Chompers get a checkup with free dental services offered at Maryland Horse Rescue
By Lisa Gregory
For Carroll County Times|
May 04, 2020 | 5:00 AM
It’s about all the horses in need. But it began with one.
Before there was a program offering free dental services to countless horses, donkeys and mules in rescues, there was Tucker, an old, blind, neglected horse. In fact, he was scheduled to be euthanized. But, as Melanie Biemiller likes to say, fate had other plans.
Four years ago, Biemiller, executive director of Maryland Horse Rescue, was working in the barn at the rescue — a nonprofit that was then in Mount Airy and has since moved to an area between Taneytown and Westminster — when she received a phone call. She normally would not have answered the call while she was at the barn, busy with the horses.
“But something told me to answer this time,” she said.
The call was about Tucker. It seems someone had purchased a farm in Virginia and had unknowingly acquired mini donkeys and Tucker. “He wasn’t interested in the animals, just the farm,” Biemiller said of the new owner. He informed Biemiller that he had found homes for the mini donkeys and he had attempted to find a place for Tucker, but with no luck. So he called a veterinarian and, despite not really wanting to do so, had scheduled Tucker to be euthanized.
Davis arrived at the farm and met with the new owner. He accompanied her to the field where they expected to find Tucker. But Tucker wasn’t there. Then Davis spotted a run-in shed. There she found the horse.
“He was standing with his little head in the corner,” she said. “It was sad.” She approached him and then gently guided him into the trailer. Tucker all the while was compliant.
“He was the sweetest soul ever,” Davis said.
Prior to picking up Tucker, Davis had not been involved with Maryland Horse Rescue. That was about to change as a relationship between her and the rescue began to develop. She would go on to become the rescue’s secretary, vice president and currently president.
At the rescue, Tucker was met with kind words and gentle hands. “He perked up a bit,” Davis said. “As if he was saying, ‘Oh, wow, this is what it is supposed to be like.’ ”
She added, “I’m a very firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I was the person who needed to get him where he needed to be.”
And Tucker desperately needed rescuing. “You could smell him the moment the trailer pulled in,” Biemiller said. “He had definitely been neglected. He was so covered in filth and manure. He was blind. He was old. He was skinny.”
He also needed dental care.
Biemiller posted Tucker’s story on Facebook. And, once again, fate intervened. Myles Hopton, an equine dentist from the Virginia-based Pegasus Equine Services, came across the post and offered to help Tucker with his dental needs. For free.
“He was in desperate need,” Hopton recalled of Tucker. “We removed some loose molars that were affecting the way he was chewing.”
In fact, after Hopton’s visit, Tucker began to bounce back. Now better able to chew, “He began to put on weight,” Hopton said.
As Hopton cared for Tucker, “I was chatting with him and telling him about our organization,” Biemiller said. “He gets a look on his face and says, ‘I’m going to call you in a couple of days. I’m going to put something together.’ I said, ‘Yeah, OK’. I wasn’t expecting a call back. “
But she was wrong. “He called me back a week later and said, ‘’I’ve rounded up a bunch of dentists and we’re going to come out to the rescue, and we’re going to do all your horses for free,’ ” she said. “I burst into tears.”
And he meant it. “At the time we had 35 horses, and they did all of them,” Biemiller said. “The medical equipment, everything was donated. It was amazing.”
Hopton would be so inspired by the experience with Maryland Horse Rescue and Tucker that he would go on to create a philanthropic effort of his own — bringing together dentists, as well as veterinarians, and offering free dental care to rescues. Referring to them as Rescue Dental Days, Hopton has helped hundreds of horses, donkeys and mules all up and down the East Coast, including Maryland Horse Rescue, and as far away as Missouri.
All because of Tucker.
Dental care is a much-needed service for horses, whose teeth grow and change throughout their lifetimes and require consistent floating, which is the practice of filing off any sharp edges or hooks that might form on the edges of the teeth. Without floating, horses can experience pain and have difficulty chewing.
The objective, Hopton said, “is leaving a horse with a balanced mouth, which means maximizing the chewing surface from back to front so that the animal can process its food and get all the nutrients and protein out of its food.”
Other dental needs, such as extracting teeth, are also addressed during the Rescue Dental Days.
Hopton typically charges $100 per horse for a routine float. Doing it at no charge saves rescues much-needed funds. “We’re currently at 40 horses,” Biemiller said. “That saves us $4,000. I can’t tell you how many bales of hay that is.”
Despite having a busy practice of his own, Hopton is committed to meeting the needs of these animals. “I could work seven days a week,” he said. And, no doubt, he sometimes does — with and without pay.
Through the Rescue Dental Days, Hopton also hopes to help educate and inspire the next generation of equine dental providers by offering them real-life experience as they offer their services for free. “When I started out there weren’t these opportunities where dentists starting in the industry could get to a wet lab and work on a live horse,” he said. “We’re giving them that.”
He added, “It’s about work experience and working together.”
Rescue Dental Days even include seminars on the use of new equine dental tools.
Ashley Dillow is an eager participant. “These experiences have been amazing,” said Dillow, an equine dental provider with Aspire Equine Dentistry in Boonsboro who has been practicing for seven years. “It allows me not only to further my education by consulting with other certified equine dental providers and getting constructive criticism, which I always ask for, but it also allows me to give back to an awesome rescue.”
Humans and horses both stand to benefit.
“The rescues give these horses a second chance,” Hopton said. “I wanted to find a way to give back to the equine community that has given me so much while working together and learning together.”
All because of Tucker.
The horse who inspired so many died recently — but not before he had lived several good years at the rescue as “everyone’s favorite,” Biemiller said.