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Couple holds on to hope — and their beloved horse

Injured in storm, Cajun is rallying point for family

Steven Bush visited with his horse Cajun at the Tufts Hospital for Large Animals in Grafton, where Cajun received lifesaving surgery. Steven Bush visited with his horse Cajun at the Tufts Hospital for Large Animals in Grafton, where Cajun received lifesaving surgery. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Jenna Duncan
Globe Correspondent / June 8, 2011

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As the weather in Brimfield worsened last Wednesday, Joann Kass and Steven Bush released their four horses from the barn behind their house, then took shelter in their cellar.

“Their instinct is better than ours when it comes for survival,’’ said Bush, 58. “All we were thinking of was don’t let anything happen to the horses.’’

After the storm passed, one of the animals — Cajun, a 9-year-old Paint — was found severely injured.

But after lifesaving surgery Thursday evening at the Tufts Hospital for Large Animals, the horse is in stable condition and is expected to be discharged soon.

Cajun’s survival is a bright spot for a couple who lost their house, cars, and barn when the twisters pummeled the region.

When they were able to exit the cellar after the storm passed, the couple sized up the destruction, then immediately hunted for the horses.

Kass saw the herd leader, XXX Mouse, standing over Dakota and knew that Dakota had died. Soon they found the other two horses, Cajun and Dragonfly.

Dragonfly sustained some scratches, but Cajun was severely injured. Blood dripped down his rear right leg, where a stick still protruded.

Bush immediately began cutting through the fallen trees and debris blocking the driveway, and Kass called their veterinarian, Dr. Paula Orcutt.

“It was very sad that the horse was dead, but you had to take care of the one that was alive,’’ Bush said. “We didn’t give anything else much thought: The house can be rebuilt. We can buy cars again, and we can buy more hay. But with Cajun, that’s a living, breathing thing, and he can’t be replaced.’’

Orcutt was able to reach Cajun at around 1 a.m. Thursday, remove the stick from his leg, and bandage him the best she could.

More than a dozen people gathered later that morning to finish clearing the driveway, and the Animal Rescue League of Boston took Cajun to the Tufts hospital, in North Grafton.

Thomas Jenei, clinical assistant professor of large-animal surgery, gave Cajun his initial evaluation. He said he found the lowest joint in the horse’s foot was damaged and filled with debris.

Bush said doctors gave Cajun a 50-50 chance of survival.

“They’ve lost so much they really wanted to do everything they could to get him through this, so he could return to being a happy, healthy member of their family again,’’ Jenei said.

The couple decided to go through with the two-hour surgery, but left before the operation.

“We both were in tears, because we didn’t know if we were going to lose another horse or not,’’ Bush said.

The next morning, the hospital called and reported Cajun was in stable condition after the surgery and seemed to be in good spirits. The couple was updated again Saturday and told that he was eating again.

Gradually, Cajun began putting weight on his leg again, and yesterday doctors said they expected he would be discharged in about a week.

While specialists continue to work with Cajun, Bush and Kass are planning to rebuild their home and trying to find temporary stables to bring their horses back on the property, where they are living in a trailer.

Orcutt waived her fee for the on-site care, and drug distributor JA Webster has committed to pay for the drugs used in Cajun’s care.

Jenna Duncan can be reached at jduncan@globe.com.