ROGERS CITY - The Presque Isle County Sheriff Department is looking for new homes for 31 horses seized from a Hawks woman accused of felony animal neglect.
Meanwhile, county commissioners agreed to pay $15,860.42 Wednesday to cover the costs of caring for the animals, along with five dogs and three pigs also seized from Christine Thompson's farm. An 89th District Court judge ruled Thompson must forfeit the animals and pay more than $13,000, the cost of caring for the seized animals up to the date of the civil hearing.
A handful of horse owners boarded the seized equines during an investigation by the sheriff's department, as well as the forfeiture proceedings. Since then, the costs have climbed as these caretakers continued to buy more hay and feed, Prosecutor Rick Steiger said. He's in charge of the criminal case, and Assistant Prosecutor Meghan Hurley handled the forfeiture proceedings.
"I learned, as a city boy, it was a terrible year for hay," Steiger said. "It was very expensive this year."
A portion of the bill went to the Cheboygan County Humane Society. Although Presque Isle County pays a yearly retainer to the animal shelter, County Clerk Sue Rhode told the board this was a different situation than taking in a stray dog. The animal shelter had to hold the dogs throughout the investigation and forfeiture hearing, rather than putting them up for adoption as soon as practical.
After some discussion over how much the county was being billed for individual items, commissioners agreed they need to pay the bill and find new homes for the horses. With 31 horses to board at $250 per month, per horse, and with good-quality hay costing about $85 per round bale, the costs are mounting.
"We're not going to trim much out of this by arguing about a bale of hay. I think the most important thing is we've got to get rid of them," Commissioner Steve Lang said.
Ultimately, Deputy Dave Tomas, county animal control officer, is legally obligated to feed the animals after their seizure and until they're adopted or sold, Steiger said. Ideally, the county would recoup most of the costs from selling the animals, and from Thompson's court-ordered payment.
"We should appreciate the fact they were able to find people willing to take care of these animals," Commissioner Robert Schell said.
The sheriff's department is working to place the animals, Undersheriff Joe Brewbaker said. The dogs and three pigs already have new homes, with most of the horses still in need of new owners.
"We have had some people already contact us, and we're in the process of getting them out to some new homes already," he said.
Those who are interested can contact the sheriff's department at 734-2156, Brewbaker said
Second Chance Ranch and Rescue is helping the sheriff's office find new owners for the horses, board President Suzanne Millican said. The nonprofit organization took in 10 of the horses after they were seized. It uses a screening process and adoption fee as a way keep the horses out of another bad situation. Those interested in adopting must fill out an application and provide references. Second Chance members do a site visit whenever practical, especially for first-time horse owners.
Second Chance can be reached at 313-433-0789 or by email at email@example.com.
Eight of the horses are American Creams, a rare breed, Millican said. The county has been contacted by a national organization interested in selling them to new owners. Second Chance Ranch will get a portion of the proceeds as reimbursement for boarding the stallion.
This winter will likely be a difficult one for Michigan horse owners, Millican said. Including these 31 horses, the organization has taken in more than 40 within the past six weeks.
"People might have some hay and they're trying to make it stretch," she said. "The grass doesn't start growing to where the horses can eat it and get some nutritional value until April."
Thompson told the court she was running a horse rescue operation of her own, taking in animals that others could no longer care for. She also said she was boarding some and in the process of selling others.
Joel Bauer, Thompson's attorney, was unavailable for comment Thursday.
While she lost the animals through forfeiture, she has not yet been convicted of a crime, Steiger said. She will be arraigned in circuit court in January, according to court records.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5688.