If there are any misunderstandings or questions PLEASE feel free to ask. There are no “stupid questions”, only stupid assumptioms.