Update: In April 2022, Friends of Madison Mounted Horse Patrol reported that Cooper has recovered well in the off-season, was ridden in the mounted officer academy, and will be back to work for 2022.
On a warm July day, police horse Cooper started showing colic symptoms. His caretakers rushed him to the UW School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM), but complications soon arose.
The 9-year-old Percheron, who has served with the Madison Police Department’s (MPD) Mounted Patrol Unit for five years, ended up spending more than two weeks at UW Veterinary Care in the summer of 2021. Colic can encompass numerous gastrointestinal issues and symptoms, though it is broadly classified as abdominal pain. It tends to be treated medically or surgically depending on the cause of illness.
Cooper was cared for by a team that included residents Alycia Kowalski and Sarah White, and Alexandra Burton, a clinical assistant professor of Large Animal Medicine. Upon Cooper’s arrival, Burton quickly realized he would need emergency surgery, and she pushed to begin the operation as soon as she finished his initial examination.
“The faster you can get them on the surgical table, the better chance they have of surviving,” Burton says. White and Mike Prichard, a surgical instructor, completed the operation.
At the Madison Mounted Horse Patrol’s barn, Kenneth Mulry waited anxiously to hear about Cooper. “I never left the farm that day,” Mulry says. “Just waiting to hear — I just needed to know that he survived the surgery.”
Mulry has been an officer for 25 years, and is Cooper’s only rider. He believes in the strength of the partnerships between police animals and their handlers, emphasizing “They’re not just tools to us. They’re our partners, and we have to look out for them as much as they look out for us.”
“I never left the farm that day. Just waiting to hear — I just needed to know that he survived the surgery.”
Unfortunately, Cooper developed postoperative ileus, a condition that led to a build-up of fluid within his stomach. His muscle enzyme levels also increased unexpectedly, an outcome that is sometimes typical in post-operation stages. Cooper’s care team dealt with these unforeseen circumstances by giving him intravenous fluid and nutritional support, and meticulously monitoring his vitals.
“Dr. White spent a lot of nights not sleeping very much, being with Cooper, taking caring of him, and looking out for problems,” Burton recalls. She credits this dedication as playing a large role in Cooper’s eventual recovery.
Cooper’s care was costly, but the department benefited from an SVM effort to make veterinary medical care more accessible to police units statewide. UW Veterinary Care currently has 46 active memorandums of understanding with Wisconsin state law enforcement agencies to provide discounted care to their policing animals.
Additionally, community members bonded over their love for Cooper and fundraised a large portion of the expenses through social media channels like GoFundMe. Throughout Cooper’s stay at the SVM, posts across platforms were flooded with well-wishes for his recovery.
Mulry also expressed his gratitude to Cooper’s sponsors, Lynne and Rich Schifreen, who continuously help fund the horse’s care.
In August, Cooper returned home. And in September, following stall rest, he was able to rejoin his herd of fellow MPD horses to graze and frolic with friends. Though he hasn’t yet returned to service, he is expected to make a full comeback to patrol duties in 2022 and meanwhile continues to participate in training activities.