Meet Poncho, a baby Brangus bull and survivor from the 2016 floods
In August 2016 the state of Louisiana saw unimaginable devastation when more than two trillion gallons of rainwater made its way into neighborhoods and streets across most of south Louisiana. Many families and pets were displaced from their homes, and unfortunately, many animals were left behind. Some animals stood for days in high waters, with nothing to do but wait to be rescued. For some, help never came. Poncho has a different story.
After approximately 3-5 days of standing chest-deep in a ditch filled with water, Poncho was rescued by the Babin family. No one knows how Poncho got there, where he originally came from, or where his mother was. Had she drowned? Was she swept away in the current? All the Babin family knew was that a baby bull was close to death and needed their help. Poncho was approximately one month old at the time.
Poncho was brought to Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., by his rescuers, but they were unsure if he would survive the night. His prognosis was questionable, and his will to live seemed nonexistent.
“We didn’t think he would last the night and were concerned about what to do with him once he died. Was LSU or Lamar-Dixon responsible for his body, or were we? But he did make it to the next morning, and showed enough progress for us to keep moving forward,” said Kim Babin, one of his rescuers.
When Poncho first arrived at Lamar-Dixon, Matt Welborn, DVM (LSU SVM 1987), professor of Food Animal Health Maintenance at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, noticed how dehydrated Poncho was and immediately put a catheter in him and administered IV fluids and electrolytes. A few days later, Nancy Welborn, DVM (LSU SVM 1990), assistant professor of Community Practice at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, accompanied her husband to Lamar-Dixon to offer veterinary assistance to all the displaced animals, and this is when she was introduced to Poncho. Dr. N. Welborn was asked to take a look at Poncho because he seemed depressed and would not eat anything. A calf at his age would normally feed from its mother, but Poncho’s mother was gone. Poncho would neither take a milk substitute nor hay or feed. He would not stand up, and hardly moved at all. Dr. N. Welborn also noticed that Poncho kept squinting his eyes, and diagnosed him with corneal ulcers in both eyes. The ulcers were a result of exposure to water containing bacteria, petrochemicals and other products, as well as having constant eye-contact with sunlight reflecting from the water he was standing in. That same day Poncho received antibiotics, pain medication and a milk replacer from a feeding tube.
The next day, Poncho appeared worse, despite the efforts and treatments administered. It was noticeable how badly injured his legs were before this point, but they were not treated at first. Similar to many animals stranded in flood waters, the skin on his legs began to slough. Doctors from the Dermatology service at the LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital were consulted, as well as Large Animal surgeons, among other services. It was decided Poncho would receive the most aggressive care that could be provided. But his recovery was far from over. Because Lamar-Dixon was limited in the medical resources Poncho’s injuries required, Poncho was transferred to the LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where he would have access to the most board-certified veterinarians under one roof in the state of Louisiana.
For such a young bull, Poncho was suffering tremendously. His symptoms included dehydration, anorexia, a septic tendon sheath, depression, lethargy, corneal ulcers in both eyes, scrapes and small abrasions all over his body, and progression of the severe skin damage on all four legs. Poncho was losing the full thickness of the skin on his legs, which is different from the injuries horses sustained from standing in water for prolonged periods of time. The type of damage to Poncho’s legs was much more severe and would take longer to heal.
To treat his legs, Poncho received chlorhexidine baths in a whirl pool that belonged to the Dermatology service. The purpose of the chlorhexidine baths was to clean his open wounds, prevent him from getting staph or another bacterial infections, help increase blood flow, which hastens the healing process, and helps debride the dying skin. It seemed as if Poncho looked forward to getting his whirlpool, or “spa,” treatment and his bandages changed every day.
“The best part about working with Poncho was all the different clinical services that got involved,” said Clare Scully, DVM, assistant professor of Food Animal Health Maintenance. “This experience reaffirms to me how our hospital is truly One Health. No one ever said, ‘It’s just a bull.’ No one ever said ‘No.’ Everyone just pitched in to do whatever it took to help him.”
All the different services at the LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital that provided care to Poncho include Food Animal Medicine, Large Animal/Equine Surgery, Dermatology, Integrative Medicine, Zoological Medicine, Cardiology, Community Practice, as well as aid from many students.
After several weeks of aggressive care, Poncho was healing. “We had to evaluate his quality of life most importantly, but he showed us he wanted to live by responding to his treatments,” said Chance Armstrong, DVM, assistant professor of Food Animal Health Maintenance.
Poncho received care from the LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital for more than two months. He impressed everyone who helped treat him with his patience and acceptance during all of his medical care. Not many young calves would allow medical professionals to perform the same care Poncho received without resisting. On October 3, 2016, his rescuers came to pick him up and take him to his new home. While he was still at Lamar-Dixon, his rescuers had decided they would keep him as their own. The Babin’s son, Kaleb, had become so attached to Poncho that he asked if he could stay the night with him while still at Lamar-Dixon. Kaleb even gave Poncho his name, although no one is really sure how he came up with that particular name.
Dr. Nancy Welborn probably became the most attached to Poncho over the course of his treatments. “We just saw and heard so many stories of loss and suffering. I don’t think people realized how severely affected the food animal owners were. Some people lost every calf they had." said Dr. N. Welborn. "In the midst of all the loss, I just decided that Poncho had to survive. He never gave up – he was this one little piece of positivity in the midst of all this sadness. He made everyone who met him smile. He was my light during a very trying and difficult time.”
Poncho was just one of the many animals affected by the severe flooding that occurred. It was because of generous support from donors that made it possible for the LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital and the Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART) to rescue and provide medical care to so many affected. During this extremely difficult time, many at the LSU SVM were personally affected, some lost their own homes, but this did not stop many of them from working alongside LSART to provide as much medical care as possible.
It is because of your help that they could accomplish so much. Thank you.
For more information about Poncho, or to request photos, please contact Julie Thomas, public relations coordinator for the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 225-578-0110.