Labor Day weekend and the days following have been tough for Kate and Chris of Sharkey Farm. On September 5th, three riders from the farm were riding on the Snoqualmie Ridge mixed-use trails when the unthinkable happened.
The first rider of the group crossed a bridge on the trail, but when the second horse, Stewie, a 16 y/o Thoroughbred, stepped onto the bridge, his back legs broke through the floorboards. Ruby, his rider, immediately jumped off, and Stewie struggled to climb up and out of the bridge. He was trapped: unable to fall free to the ground below and unable to climb out.
The riders immediately called 911. Kate Sharkey called their vet, Dr. Sarah Owens, who dropped everything to help. More rescuers were called to the scene by Eastside Fire & Rescue (EF&R), and within an hour of the accident; EF&R, the Snoqualmie Fire Department, Dr. Chantal Rothschild and the Washington State Animal Response Team (WASART) were all on the scene to try and help Stewie.
Dr. Owens took the lead, assessing the horses’ injuries and deciding on the best course of action. After Stewie was sedated, EF&R could chainsaw the bridge apart and cut rebar supports from under the bridge to allow him to fall to the ground.
WASART and Miguel, Dr. Owens’ husband, were standing by with equipment from the fire department and were able to coordinate efforts and work together to pull the horse from under the bridge to a flatter spot where they could encourage him to stand. They had cut some small trees near where he rested and arranged his hooves and legs so they wouldn’t get tangled.
Stewie’s rescuers had a lift harness ready to go. The Snoqualmie Police Department overseeing the scene had called a large tow truck with a boom. They planned to use the truck to hoist Stewie up and over an overpass just above the wooden bridge.
Fortunately for all, Stewie eventually was able to stand on his own. After giving him some time to rest, they coaxed him up the trail.
Says Kate Sharkey, “The vets knew he was showing signs of shock & colic and was uncomfortable from being in positions that put harmful pressure on his abdomen for so long, so they sent him to Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital for emergency treatment.” WASART followed the trailer to the hospital to assist in case Stewie fell in the trailer on the ride due to exhaustion or injuries.
Stew made it to Pilchuck alive but was significantly injured. Over the next four days, Stew’s attitude, clinical symptoms and blood work were monitored. Many of his stats were getting better, but others were getting worse. The following Friday, the Sharkey’s learned that his heart was struggling with an infection in his blood from a wound, and his kidneys couldn’t process the muscle breakdown without irreparable damage.
The heartbreaking choice to let Stewie go was made.
Stewie’s story made me wonder who the Washington State Animal Response Team is and how they started helping animals and owners in their time of need.
Gretchen McCallum and Greta Cook started WASART in 2007 in response to what Hurricane Katrina did in Louisiana. Many people didn’t evacuate because they couldn’t take their animals with them, and many died in the disaster. The pair saw the needless loss of life and decided they wanted to help shelter animals during a disaster to save the lives of both the humans and their animals.
At first, WASART was a nonprofit for emergency animal sheltering, but its focus changed once the greater need was realized locally for the technical rescue of animals. Technical rescue is now about 95% of their callouts.
The nonprofit can respond statewide, but most of its members live along the I-5 corridor. About 45% of their callouts are for dogs and 50% for horses, and these callouts happen where these animals are most active and concentrated, which tends to be Snohomish, King, and Pierce Counties. The group sees some callouts, like Stewie’s, in Snoqualmie due to horse trails but are more likely to be called out to the hiking trails around North Bend instead.
WASART averages two or three monthly rescues, with summer being their busiest time. Horse calls are constant year-round, with a slight increase in the winter when older horses have a difficult time standing up, but there is an increase in calls about dogs having trouble on trails in the summer.
I asked Michaela Eaves, the Public Information Officer for WASART, what advice she would give people that would help prevent most of what the group sees. Eaves replied, “the two biggest areas of improvement we could see involve dogs. The first is using a leash while hiking. And we know it’s controversial in some of the hiking forums whenever it comes up, but we see little controversy on our team when we are the ones putting on a harness and setting up rope systems to retrieve a dog that got excited about a squirrel or just slipped. We know it’s not as fun, but your dog just wants to be with you. They don’t spend the hike thinking about how much better it would be without a leash.”
Eaves noted that the second area is dogs with heat exhaustion or cut paws. Trails are shady, but the rocks can still easily burn or cut a paw when it’s hot. She suggests leaving your dog at home when it’s more than 70 degrees. In lieu of that, she reminds hikers always to bring extra water and learn how to bandage a cut paw. She went on to say, “Dogs don’t complain. They are all heart, and they go as far as they can until they can’t anymore.”
WASART has a wide variety of people who volunteer. Some have jobs. A couple run construction projects. Some are software developers. Some are real estate agents. Some are retired. A few have careers in animal health. The group likes to think they have a job for everyone.
The work you see, the rescues and callouts, are only a small percentage of what their volunteers do. Many people work behind the scenes with tasks like running training events, fundraising, writing policies, coordinating rescues, or making sure their tech works well.
Says Eaves, “We really love people with experience in life. The one thing all our volunteers have in common though is a sense of altruism. How many people in your life can you call in the middle of the night to go up a trail and help some stranger and their dog? That ratio is very high with my co-volunteers.”
“Volunteering is like the rest of life: you just show up. You come to practices and training events, and if a callout is for you, then you go to those. If it’s not, we have a lot of support tasks we can use help with. We don’t expect anyone to have the skills we need. We have a number of volunteers who have never touched a horse or know the name of a knot, much less how to make it correctly.” You can learn more about how to volunteer here.
Stewie’s owners say he was the nicest, sweetest horse and a barn favorite. He made every kid who rode him feel like they were flying. He loved his job and was good at it, a true unicorn who is so deeply missed.
WASART is always appreciative of financial help as well (click here to learn more). Between the insurance, equipment, and gas, it’s surprisingly expensive to run a rescue, and they are nearly 100% donation supported. Says Eaves, “we absolutely only exist because people have made a choice to donate.”
Thank you, WASART, in honor of Snoqualmie’s Stewie and all the other valley local and visiting animals you’ve helped rescue over the past 15 years.
A big additional thanks to Eastside Fire & Rescue, the Snoqualmie Police and Fire Departments, Dr. Rothschild, Dr. Owens and her husband, Miguel.