The horses of England's Greater Manchester Mounted Patrol are revered for their bravery. In 2016, three of them — Hexam, Captain, and Tangle — shared the Service Animal of the Year award for their heroism in quelling a riot after the Manchester United – Liverpool soccer match. But another in their ranks, Brunswick, showed a different kind of bravery when he battled and beat eye cancer — twice.
The 17.2-hand Irish Sport Horse was a seven-year veteran officer in the Mounted Patrol when his grooms noticed his left eye was tearing excessively. Like in humans, eye irritation from pollution can be a transient issue in horses, but Brunswick's grooms realized this was serious. They called in Dr. Steve Orrell of Orrell Equine Practice, who cares for the Mounted Patrol.
Orrell's examination revealed three prominent carcinoma growths in the upper and lower eyelids of Brunswick's left eye.
The Greater Manchester Mounted Patrol was established in 1900 by Sir Robert Peacock, the chief constable of Manchester who had an affinity for 19th Century British novelist Charles Dickens. He named all the horses in the unit after Dickens characters, a tradition that holds to this day. Brunswick is the name of an area associated with Dickens.
As Dickens described headmaster Wackford Squeers in his classic novel Nicholas Nickleby, “He had but one eye, and the pocket of prejudice favors two.” If Brunswick's eye could not be saved, it would mean the end of his career as a police officer.
“The loss of an eye is always a consideration, but thankfully, we have never been at that stage with Brunswick,” said his human partner, PC Cassie Barratt, in an e-mail. “If it had been the case, as he was so young, our policy would have been to remove the eye, retire him, and find him a forever home, as he was sound and otherwise in good health.”
Orrell referred the horse to specialists on the surgical team at the University of Liverpool's Leahurst Equine Practice.
“Firstly, the third eyelid was removed, and he had three radioactive isotope bars inserted into the eyelid to irradiate the cancer,” Barratt said.
Brunswick returned to the Mounted Patrol, where its team, under Orrell's supervision, took over of his follow-up care. Unfortunately, the cancer returned, and Brunswick had to undergo another surgery to remove more tumors and the inner eyelid.
“Brunswick remained in full work throughout diagnosis, as, gratefully, there was no impairment to his vision,” Barratt said. “All he required was a few short periods of time off whilst he was in hospital and for a few days after treatment.”
The Mounted Patrol outfits its horses with a protective visor to shield the eyes and face from tossed objects, blows, explosives, and other hazards. Brunswick's veterinarians feared the ultraviolet rays of the sun might irritate his eye and cause another recurrence of the cancer and concluded that, essentially, Brunswick needed horse-sized sunglasses.
“The visors are specially created Public Order visors that all our horses wear along with nose guards to protect their eyes and faces in a situation where disorder is likely,” Barratt said. “Brunswick's visor was specifically designed with a UV filter to protect sensitive eyes from the sun's UV rays, and Brunswick is especially susceptible due to his surgery.”
A Twitter follower responding to Barratt's tweets about Brunswick's “Hay-Ban” sun visor commented, “Looking cooler than #Tom Cruise in #Top Gun.”
Barratt said they have not identified a reason for Brunswick's cancer. While in service with the Mounted Patrol, he never suffered any injury or trauma, and he was not exposed to tear gas or other chemicals. She attributed it simply to poor luck.
Now, Brunswick is back to his normal duties, protecting the people of Greater Manchester.
“Brunswick is doing very well and in full work, happy as always,” Barratt said. “He is a very stoical horse and takes everything in his stride and remains one of the friendliest horses despite all the treatment he has gone through.”
As Dickens wrote in Hard Times, “Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.”
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