Michigan shelters see rise in abandoned animals

By Micki Steele

The Detroit News

An AP Member Exchange

ADDISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- Lynn Boehmer wanted a companion for her beloved American quarter horse, Champ. And she got him one for just $500.

Champ seemed pleased when Boehmer introduced him to Rosie, a 14-year-old Arabian mix. "He just perked up," she said. "They were nose to nose."

Boehmer, who lives on 20 acres with her husband in Oakland County's Addison Township, adopted Rosie after visiting Oakland County Animal Control. The agency rescued more than a dozen horses in early September after their owner had stopped feeding them, authorities said.

The horses are among many animals and pets in Michigan who have been left in the cold after their owners lost jobs and homes.

Many animal facilities report rising numbers of surrendered, abandoned or neglected pets. And the number of people willing to adopt may fall short of the need, leaving orphaned animals homeless.

The Oakland County agency has received more than 1,000 surrendered pets and nearly 100 abandoned animals, mostly dogs and cats, since January. Those numbers outpace adoptions by more than 2-to-1.

Owners who turned in pets once complained they were short on time.

"Now it's 'I can't afford (to keep pets),'" said Joanie Toole, the agency's administration supervisor.

The problem is especially acute among horses, as Oakland County authorities can attest after seizing 13 underfed horses last month in Rose Township. The horses' owner has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor animal cruelty, authorities said.

Some of the horses could barely stand. A few walked slowly with protruding rib bones.

"They were starving them to death," said Sgt. Heidi Hawley, who is overseeing the horses' care.

Nationally, six of 10 horse rescue facilities report they're at or near capacity, and they turn away more than one-third of the horses brought to them by distressed owners, according to a 2009 survey commissioned by the Washington-based Unwanted Horse Coalition.

"With the economic downturn, we're seeing the same problem with horses as dogs and cats," said Jill Fritz, state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

The average yearly cost to own one horse ranges from $1,500 to $2,600, including food, basic veterinary care and boarding.

Rosie and two other horses have been adopted. A stallion, considered valuable for breeding, was relocated to a farm, but agency officials would not disclose the location. The remaining nine have received medical attention and enjoy regular feedings at a local farm, where they will stay until they're adopted.

Domesticated pets aren't the only animals affected by the economic downturn. Shelters also report owners surrendering farm animals.

A farmer in Pigeon recently relinquished three cows to Sasha Farm, an animal sanctuary in Manchester that provides lifetime care for unwanted breeds including dogs, horses, goats and cows. After the farmer bottle-fed the cows, he couldn't bear to send them to slaughter, but they were too expensive to raise as pets.

The sanctuary shelters nearly 300 animals and has received more calls in the past few months about surrendered and abandoned horses.

"People just can't afford to keep them anymore," spokeswoman Amanda Hitt said. "It's a pretty sad situation."

Published: Wed, Oct 13, 2010

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