For hours, veterinarian Richard Kane did everything medically possible for the horse. But as he watched it fade as a result of colic, he knew surgery was the animal's only hope.
But the closest equine surgical facility was three hours away in Gainesville.
Kane loaded the thoroughbred gelding, owned by a friend, into a trailer for the 130-mile drive.
The long drive, filled with hope, soon turned to despair.
"Turning onto Archer Road from Interstate 75, just 10 minutes from the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine, the horse collapsed in the trailer and died,'' Kane said.
Kane said he knew if there had been a local surgical center, the horse might still be alive.
Now, 18 years later, Brandon has just such a facility, thanks to Kane. Soon after the horse's painful death in 1995, Kane opened Surgi-Care Center for Horses on Bloomingdale Avenue west of Bell Shoals Road.
He sold the center to Dr. Leann Kuebelbeck, who had already worked at the center, but the two continue to work together. Kane owns Care Animal Hospital next door to Surgi-Care and treats a variety of small animals while also operating a rescue facility.
"This was our plan from the beginning when we had a partnership agreement," he said. "We still work together to see patients.''
Since its start, the Surgi-Care staff has grown and become more aware of how to meet the horse community's needs.
With a population of 500,000 horses, Florida ranks third in the nation behind California and Texas, according to the American Horse Council, based in Washington, D.C.
Recognizing the ongoing needs of horse owners, many who have "backyard horses" as pets, Kuebelbeck wants her center to be the place to meet the needs for sick or injured horses instead of owners having to travel to South Florida or to Gainesville.
She not only brings expertise, but a caring touch. Kuebelbeck remembers removing part of a horse's intestine because it was struggling with colic.
"The horse was very sick after the surgery, and although we try not to get attached, we worked on this horse for days," she said. "I was up day and night with this kindest of horses and it was becoming very costly. The owners said 'put him down,' and I decided to try one more night, at no cost, to the owners. The next morning he was eating from his hay bag and he quit refluxing."
The owners were delighted to have their pet back, especially so because they were already mourning it, she said.
Kuebelbeck said she has wanted to be a vet since she was 5 years old.
She attended the College of Agriculture at Kansas State University and the College of Veterinary Medicine at the same school, acquiring expert training and enhancing her sense of community.
She said she feels strongly about giving back and sponsors essay contests, as well as seminars for 4-H members, equine education seminars for clients in the spring and fall and free continuing education courses to vets, including pharmacy courses.
Since 1995, Surgi-Care has grown to include two ambulatory care trucks so horses can be treated where they live, with the exception of emergency surgery.
Kuebelbeck said the center also provides a variety of services along with emergency care and surgery: orthopedic and soft tissue treatment, 24-hour emergency and critical care, outpatient and internal medicine evaluations, farrier consultations, digital radiography and ultrasound exams, and elective surgery.
Individual wellness plans are offered that allow clients to keep their horses healthy through preventative maintenance. Plans include most vaccinations, yearly Coggins tests to detect equine infectious anemia, dentistry, two physical exams a year, and other services.
Plans for the center include renovations, expansion of the sports medicine center for show and race horses and another barn on the back 5 acres.
The facility is open 24/7 and employs three full-time senior equine veterinarians, two interns, one part-time surgeon, 11 veterinary technicians and two consultants.
Michelle Jones can be reached at [email protected]