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Durham Animal Response Team during equine rescue training May 4  at Rivendell Farm. | Photo by Sam Corey.
DART team leader Sue White (right) keeps

Farm animal rescue a specialized skill


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Visit to see a video of Lucky being lifted.

More than 10 people attending a training session put on by the Durham Animal Response Team learned life-saving techniques to assist horses in perilous situations at the equine rescue training held at Rivendell Farm May 4.

Firefighters, animal control officers, and horse owners attended the six hour event which featured interactions with live horses as well as a demonstration of rescue techniques on a simulated plastic and metal horse named “Lucky.”

Attendees learned how to fasten a Large Animal Lift, a device with a metal spreader bar and many numbered straps, some of which cross over each other to allow an large animal to be safely lifted by a tractor or backhoe.

“Have a firm and long lead in case he thrashes,” warned Roger Lauze, adding tension and life to the plastic form of the 600 pound false horse.

Lauze, the equine rescue and training coordinator for the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Animal Cruelty, instructed the session.

Lauze frequently warned that the animals being assisted by the large animal lift are not unconscious but may be sedated, and continually warned rescuers to show caution and avoid being kicked by the false horse so that the rescuers would learn not only how to fasten the straps, but also how to safely approach an actual injured animal.

“We want everybody to learn that safety comes first, so you can take care of yourself, your team, and the animal,” said Sue White, DART response team leader.

The day began with acquainting newcomers, with little to no experience with horses, with placing a halter on a live horse, walking the animal out of its stall, and guiding the horse out of the barn to safety.

Afterwards, members split into two groups to rescue Lucky from a barn and a trailer.

The session finished off with learning how to move Lucky using the Large Animal Lift.

“Everyone gets a chance to perform different rescue scenarios with a fake horse so they don’t have to deal with a real horse body and real horse movements,” said Lauze. “This gives everyone a chance to see how the equipment works, become more efficient using it, and become faster.”

“They don’t become faster by being fast, they become faster by being more efficient,” Lauze said.

According to Lauze, the majority of rural community rescues involve horses, but the techniques can be applied to other animals.

“These farm animals are big, powerful animals, so personal safety is stressed during these courses. When people learn how to deal with these types of animals, they’re not being put in a position of danger when they’re called into these rescues,” Lauze said.

The rescue training was “very interesting,” according to David Chowaniec, Middlefield’s animal control officer, who came to the session for professional development. Chowaniec said DART would be the first group he would call when dealing with an emergency situation involving a large animal.

DART is a volunteer-based organization founded in 2006, comprised of teachers, veterinarians, and horse instructors from Durham and nearby towns. DART assists first response teams and fire departments during any animal-related emergency.

“There’s a strong emotional connection between animals and their owners, especially with horses,” said Chowaniec, who also is a firefighter with the Middlefield Volunteer Fire Company.

“Firemen are usually the first ones called to deal with burning barns and houses, so learning how to properly rescue animals is very important,” he said.

“Rescuing animals can be tricky because for them it’s fight or flight, whereas humans are more docile,” Chowaniec said. “Personal safety comes first, but we’re still trying to protect life.”

White said the goal of these events is for each person to leave with practical experience with animal rescue.

Pat Bandzes, who has horses on her farm, said she came to the event to be prepared in case an emergency arose at her farm.

“This is a great training for anyone who keeps horses.” Bandzes said. DART team leader White said the training event has been a great success since it began last year.

“We invite barn and stable owners as well as firefighters and responders to these kind of events because we want them to learn ways they can prevent disasters and how to respond to tragedies,” White said. “If each person comes away with learning something new, that’s all we can hope for.”

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