---- — Politics, religion and income notwithstanding, a lot of people are united about one thing — their passion for their pets or companion animals. They love them like a member of the family.
So it wasn't surprising there was a strong reaction to a story out of Fife Lake Township in which a woman pleaded guilty in 86th District Court to one count of abandoning or being cruel to two or three animals, a one-year misdemeanor. Sentencing for Danelle Round is scheduled for March 2.
Authorities in January discovered seven malnourished horses on her property and were forced to euthanize two of them.
There is still some question about whether the five survivors will make it. And now Round's daughter, Nikita Booth, who owns the surviving horses, wants three sent to Horse North Rescue returned. Grand Traverse Prosecutor Al Schneider filed a civil lawsuit to determine who should get custody; the hearing is set for Tuesday.
Beyond the question of the horses' future, however, what has drawn the most interest — and ire — is that county animal control officers went to Round's property in October on a complaint about the horses but did nothing and, according to a neighbor, ignored pictures of the skin-and-bone animals in December after a horse died.
Though Round had been issued "several" citations in the past by county animal control officers, nothing was done at the time,
Finally, after another complaint in January, a Grand Traverse sheriff's deputy found two horses on the icy ground with bloody hooves, visible ribs and clumps of hair missing. Veterinarian Shanti Bhuyan said the horses were starved and the two on the ground needed to be put down.
The delay in looking into the situation left local horse owners and neighbors upset. If someone had acted back in October, they say, chances for survival would have been much higher.
As is so often the case, however, the situation wasn't black and white. An animal control officer who looked in on the horses in October was told the one in the worst condition was under the care of a veterinarian and the others were not bad off enough at the time — using a widely accepted scale to determine the animal's health — to issue a citation, according to Tom Buss, environmental health manager for the county health department.
Obviously that changed by January; but in October, that wasn't the case. And without proof, there's not much officialdom can do.
If there's a lesson here it is that too often, animals that depend on people are living on the edge, and their best defense are the eyes and ears of others.