Man's Best Friend?

Or could your family dog become your barn's worst nightmare?

Editor’s Note: Sadly, I learned last month of A Smoking Miracle’s passing on September 19, 2012, due to a colic impaction. My thanks to the Hornback family for sharing “Katie’s” story with the Journal back in 2004. I enjoyed following Katie’s successes through the years.

Lori and Bert Hornback made a final stroll through their barn on May 10, 2002, checking their maiden mare, Miss Leo Tucker, before rounding up their three dogs and walking home for the night. Owners of Runaway Creek Quarter Horses in Homeland, California, the Hornbacks couldn’t wait for their favorite mare, “Tanya,” to foal. Tanya was bred to their stallion, Dual Smoking, and they were looking forward to a stellar working cow horse prospect. Maybe tomorrow would be the day, they thought as they secured the dogs - two Queensland Heelers and an Australian Shepherd - in their kennels and went to bed.

May 11 began suddenly and frighteningly at 6 a.m. The Hornbacks were jerked from their sleep by Debbie Mauss, who’d driven by the open-air, shed-row barn and noticed something wrong. "There’s a baby in your barn aisle, and a pack of dogs has attacked it!” Debbie screamed. Their panic soared as they reached the barn. Tanya had gone into labor near the stall door, and the three family dogs, sensing the excitement, escaped from their kennels under the fence. Working as a vicious team, the dogs pulled the foal from the mother and dragged it under the stall door into the barn aisle. “When we got out there, the filly was standing up,” Lori remembered grimly. “She was standing there like nothing had ever happened. There was blood everywhere. The dogs were laying quietly nearby with blood all over their coats.” Bert took the dogs back to the kennel while Lori assessed the deplorable state of the tiny chestnut filly and waited for the veterinarian to arrive. Parts of her upper body were shredded or chewed away, and the right side of her neck was missing most of its skin. Her hooves, elbows, ears and face had been chewed. “The scene was so overwhelming, but I knew we needed to focus on helping this filly, not what happened,” Lori said.

She remembered the importance of colostrum and that the filly needed to be united with Tanya quickly. “There were so many gaping wounds that we couldn’t figure out how to hold her so she could be moved into Tanya’s stall,” Lori said. “We just scooped her up in our arms and carried her to her mother.” Tanya remained quiet and cooperative, but the filly’s neck muscles were so severely damaged that she couldn’t hold her head up to suckle. Veterinarian Mark Secor arrived on the scene. “From the look on his face, I knew saving this filly was going to be a big challenge,” Lori said. “He asked us what we wanted to do, and my response was, ‘If she fights, we fight.’ This filly had more heart than any horse I’d ever seen before, and we knew she deserved every possible chance.” They joined in her fight for life, even if the chance for survival seemed depressingly low. They gave the filly colostrum and did their best to bandage and protect the wounds. Alongside her mother, she survived the first night. They decided to call her “Katie,” and they began the long road ahead.

Many American Quarter Horses, including Katie, have Doc Bar in their pedigree. Find out more about this bloodline in the Doc Bar Bloodline report!

With help from family and friends, including veterinarian Christa Bruns, Lori took turns every two hours feeding, bandaging and treating wounds. They dressed Katie in turtlenecks and sweatshirts, and they kept her on fluids, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and everything else they could do to support her body. “The first week was the worst,” Dr. Bruns said. “Katie didn’t have an immune system. Even though we could get the colostrum into her, her body was so stressed over all the infection and injuries that it was touch and go. We’d pull blood, and she’d have no white cells. Most animals would have just given up. I don’t think she ever knew that wasn’t what life was about. She’s one of the strongest personalities I’ve ever been around. She fought every day.” Air inevitably crept under her skin through the bite wounds, causing subcutaneous emphysema. “It would crackle when you pet her,” Dr. Bruns said. “We massaged it out every day. Subcutaneous emphysema is very painful, and there’s not a whole lot you can do except try to get the gas out of there. We tried to keep her up and moving around because that helped move things out of the skin. She acted like that was normal life to her.” Despite Katie’s pain, within a few days she was running, playing and kicking like a healthy foal. “She appeared sharp and happy - almost normal, except for the eye-catching outfits Dr. Bruns fashioned to protect her wounds,” Lori said. “She didn’t show any signs of suffering. Katie had never known anything else, and she thought everything happening to her was normal.”

After several long weeks, the Hornbacks knew Katie was out of the woods. Her wounds were healing, and she was nursing on her own. “At three weeks, we finally took a deep breath and said, ‘My gosh, this shouldn’t have worked,’ ” Lori said. “We knew she was going to be fine.” But they worried about her attachment to humans after being handled multiple times a day. “She was quite small compared to her siblings, so we weaned her pretty late, at 5 months,” Lori said. “We kicked her out with all the other babies. We needed to kind of ignore her and let her be a horse. She went out and ruled the roost!” Katie’s wounds healed, and she received therascope treatments to soften and break down the scar tissue and preserve range of motion. “She’s never going to be as flexible as she would have been without the scars,” Dr. Bruns said, “but she can compensate for them for sure.” Katie received an appropriate AQHA registered name – A Smoking Miracle – and she went in training with Jimmy Flores. “She was always bred to be my first (National Reined Cow Horse Association) Snaffle Bit Futurity non-pro horse,” Lori said. “You need a horse that’s got a lot of heart.”

Why Do Dogs Turn Vicious?

Katie’s story has a happy ending, but dog attacks can occur at any barn with devastating effects. “The dog is instinctively a predator,” said Dr. Paul DeMars, a canine and feline specialist and assistant adjunct professor at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “In nature, this is exactly what they would have done. The Hornbacks’ dogs had the prime opportunity for predation and, most likely, that’s what they were acting on.” Pack mentality was also involved, Dr. DeMars presumed. “Any time there’s a group of animals with group involvement, there’s more likeliness for this type of activity. They had trigger after trigger. “Even the best-behaved dog that you’d never think would do this, if nature calls, it’s going to answer,” he continued. “I’d never put it past any dog. They were large enough to realistically do it. They had the sense, smell and opportunity.”

Enjoy stories of Doc Bar horses who've become some of the world's greatest American Quarter Horses today, winning big in numerous events, in the Doc Bar Bloodline report.

Stay out of the Dog House

“You’re not going to change a dog’s instinct,” Dr. Demars said. So prevention is key in keeping your horses safe. “Never fail to keep the dogs out of the barn, especially during foaling time and when young ones are around,” he suggested. The Hornbacks moved to a new facility and built a better barn without gaps under the stalls in hopes that their horrific experience wouldn’t be repeated. They took drastic measures concerning their three dogs. “We felt that, once they’d done it, we could never trust them again around any small animal or small person,” Bert said. “It was a positive experience for them, and they didn’t get punished directly for it. “It was a hard decision for everybody, but we had the vet put the dogs down for us. They went without any pain.” Dr. DeMars agreed that euthanasia is the only 100 percent assurance that it won’t happen again, but it’s not necessarily the only choice for dog owners. “The dogs successfully did something and got a reward, so it could happen again,” Dr. DeMars said. “But they didn’t do anything they considered wrong. They were responding instinctively. We humanize dog behavior and say, ‘They should have known not to do that. I can’t trust this dog to never do this again.’ It’s a cut-and-dry situation - predator versus prey.” He conceded that the dogs might never have caused trouble again, especially if kept in an escape-proof environment during foaling time and not given the opportunity for predatory behavior. “The owners had to make a hard decision, and you can’t second guess a decision like that,” he said. Read tips for preventing a dog attack on your own property from the Hornbacks and their veterinarian, Dr. Christa Bruns, here.