Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lost to laminitis: UC Davis says good-bye to its famed and beloved breeding jack

laminitis x-ray donkey hoof
Action Jackson, the 29-year-old breeding jack at the University of California at Davis, suffered from laminitis. He was humanely euthanized last week. (UC Davis photo)

The Hoof Blog will often note the passing of a famous stallion, when laminitis claims a life. Those are sad stories to write.

Last week the world lost another famous breeding animal to laminitis, but he wasn't a horse. He didn't live behind white board fences in Kentucky. His offspring won't run in the Kentucky Derby. They (probably) won't compete in the Olympics, either (but you never know).

donkey jack Action Jackson at UC Davis horse barn
Action Jackson, 1987-2017
Action-Jackson was a Spanish Mammoth jack. He saw a lot of "action" as the breeding jack at the University of California at Davis. In 20 years of service to the University and to the animal world, he was bred to 500 (horse) mares and jennys to produce a new generation of California-bred mules and donkeys who compete in all sorts of sports or pack supplies up and down the slopes of the Sierras and the Rockies.

Action Jackson had been donated to the school for use as a stud in 1996 by his owner, Pat Downing of Tucson, Arizona. His first mule son heralded a revival of mule breeding at Davis; he was the first mule born there in 60 years.

At the university's horse barn, Action Jackson's braying punctuated the atmosphere and attracted hundreds of people to the barn to meet him. He was a celebrity and he knew it.

How popular was he? In 2004, a limited edition of bronze sculptures of his likeness, called just "The Jack", were sold as a fundraiser for the school.

Action Jackson breeding jack at UC Davis
Over the decades Action Jackson's mission was dedicated to passing along his genetic code. He also gave animal science and vet school students experience with working with non-horse equids. (UC Davis photo)

Action's presence at UC Davis helped keep interest in mules alive on the west coast, and brought attention to the school each Memorial Day weekend when the famous Bishop Mule Days are held in the Sierra Mountains of California. Rich Engel, a Bishop native and Assistant Vice Chancellor of Alumni Relations at the school remarked, “His presence really helped bring quality mule breeding to the West Coast and, at the same time, brought a lot of distinction to UC Davis for its breeding program.”

In recent years, Action began to show his years. He developed a sway back. His teeth failed him. He suffered from degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis (DSLD), according to his veterinarian. Arthritis stiffened several of his joints. And his feet hurt.

Action lived on pelleted feed so he could maintain his body condition in spite of his inability to eat hay.
Even though Action Jackson was known to be suffering from serious and chronic laminitis, his death last week came as a shock to staff, faculty and students, according to Amy McLean, PhD, Equine Operations Supervisor at the UC Davis Animal Science Horse Barn, where he lived.

Action Jackson may have been a great novelty on campus, and a favorite around the barn, but he meant even more than that in the big picture of the University's history. He was a link back to its past. In this archival photo from 1941, you can see some of the school's working mules on the left,  and draft horses on the right, posing in front of the famous horse barn in Davis. (UC Davis photo)
When an unforgettable icon at a university dies, it is hard on the students and staff. Yet Action Jackson had lived to the ripe old age of 29. 

Action Jackson's care at the end was provided by Sharon Spier, DVM, PhD, Professor of Medicine & Epidemiology at the veterinary school. 

"Action showed clinical and radiographic evidence of chronic laminitis in all four hooves," Professor Spier told The Hoof Blog. "(The condition) was well managed by regular trimming and shoes for many years.

"Two days before he was euthanized, he developed lameness which was non-responsive to corrective hoof care, bandages and pain medications," she recalled.

"He was loved and fondly caressed and fed horse treats until the end," she continued. "He was euthanized at his owner’s request, for humane reasons. 

"There was not a dry eye to be found in any of the attending veterinary clinicians, students and Animal Science crew," she concluded. "Action will be sorely missed."

What may be Action's last offspring will be born in 2017, although the school hopes to breed more mares and jennys in the future using some of his semen that is frozen in the lab. His stud duties will be taken over by one of his sons, the jack Action’s Protégé. Protégé was the 2015 Bishop Mule Days World Champion Donkey.

by Fran Jurga

Thanks to Pat Bailey for her original story about Action Jackson.

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