Lonely baby finds babyless mom

June 03, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

Opal has a new baby. Andy has a new mom.

And a couple of Maryland horse lovers have the joy of watching two animals that suffered tragedy romping happily together.

A combination of luck, temperament and timing led a 14-year-old mare to adopt a 6-week-old colt, whose mother had died days after his birth.

The leggy little thoroughbred was born in Croom at the end of April, the offspring of two winning New York racers. He was a spirited foal, prancing around his mother, exploring the farm and becoming friends with a droopy-eared bloodhound, a curious goat and a strutting peacock.

But only eight days after his birth, his mother suddenly became ill. Owner David Hutchinson called the veterinarian, but the mare had twisted a gut. An operation didn't save her. Three days later she was dead.

Her nameless foal wandered through the stables looking for her. He approached Mr. Hutchinson's stallion, but he tried to bite him.

Mr. Hutchinson kept him from the other mares, knowing they might kill him if he attempted to nurse.

The foal quickly learned to drink milk from a bucket and began to nibble on grain, but he "was dropping weight like mad," Mr. Hutchinson said.

Mr. Hutchinson brought the bloodhound, peacock and goat into the stable, hoping they would keep the little foal company.

But he wandered about with his head down, searching for his mother.

Then last Tuesday night, a mare named Opal belonging to Dr. Linda Molesworth, a equine veterinarian in Friendship, went into labor two weeks prematurely.

When Dr. Molesworth found her the next morning, her foal was half-delivered, but it was dead.

The veterinarian delivered the foal out, and left it on the ground so Opal would know and accept its death.

"She was walking around the baby nuzzling it and licking it and whinnying," Dr. Molesworth said. "It was sad."

After an hour, Dr. Molesworth took the dead foal away and went to work at the Equestrian Center in Prince George's County.

At work, she told people that her mare had lost the foal. Someone mentioned Mr. Hutchinson's motherless colt.

Within a few hours, the little colt was brought to Dr. Molesworth's farm.

While Dr. Molesworth led her mare out of sight, Mr. Hutchinson took the placenta from the dead foal, smeared it on his colt and then draped it on him.

He put the colt in the place where the mare had given birth.

Dr. Molesworth brought Opal back to the spot. She sniffed, and laid her ears back with suspicion.

Often mares will not accept a strange colt, and Opal probably knew the colt was not hers, Dr. Molesworth said. Still, she did not drive him away.

Mr. Hutchinson squeezed some milk from her udder and let the colt sniff. Immediately he began to nurse.

Since then, the two have been almost inseparable. He gained 40 pounds in eight days.

Dr. Molesworth said Opal treats the foal a little differently than she did her own foals, appearing more willing to let him go off some distance without her.

But she still watches him and never refuses to allow him to nurse.

The colt, who may be named Little Orphan Andrew, or Andy for short, does not seem to know that Opal is not his real mother.

He will stay with her for four to six months until weaning. Then Mr. Hutchinson will take him back to his farm. He may train him or sell him at a yearling sale.

Mr. Hutchinson has high hopes for Andy, which he says is the best colt he's had.

The animal could fetch $15,000 to $18,000 at the yearling sale in Timonium, or more if he's sold in Kentucky, the breeder said.

By then, Opal most likely will have another foal to tend to.

But all that is months away. For now there's plenty of green grass to graze, a warm stable to lie in, and someone to nuzzle.

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