Bad news: Livingston police horse Sonny has a tumor. Good news: You can help him out

Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez is hoping the community will chip in to pay for the surgery needed by a member of the police department, Sonny the horse.

The youngest member of the mounted patrol, 15-year-old Sonny has what is likely a melanoma under his tail, according to Dr. Dave MacDonald of the Pioneer Equine Hospital in Oakdale.

MacDonald said Sonny’s prognosis is good. Melanoma is a common occurrence in horses with gray or white coats. “Melanoma is rare to see in young horses (younger than 6) but approximately 80 percent of gray horses over the age of 15 will have at least one melanoma,” he said in an email.

Experts tend to think it has something to do with the pigment of their skin.

Sonny and his compatriots, Moe and Lobo, are fed, stabled and otherwise taken care of by Reserve Officer Joe Cruz, according to Chavez. The chief asked members of the community to help pay for the surgery and follow-up care of Sonny, which is about $3,000.

Mounted patrols bring a number of benefits to a department, such as crowd control or providing an officer a higher point of view, Chavez said. One recent example came at Livingston’s Cinco de Mayo Festival.

Cruz was mounted on Sonny patrolling the perimeter of the festival, which took place over multiple days, on May 6 when they spotted 42-year-old Angel Ramirez driving an SUV with a blood alcohol content of 0.22, according to police. Ramirez has since pleaded no contest to several crimes, including felony DUI, according to court records.

Perhaps the mounted patrol’s greatest benefit comes down to community policing, according to Chavez.

“The police horses are kind of a tool to bridge that gap with the community. You know, it’s so much easier to approach an officer on the back of a horse,” he said. “The horse is a magnet. People like to come up, pet the horse, and start talking to the officer.”

Cruz brought Sonny to the department after he had already served seven years with a mounted patrol in Hardin County, Ohio. The police force there was downsizing and sold Sonny, who arrived in Livingston in February 2016.

Sonny is generally laid-back, as are most police horses, according to Cruz. The horse enjoys a muffin or two when visiting Starbucks.

“He likes to work. He likes going out,” Cruz said.

The recent poor air quality had gotten to Sonny, so Cruz took him to the veterinarian. That’s when the tumor was discovered. Horses can live to their 40s with routine care, Cruz said.

Cruz said he hopes Sonny can serve as an example for anyone who owns horses to have their animals regularly checked by a veterinarian.

Sonny’s surgery is scheduled for late September.

“He’s supposed to be OK,” Cruz said. “I’m the one who’s a wreck about it.”

The Livingston Police Department is soliciting donations for Sonny’s surgery through its foundation: Livingston Police Foundation P.O. Box 1, Livingston, CA 95334.