Horses find sanctuary on Ann Arbor lawyer's farm

By Cindy Heflin

SCIO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- A brown horse stands in his stall, spine protruding sharply along his back, an obvious sign of malnutrition. Nearby, a mare walks about gingerly, still unaccustomed to hooves recently trimmed after months of neglect. Her friendly black and white foal noses a visitor, globs of mud and manure caked in his coat.

They are three of 18 neglected horses recently seized from a Salem Township boarding facility. All 18 are now recovering at the Starry Skies Equine Rescue and Sanctuary in Scio Township, also in Washtenaw County.

They've joined the more than 50 rescued horses already at the facility, run by Tricia Terry. Besides horses of all ages and sizes, Terry, a partner in the Ann Arbor law firm Marrs and Terry, has a few rescued goats and donkeys on the farm, as well as dogs, cats, chickens and a pair of potbellied pigs.

"When I do things I like to do them in a big way," she said, standing outside the fenced-in pasture holding several of the horses removed from the boarding facility.

That's why she finds herself today with more than 70 rescued animals, just two years after starting her efforts to save unwanted horses from slaughter. She participates in the daily care of the animals on top of working about 80 hours a week as a lawyer and serving as mom to two stepchildren and four adopted children.

Terry, who's always had a love for horses, started out a couple of years ago acquiring a few rescued animals she planned to keep at her family's farm, where she grew up and now lives with her husband and children. But as she began to learn about what happens to horses no longer wanted by their owners, she felt she needed to do more. That feeling was inspired at least in part by worries about what may have happened to horses she had owned in the past.

"Part of it may be guilt," she said. "I really didn't realize horses were at risk."

She said buyers aren't always forthcoming with sellers about what will happen to the animals after they're sold. Many horses sold at auction end up at a slaughterhouse, Terry said.

Finding this out left her wondering what happened to Pal, a palomino horse from her childhood, as well as a Shetland pony she once owned.

Though slaughter of horses was stopped in the United States by the passage of a bill in 2006 that ended funding for inspections, a bill recently signed by President Barack Obama has lifted the ban.

A Government Accountability Office study released in June found that slaughter of American horses didn't stop because of the ban, but shifted to Mexico and Canada, according to reports. The meat of the animals is sent to Europe and Asia.

"From 2006 through 2010, U.S. horse exports for slaughter increased by 148 and 660 percent to Canada and Mexico, respectively," the GAO report stated. "As a result, nearly the same number of U.S. horses was transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter in 2010 -- nearly 138,000 -- as was slaughtered before domestic slaughter ceased."

Terry wants to save as many animals as possible from that fate. She operated a private sanctuary for two years, paying all the costs herself, but recently converted her organization to a nonprofit corporation. The switch allows her to accept donations for the animals' care, which costs about $100,000 annually.

Fifty is the ideal number of horses at her facility, Terry said, but she could accommodate about 90 between her own property and her mother's next door.

Terry recently invested about $100,000 to build a new barn with space for an indoor arena. As the operator of one of at least a dozen horse rescues in Michigan, she now hopes to work with 4-H and horse clubs, providing them with volunteer and education opportunities and also connecting people looking to acquire a horse with rescued animals appropriate for adoption.

She said horse owners can easily spend thousands of dollars a year on one animal. "I'd rather spend thousands on dozens of horses." At the farm, the horses get room to roam, plenty of food and water, veterinary and farrier care and access to shelter. The addition of the 18 horses from Salem Township has stretched her resources a bit thinner than usual, and she is taking donations and volunteer help. Calls have been coming in as people have learned that she is sheltering the recently rescued animals. She also welcomes visitors to the facility at just about any reasonable hour.

Terry said people who adopt horses from her facility have to sign a contract granting her right of first refusal if they decide to get rid of their horse, and they have to agree never to sell it at auction.

As she spoke, a few of the recently rescued animals galloped playfully across the field. "I think they're feeling pretty good," she said.

Published: Fri, Dec 23, 2011