TRAVERSE CITY — A custody battle is brewing in Grand Traverse County over horses police said were mistreated severely.
Danelle Round, 39, was charged last month with a misdemeanor count of abandoning or being cruel to animals after police said she starved several horses on her property.
Two of the malnourished horses were euthanized in early January. Five others were taken away to receive care, including three that ended up with Horse North Rescue in Kingsley. Now Round's daughter — the horses' owner — wants those three back.
"I want to get my horses back and see this is resolved and this is all fixed," said Nikita Booth, 22.
She approached the rescue group last week to return the animals as long as she paid restitution for their care, but the idea of giving back sick animals prompted a protest from the region's horse lovers. Now Grand Traverse Prosecutor Al Schneider intends to file a civil lawsuit to determine if the horses should be forfeited to the rescue group.
"The statute provides the prosecuting attorney the ability to bring a civil action of forfeiture," Schneider said. "That gives the shelter the opportunity through us to show that the horses should not be returned because of the state of neglect. It also gives the owner who's claiming them the right to defend them."
Schneider did not charge Booth with neglect because she was not present when police discovered the horses.
"We didn't charge her, but that doesn't mean the horses still can't be forfeited, as long as she has right to defend the action," he said.
Booth said she didn't do anything wrong and was trying to return the horses to health after a Georgia trainer mistreated them last year. She described the horses as "bags of bones" when she got them back in March 2011.
"I paid a trainer to take (them) and put two months of training in and when I got them back, they were literally walking skeletons. Once they lose that much weight, it's a struggle to put that weight back on," Booth said. "I was literally doing anything and everything ... ; they were on food constantly."
Booth said the horses were in good care when she left for Florida late last year for 13 days to visit a sick relative. She returned after police removed the horses from the property.
But Lynda Freet, a Horse North Rescue board member who is caring for the three animals, said there is no way their condition could deteriorate so badly in such a short period of time.
"Horses do not get that way in 13 days," Freet said.
She said the horses were severely malnourished when they arrived. The group has spent the past month trying to get them healthy enough to begin other treatments, such as de-worming. Freet also said their hooves are in bad shape, and one horse has a heart murmur caused by malnutrition.
"A normal horse will eat half a bale of hay a day. These guys, between them, are eating five to seven bales," Freet said. "They won't be where they need to be for at least a year."
Round, Booth's mother, pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge and a trial is set for later this month.
Freet is glad the horses will remain with the rescue group for the time being.
"This is what we wanted — these horses to be safe," Freet said. "Hopefully the horses will win in this situation."