After an all-night struggle and then a valiant effort by local firefighters and volunteers to pull an almost 40-year-old horse out of a muddy ditch, the animal had to be put down Monday morning.
Michelle Akers, a retired U.S. Olympic soccer player turned coach and the owner of a horse rescue farm in Powder Springs, said on Monday that she went out to her barn at about 6:30 a.m. to feed her animals. It was there she discovered that the first horse she ever rescued, Zoe, was missing.
“I wondered, ‘Where is she?’ and then I heard her trying to breathe and that’s when I found her,” Akers said.
The horse, which Akers became the owner of in 2008 after a Florida animal control agency rescued her from an abusive owner in 2007, was buried almost up to her neck in a muddy ditch along the perimeter of the property.
Akers’ farm and soccer-training facility – the Michelle Akers Sundance Horse Rescue & Outreach – sits on 8 acres off Bullard Road just south of Hillgrove High School in west Cobb.
“Zoe was immersed,” Akers said with tear-filled eyes. “Her legs were stuck and with that silt and mud, which is like clay, it suctions, and if you try to pull (an animal) out, it could pull their feet off, their legs off.”
In an attempt to free Zoe, members of Cobb County Animal Control were called in by neighbors but they, too, were unsure how to remove the nearly 1,500-pound animal. They called in assistance from Cobb Fire.
Fire spokeswoman Denell Boyd said a call came into their department at 8:07 a.m.
“When we got here (Akers) was up to her waist in mud trying to help the horse,” Boyd said.
No fight left
For nearly two hours firefighters, with the help of Akers and some farm volunteers, tried to extract Zoe from the mud hole by sliding straps under her body, attaching them to a rotating crane and pulling her up out of what was to become her muddy grave.
“(Zoe) had just been fighting so long that every time we’d start to pull her up, she’d start fighting and finally that’s when the vet said, ‘We just need to put her down,’” Boyd said.
“It was just too much,” Akers said. “There are worse things than dying and that was my decision.”
She applauded the firefighters for their efforts.
“They did really good, (Zoe had) just been there too long,” Akers said. “There wasn’t much fight in her. I just didn’t see her having the fight to come back from that because she was so far deteriorated and beat up, and she’s been through bad things. She was abused really bad, so it’s just better to say good-bye.”
Akers welcomed Zoe to her farm permanently in 2008.
The horse, who is believed to have been born around 1973, was rescued in September 2007 after her original owner reportedly tried to bury alive another horse that was sick on the Seminole County, Fla., property.
“Zoe, a.k.a. Sue, was found huddled in the corner of the pasture with another horse and a donkey,” Akers’ website states. “She was a ‘1’ on the Henneke body-conditioning scale, meaning extremely emaciated – a walking skeleton – and in immediate jeopardy.”
Seminole County’s animal control unit confiscated the horse and approximately one year later, Akers became Zoe’s new owner.
Zoe is one of many animals Akers has rescued in the last five years, including six other horses, pigmy goats, dogs, cats, chickens and a fish.
To learn more about Akers’ rescue or to make a donation to the nonprofit, visit michelleakershorserescue.org.
Akers played soccer for the U.S. National Team from 1989-2000 and won two FIFA World Cups – in 1991 and again in 1999. She was also a Gold Medalist in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta with the U.S. Soccer Team.