More Than An Email Forward: A Visit With Molly, the Amputee Horse

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In early 2009, Molly appeared in my inbox as yet another heartwarming animal-themed email forward from Mom. (Cat Adopts Baby Squirrel! Dog Frolics With Deer! Kitten and Parakeet Are Best Friends!) But somehow, Molly's story rose above the cloying cuteness and hit me in the gut. A Louisiana horse who'd lost her leg in the post-Katrina madness, Molly persevered (assisted by perceptive humans) and became a model case for amputees everywhere.

While visiting family in Mississippi over the summer, I trekked to Molly's home in St. Rose, Louisiana, about 20 miles west of New Orleans. My father, Bob, the same man who gifted (cursed?) me with endless curiosity, tagged along too. Kaye Harris, Molly's savior, owner and BFF, kindly introduced me to Molly and recounted her ordeal

The insanity that followed Hurricane Katrina led to a plethora of lost souls, both human and non. Molly was found wandering in a St. Charles Parish pasture. (Her owners had evacuated expecting to quickly return but flooding keep them from doing so.) Kaye Harris, who hosts pony parties for kids, was temporarily housing a few abandoned animals until owners could be located. As she says, "Sure! What's one more in post-Katrina New Orleans when you have no income? ... But we just started helping others, that's how I got through it."

And so, in September 2005 (on the horse's birthday, actually), she picked up Molly, a small grey speckled girl with a sweet disposition and a quiet strength yet to be revealed.

In October, the owners got in touch, and Kaye formally adopted Molly. In November, Kaye adopted some abandoned dogs and that's when the trouble began. The following month, Kaye came into her gate and heard a horrible noise. She saw Molly on the ground and a dog barking and gnawing on Molly's legs, like a chew toy. "All four legs were mauled and the dog kept pulling meat off the upper leg," she recalled, still upset by the scene.

Once they pulled the dog off the horse, they could see the damage was bad. (The dog, Red, was quickly transferred to a home that deals in canine behavioral problems.) The dog had been chasing the horses -- there were wounds on five other horses -- but Molly's small size and low herd status made her more vulnerable to an attack. Molly had to be lifted by blanket and could not stand on her own; her future looked grim.

Molly ended up with five stitches in her belly, 17 staples in her jaw and all four legs heavily bandaged. "Think of putting horse legs through a meat grinder, that's what it looked like. The front right one was the worst," Kaye said.

After some treatment and daily changing of the bandages, Molly soon had a cold ankle -- the circulation had stopped in the right front leg. Molly had laminitis, a disease of the hoof. When Kaye went to inspect, the hoof bone snapped off in Kaye's hand and Molly shot straight up in the air. Something had to be done.

As Kaye called vets in the area, she noticed that Molly had begun walking on the three healthier legs -- an especially hard task for a horse. She was using her own intelligence, resting it on a mound when she could. Her willingness to rest herself and shift her weight was impressive.

Kaye started googling 'equine prosthetics' but was faced with many, as she jokingly calls them, "Neighsayers." (Animal prosthetics has since grown.) "If I'd taken 'no' for an answer, we'd be done right there," said Kaye. "But Molly's attitude was, 'I'm not done.' All I did was listen."

After battling her vet, who advised her to put the horse down, Kaye found Dr. Rustin M. Moore, a vet surgeon and director of equine health studies at LSU (he's now at Ohio State) who was initially skeptical but ultimately impressed by Molly's fortitude. Over a few days, he observed how she would shift her weight to rest her good legs. "She's very intelligent and knows how to take care of herself," he said at the time.

Enter Dwayne Mara, a prosthetics designer at Bayou Prosthetic Center in Jefferson, Louisiana. Having never designed for an animal, Mara took it as a challenge and came through for Molly big time. (She actually rejected several designs and they ended up with a metal/rubber mix.) It was Mara who created a smiley face print on the bottom of the rubber 'hoof' so the horse could leave happy prints in the dirt as she clip-clopped along -- now Molly's signature.

But how to pay for it all? The surgery alone would cost $5,000. Kaye, facing money woes of her own, got online and found two angels. "Humane Society of the United States and Jill Starr of Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue. Both donated half - $2500 each - straight to LSU," she said, shaking her head, still amazed at their immediate generosity. It continued with the prosthetic which was entirely donated by Bayou Prosthetic Center. Molly might just be the luckiest unlucky horse in modern history.

It wasn't long before Molly was visiting hospitals for children and veterans, bringing love and inspiration to all kinds of sick and limbless humans. (Kaye's amazing stories of her connections with such people are endless.) Molly even visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center and made a few new amputees, fresh from Iraq and Afghanistan, reconsider their own futures without limbs. Then there's her Internet celebrity, her own foundation and, best of all, her own Snopes page. ("True.")

These days, Molly, enjoys her many fans and, of course, the barn routines. For example, when all the horses are put in the pasture, Molly likes to check the stalls to make sure no one gets left behind. At 21, she still has plenty of happy years ahead. (Average life span of a domestic horse is 25-30 years.) The property includes a miniature horse named Prince and two senior horses in their 40s so she's got lots of company, even a dog friend named Ruby.

As per my usual interview behavior, I asked Kaye if she thought Molly was grateful.

"Y'know, all I can say is, Molly and I have a bond that's amazing. And if you call that grateful … I hesitate to use human words. I don't know if it transfers over but … a bond for sure. A huge amount of love and respect and a tie between us."

My father offers, "A friendship?"

"That's right," said Kaye, "A friendship."

For more photos from my visit with Molly go here. To watch the video, go here

~ClizBiz

BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns, Proprietor, ClizBiz

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