OLD TOWN, Maine — Coach, the 28-year-old Percheron-Appaloosa cross gelding that was on death’s door in late January — about a month after his owner believed the horse was shot in the face by a BB gun — has bounced back from the brink.
A month and a half ago, Coach’s owner, Andrea Mietkiewicz of College Avenue in Old Town, was saying goodbye to her horse, which she rescued from a filthy, unkempt barn stall three years ago.
“We lucked out, we thought this was it for Coach,” Mietkiewicz said Sunday in her home. “But he’s a tough, ornery thing.”
In early January, Mietkiewicz was brushing Coach when she found a lemon-sized lump that turned out to be the early stages of an infection that took hold in a small, circular wound on the horse’s face. The injury was hidden from view by the horse’s long winter coat.
Coach’s veterinarian said the wound appeared to have been caused by a shot from a BB gun.
Mietkiewicz tried veterinarian-prescribed antibiotics, regular cleanings of the wound, tea tree oil and hot-compress treatments, but improvement came slowly. Coach has Cushing’s disease — similar to diabetes in humans — which can hinder a horse’s immune system and ability to fight infection.
The wound didn’t really start to show signs of healing until after a fresh coat of snow fell in February, according to Mietkiewicz.
Coach enjoys rolling around in fresh snow. Mietkiewicz said she suspects that Coach might have removed dead tissue and kept the wound clean by rubbing his head in the snow, helping along the healing process.
Now, the wound is mostly healed. In its place, near the corner of Coach’s mouth, is a ridge of scar tissue.
Signs of infection have disappeared and Coach’s appetite is closer to normal. He’s back to eating a full bale of hay — up from the less than quarter-bale he was eating when the infection was at its worst — plus about 1½ quarts of grain daily.
Mietkiewicz expects that as the weather warms up, Coach will begin to gain back some of the 40-plus pounds he lost while sick.
“He is back to his antics,” Mietkiewicz said.
Coach’s enclosure abuts a trailer park property and Mietkiewicz suspects someone on that property may have shot the horse. Several windows were shot out of a vacant home on that property around the same time.
Old Town police Sgt. Michael Hashey said his department received a complaint on Jan. 18 from a resident of that trailer park whose cat had been treated by a veterinarian for a wound caused by a BB gun. Hashey said police don’t have any suspects at this time.
Coach is cautious around the back fence line of his enclosure, Mietkiewicz said. If he hears a noise that startles him, he runs away from that part of the fence and watches it like a hawk.
Mietkiewicz said she purchased a game camera to monitor Coach’s enclosure for any future incidents, but still needs to get the right equipment to install the device.
After a story about Coach appeared in the Bangor Daily News in late January, Mietkiewicz’s phone and Facebook profile were inundated with calls and messages from people offering condolences or veterinary advice.
One anonymous donor sent Mietkiewicz $200 to help offset some of the veterinary and medication costs.
There was no name on the card or envelope, so Mietkiewicz sent a response to the return address.
“They said they didn’t want to be thanked,” Mietkiewicz said, “so I sent them a prayer.”