A miniature horse named Snickers, rescued at least twice from certain death in the last year, is ringing in this holiday season by garnering donations for the Salvation Army.
Kelly Reiter, of the Flying Duck Farm House Sanctuary in Maryland, first encountered Snickers two years when a breeder listed him for sale on Craigslist.
"He was 8 months old at the time," Reiter said. "[The breeder] said, basically, he'd make a good family pony, but he had something wrong with his leg, so he was no good to her and she didn't want him. If she couldn't sell him for a couple of dollars, she was going to euthanize him."
Reiter quickly contacted the woman, purchased Snickers for $60 and loaded him into the back of her SUV. The horse, which had been kept beside his sister in an 8-by-10-foot garden shed, had locking stifles. The condition caused him to drag his back legs and required corrective surgery, which Reiter's local veterinarian performed.
After seeing on the news another mini horse volunteering as a bell-ringer at a Salvation Army kettle, Reiter decided to sign Snickers up. "Ever since he came here, we said 'you can tell has a purpose in life,'" said Reiter, who runs the small sanctuary near Randallstown, Md. "He's meant to help people. He's such a sweet little guy - so quiet and, for all he's been through, so laid back."
The recovery from Snickers' leg surgery meant he couldn't stand for long periods of time, so Reiter decided to wait until the following Christmas.
Fast forward to a year later. Reiter woke up one morning in September and found Snickers was again in poor health. "He seemed kind of depressed, kind of lethargic," she said. "He wanted to lay down. He didn't want to eat. You always hear the biggest fear is colic in horses. I thought, 'oh gosh, please don't tell me it's that with him.'"
Colic, which refers to abdominal pain, has a variety of causes, including excess gas and intestinal problems. It's one of the leading causes of premature death among domesticated horses and requires immediate veterinary treatment. Unfortunately, this time, Reiter's family vet was out of town for a family emergency. Reiter tried to calm Snickers with mineral oil and pain medications, but nothing worked.
"As soon as the pain medicine would wear off, he would throw himself on the ground and start thrashing and rolling," she said.
Reiter had a good experience several years earlier with the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Kennett Square, Chester County, where she'd taken another horse that required surgery.
"They greet you with anywhere from four doctors or more," she said. "As soon as you pull up to the back to unload, they've got everything set up and ready to go and there are several different people doing several different things to the horse. New Bolton was the only place, in my mind, for Snickers to go to have the best care."
Veterinarian Sarah Peters, an intern at the center's Department of Clinical Studies, said it quickly became evident Snickers needed surgery.
Snickers survived the 2-hour surgery, but the doctors' findings came as a huge surprise - literally. The pony, who weighed 200 pounds when he was rushed to the medical center, had a 32-pound hairball lodged inside his colon. "It was quite large, especially for a pony of that size," Peters said. "It's unusual to find that much hair inside the colon. He clearly had been grooming his friends for quite a while."
Reiter said Snickers' kind nature likely led to the medical crisis. "He just loves to groom because he's extremely sweet and friendly," she said. "He knows if he grooms another horse, that horse is going to groom him back. He loves to be scratched. Even if you walk up and start rubbing him, he tries to groom you and your clothes."
Though the affinity for affection proved detrimental to his health, it's been perfect for his new post as a bell-ringer outside the Salvation Army kettle at an Eldersburg, Md. Safeway. He first started volunteering earlier this month and will make his third appearance there Saturday.
"Kelly reached out to me and said she wanted to volunteer ringing bells with Snickers," director of the Carroll County Service Center of the Salvation Army Janice Veney said. "I jumped on it. I thought it was an awesome idea and would bring in a lot of money." She said Snickers has been a popular draw and the kettle where he was posted brought in $400 in one day alone, wildly exceeding expectations.
"People will drive around the parking lot several times," Reiter said. "You'll see them just circling and they'll finally park on curb. They'll say, 'we didn't mean to go into the grocery store but we had to see this little guy.' And the whole time, they're stuffing money in the pot."
She hopes to continue to help Snickers give back, both through charitable endeavors and at her sanctuary, where, funnily enough, his best friend is a large Clydesdale who has served as a therapy animal for disabled children and wounded soldiers until he suffered a serious eye injury.
"My goal is not just to help animals, but to help people, as well," Reiter said. "And to show animals and people can help each other. I want to show, too, these horses aren't throwaways - they're making a difference."