A 19-year-old police horse named Elton is recovering after he was hit by an alleged drunk driver while on patrol -- the second such incident in the 16-year veteran's career on the force.
"We were just patrolling downtown Wilmington (in North Carolina) as we usually do on a Friday night," said Wilmington Police Department Mounted Unit Aaron Mininger, who has been riding Elton for the past five years, in a video statement posted to social media.
"A vehicle rear-ended me while I was riding my horse and it took us both by surprise," said Mininger. "Luckily, I was uninjured and Elton the horse, he has very mild injuries all things considered being struck by a drunk driver in a vehicle. As of now, we are just checking in on him and giving him some therapy and some medicine and, so far, it is a good prognosis and there are not any major injuries."
This, however, is not the first time that Elton has been struck by a suspected drunk driver. Chief Donny Williams said that he was also struck several years ago when he had a previous rider from the Wilmington Police Department.
"This is his second time being struck by a drunk driver," Williams said in the video statement. "One of his previous riders made us aware that a drunk driver clipped him with a mirror of a car when he was downtown on patrol."
"He was been through a lot," Williams continued. "But he is a remarkable animal. He is such a public relations tool for us and then he is also a crowd control tool so he is a working part of this agency and we are just so fortunate to be one of the few agencies in this state that has a full-time mounted unit."
Williams said that the horses on the police force are incredibly hard workers who work just as many hours as their handlers do, in many cases.
"We just don't pull these horses out for special events," said Williams. "They work 40, 50 hours a week, sometimes with their handlers, and in addition to riding them, the handlers maintain care for these animals 24 hours a day pretty much."
Elton is currently taking medicine for his leg injuries and is undergoing hydrotherapy to help soothe any remaining pain he may have.
"Hydrotherapy is a lot of using cold water to rinse the affected area and it really just helps to move the fluid and swelling, and also getting him moving just like when a human has a strain or anything. It helps to keep moving to get the fluid out and the swelling," Elton's rider, Aaron, Mininger, said.
It is unclear if Elton will return to the police force once he recovers but there is a meet and greet scheduled for Friday afternoon so the public can support him and give him all the love and attention he needs.
"The love and support we have received has been incredible," read the invitation posted on social media. "And now, Elton wants to meet you!"
Elton's hydrotherapy treatment is going well, according to the Wilmington Police Department, and he is making great progress.