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Orphan colt adopted by mare who tragically lost her foal

A mare that had only been without a foal for about 24 hours adopted a colt that had lost his mother days after his birth. Their connection was instantaneous.

PULLMAN, Wash. — An orphan colt, who lost his mother shortly after she gave birth, was adopted by a mare that had tragically lost her foal.

According to the WSU Insider, the generosity of strangers and Washington State University (WSU) veterinarians who played matchmaker, made it possible for the orphan colt and the nursing mare could have a happy life after a tragedy.

"The mare had only been without a foal for about 24 hours," Dr. Lisbeth Matthews, Equine Medical and Surg intern, said, according to the WSU Insider. "We walked her into the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and past him. He made a noise, and she went, 'Oh, there's my foal,' and started making noises back at him."  

Pairing an orphan foal and a nursing mare is a challenging task that commonly ends with failure. Still, in this case, the connection between the foal, named Laredo, and the mare, called Shelly, was instantaneous and surprising to everyone. 

Equine veterinarian Jenifer Gold, who was helping to take care of Shelly and supervising her introduction to Laredo, said nursing mares frequently reject orphan foals. When they don't, the pairing process often takes days, according to the WSU Insider. 

"She walked in and started nickering at him like it was her own baby – it was unbelievable," Gold said. "I've been doing this for 20 years, and I have never seen it happen that way."  

Credit: Photo courtesy by WSU Insider

Laredo was first admitted to the teaching hospital by his owner, Rachel Williams, from Spokane, days after he was born and presented digestive issues. Shortly after Laredo arrived in Pullman, Shelly's owners, Roy and Faye Lions, reached out to WSU to see if the equine team was aware of any orphan colts needing a nursing mare.

"Our foal was dead, and nothing was going to bring it back, so we were hoping we could help someone else," Faye Lions said. "It just so happened there was a foal there."

Laredo and Shelly meet a day later.

"For them to be so willing to basically hand over their animal to a complete stranger after experiencing their own tragedy was pretty phenomenal," Williams said. "I feel like in this scenario it was the worst of the worst for everybody, but there was a little bit of silver lining to the story." 

For now, Shelly will live with Laredo's owners in Spokane until he is ready to be weaned to return to her home in Kamiah, Idaho.

"It will be tough to say goodbye because you just naturally start to bond with animals, and she has kind of been my lifesaver," Williams said. "It will be bittersweet for sure, but I am sure her owners will be happy to have her back."

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