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'Truly neglected'

Krystle Wagner • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:30 PM
kwagner@grandhaventribune.com 616-842-6400 ext. 226

Horses will have to be euthanized, and property owners will have to clean up their act following an investigation by the Ottawa County Sheriff's office into a possible animal cruelty situation.

The sheriff’s investigators received a complaint after a neighbor observed horses standing in water at the farm in the 2800 block of Cleveland St. The neighbor complained the animals appeared to be malnourished.

Photos taken by another concerned citizen show horses standing in a flooded paddock. The horses' ribs and hip bones appear to be protruding through their skin as another horse lay dead beside them.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderberg said the Sheriff’s Department was investigating the case and had turned over an initial report to the prosecutor’s office for review of potential animal cruelty or neglect charges.

By Wednesday morning, the sheriff's office released a statement saying there would be no charges brought forth in the case. However, the farm's owners will be required to reduce the number of animals by euthanizing some of the older horses that were found to be underweight due to age.

The farm's owners, who live in Marne, will also have to repair shelters in each of the paddocks, clean up metal hazards and junk items, make sure the horses have adequate food and clean water available, and continue to regulate their remaining horses' health with veterinary check ups and vaccinations.

Nobody was at the property — which includes a barn and paddock, but no house — on Tuesday.

Ottawa County records show the Coopersville property is connected to a Marne address. The phone number for the Marne address was disconnected.

A Facebook message was sent to one of the property owners on Tuesday. That message wasn’t returned by press time.

Vanderberg said a veterinarian examined the animals and dead horse, but was unable to determine a cause of death. The veterinarian could not rule out a lightning strike or a stress-related death due to flooding. He said some of the 18 horses are “aged.”

After photos spread quickly on social media networks Tuesday, Vanderberg said he received many phone calls about the case. Some were from out of state.

“One lady was sobbing so much she could hardly talk,” he said. “It definitely struck a chord with people.”

Joy Aten of Hudsonville said the Coopersville farm is in a state of decline with broken items scattered throughout the place. Aten said she spent a few hours on a neighboring farm on the day after her friend made the complaint last week with the Sheriff's Department.

“It was a mess,” she said.

Observing the farm along its fence line, Aten said she saw horses standing in muddy water. She said some horses had wet blankets draped over them and the lone paddock was empty of hay. Some trees on the property showed signs of animals chewing on them.

Aten, who has four horses of her own, said none of the horses she could see on the farm appeared healthy.

"It was very obvious the horses were in great need and truly neglected," she said. "I myself would use the word 'abused.'"

Coopersville resident Amy Perrin, who lives a few doors from the property under investigation, said the farm has “always been like that.”

“They need to find a new home for (the horses),” she said.

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