Guest Blog: My Incredible Friend

By Wayne Woolway, Virginia Range Volunteer

I am about to regale you with a story of dedication, the love of wild horses, and sacrifice. Stick with me for this story and I guarantee you will be inspired, and perhaps moved to tears. When I first approached Cathy with my idea for this article, I knew she would be hesitant. She does not seek the spotlight. I won her over with my tried and true, “It will help the wild horses' ' sermon. I must provide full disclosure; our heroine, Cathy, is my darting partner, fellow rescue Captain, and a good friend. Am I biased; you bet!

We need to have a little background to set the stage for this tale. Cathy has a diminutive stature of 5’2” and you would never suspect that she was a big rig driver who team drove 18 wheelers with her husband, John. That is only part of the story, as Cathy and John have over 37 years of marriage and their partnership continues in their efforts to save the wild horses. Cathy is a fertility control darter for the Virginia Range. These horses belong to the state and are controlled by the Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA). The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is a non-profit organization that has a Cooperative Agreement with the NDA to provide fertility control for the state horses on the Virginia Range.

Let’s talk about Cathy’s responsibilities as a fertility control darter. It is a difficult task that involves many facets. You must locate the wild horses in remote off-road areas, identify the band, and identify specific mares that need darting. You then mix the fertility control vaccine using scientific protocols and fill the dart with the vaccine. As you observe band behavior, you position yourself properly for a shot at the target mare. Bands and target mares often move so it is a constant challenge to re-position for the proper distance and shooting angle. You must have the shooting skills to safely dart the mare then recover the dart. Your work does not end there. After your day in the field, you must clean and maintain your vaccine syringes and darting gear after every day on the range. You must also keep accurate treatment records and enter the darting information in our nationwide database, WHIMS Web (Wild Horse Information Management System). Beyond the challenges of a fertility control darter, Cathy has accepted the added responsibility of “Herd Lead '' for the horses in the Stagecoach and Silver Springs area. She personally has photographed wild horses for scientific documentation and has review and approval authority for darting and documentation entered into WHIMS by other volunteers.

Cathy is a Director for the Wild Horse Preservation League (WHPL). This organization works to protect the Virginia Range horses in the Dayton area. Most recently, Cathy successfully submitted a proposal to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to establish a fertility control darting program for federal horses in the Pine Nut Herd Management Area (HMA) south of Dayton. WHPL now has a Memorandum of Understanding with the BLM and are commencing documentation and darting of wild horses in that area. I always enjoy working on the range with Cathy and have great memories of our time spent together. Perhaps my fondest recollections are of her behind the wheel of the “Company Jeep.” Full disclosure: I am an “Old school” guy who does not give up the steering wheel willingly. I feel most comfortable when I am controlling the vehicle. However, I relented, and rode “Shotgun” based upon two factors; Cathy’s skill as a big rig driver and her off-road experience during range trash clean up with her husband John (Yes, another volunteer service to the community!) I have experience in high speed pursuits as a retired LAPD, and off-road dune buggy driving. However, that did not prevent me from anxiously hanging onto the grab bar when Cathy calmly negotiated technically challenging terrain. I never doubted her skills. I just hope I did not embarrass myself by screaming like a terrified baby when she negotiated some nasty sections of the range. Cathy had the good grace and style to smile knowingly and not comment on my nervous discomfort.

Cathy is also trained and certified as a volunteer Large Animal Rescue Technician. When a wild horse is injured or in distress on the Virginia Range, there is no one available to call except the all-volunteer Technical Large Animal Rescue team. When a Captain was needed for the Stagecoach/Silver Springs area team, we all nominated Cathy as the obvious choice. She supervises rescues and performs as the Incident Commander during rescue operations.  History has shown that we made a wise recommendation suggesting Cathy as Captain.

By now, you may have guessed that Cathy does not do anything at “Half speed.” Her accomplishments so far are significant. However, here is one more thing; she coordinates the diversionary feeding program in Stagecoach/Silver Springs. The purpose of this program is to draw the wild horses away from the un-fenced portions of Highway 50 where wild horses were being struck and killed. Diversionary Feeding requires that she obtain written approval from landowners and subsequent approval from the NDA, via the Range Manager, Corenna Vance. There were 15 horses, including a couple of foals, that were struck and killed on a small portion of the highway within a 4-month period. To date, her efforts have reduced that number to two horses hit and killed. Her supervision of the program included her husband John distributing the hay on the range.  

At this point, I’m sure most readers are impressed with Cathy’s wild horse exploits. However, I have just given you a “snapshot” of her background. Hold on, because here comes the amazing part of Cathy’s story! A very unusual foal was encountered because of a wild horse rescue call. This foal was down and unable to get up, due to his disproportionate size and conformation. He was named “Goliath,” which gives you an idea of his rare size. He was taken to the veterinarian for initial treatment. The normal protocol for rescue is we perform the initial life-saving techniques and transport the animal to an after-care facility. Our rescue organization is not equipped to provide long-term care. However, there was no care facility available. Instead of euthanasia, a handful of our rescue team, including Cathy, agreed to take on the challenge of providing care for Goliath. In retrospect, they had no idea the extent of the commitment that they were accepting. Goliath required that a volunteer is with him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He could not get up on his own and would sustain internal injuries if left on one side too long. Additionally, he would often fall and could not get up without assistance. Cathy would take a day shift and her husband John would take the overnight shift. Four or five volunteers worked out the scheduling and it was like having a full-time job.

As the months progressed, Goliath’s initial size and growth rate soon made it difficult, if not impossible, for one volunteer to get him up if he fell. His new nickname became “Moose.” By the 7th month, his weight was estimated at more than three hundred pounds. This handful of volunteers had dedicated themselves to caring for Goliath, which essentially put their lives on hold.  Taking care of Moose, Cathy sustained an injury and encountered complications that required hospitalization. Let’s revisit the 37-year marriage and partnership of Cathy and John. Her condition requires a dedicated caregiver with a lot of loving patience. That’s exactly what John provides, and they are lucky to have each other. As of this writing, Cathy is making progress through physical therapy. As she rehabs at home, she continues to coordinate her responsibilities via phone and text and still goes out in the field with John’s assistance.

It was obvious to me that she was frustrated because she was not mobile and could not work on the range. The new darting agreement with BLM would require that she take volunteers into the Pine Nuts and show the boundaries and where we might find horses. I know Cathy has “True grit” so I asked if she would go out with me in the Jeep to scout the Pine Nuts (yes, the same one she scared me in before)! I had to ask if she could get in and out of the Jeep. She said she could with her walker, a block to stand on, and John to help her. Next thing you know we are bouncing around on the rocky roads in the Pine Nuts looking for horses. We found a band and I attempted to dart a mare while Cathy took documenting photos from the Jeep. We received a call regarding an injured horse in Stagecoach, so we responded and checked on the minor injury. While there we saw several bands and Cathy spotted with binoculars from the Jeep while I darted, and we ended up darting three mares. Nice teamwork.

I hope this tale of dedication and overcoming adversity has inspired you. I am fortunate to work with several incredible volunteers in addition to my amazing friend Cathy. We will all do what it takes to help her fight her way back to full duty. She has a challenging road back, but I would not bet against her; you will lose!