After the seizures by Devoted Barn, this horse rescue strengthened its forces


DEERFIELD TWP. – In January, a horse rescue center in Deerfield Township became a sanctuary for 64 farm animals that had been seized by police at the Devoted Barn.

Horses' Haven, a nonprofit rescue organization north of Howell, helped Livingston County Sheriff's Office officials retrieve pigs, sheep, goats, donkeys, a llama and an alpaca from a wooded area in Tyrone Township where The Devoted Barn had sheltered them.

The owner of the Devoted Barn, Melissa Borden, 50, faces animal cruelty and animal abandonment charges in Livingston and Genesee counties. Officials have investigated three properties where she kept or still keeps animals.

Kristine Dvonch, executive director of Horses' Haven, said taking in the animals was a once-in-a-lifetime experience in several ways. She said it was the largest number of animals they had ever rehomed following a single police seizure.

“Usually it’s between one and five horses,” she said.

It was also the first time they took in animals of other species.

As of Wednesday, May 29, six sheep from the Tyrone Township impoundment remained at Horses' Haven. They will soon be relocated to animal shelters. Most of the other animals are alive and have already been relocated.

The animals were kept on vacant land on Foley Road east of Hartland Road near Majestic View Drive, with some reportedly suffering from poor health and pain without adequate veterinary care.

Borden is charged with abandonment and cruelty to animals involving 25 or more animals in connection with the seizure. She also agreed to give up the animals involved. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 7 before Judge Suzanne Geddis of the 44th District Court.

“It took almost four months to rehome the majority of the animals,” Dvonch said, adding that four pigs and a sheep were in such poor condition that they had to be euthanized.

Many animals were placed in animal shelters, usually nonprofit organizations, Dvonch said. Horses' Haven placed the donkeys with a private adopter they had worked with before.

The paratuberculosis virus (paracetamol) has been detected in some animals. This is an infectious disease in ruminants such as sheep and goats that causes the animals to become stunted.

“For ethical reasons, I cannot release these animals into the public,” Dvonch said. “But I have found shelters out of state that will only take Johne's positive animals.”

Due to pending litigation, Dvonch declined to comment on living conditions in Tyrone Township.

She also declined to comment on the seizure of five more animals from The Devoted Barn on Tuesday, April 30, after officers executed a search warrant at a farm on Mack Road in Oceola Township.

Lt. Chad Sell had previously told The Daily that two horses, a pony, a sheep and a goat had been relocated.

Borden is charged with the same crime in Genesee County District Court D67. WJRT ABC-12 News reported she operated a dog rescue center on E. Hill Road in Grand Blanc that police investigated based on concerns raised by previous volunteers. A preliminary review of that case is scheduled for June 4 before Judge William Crawford.

“Most (police) seizures occur in private homes,” Dvonch said. “The words 'rescue' and 'sanctuaries' should never be associated with pain and suffering.”

Horses' Haven is staffed by staff and volunteers seven days a week. There are stables and pastures, a medical supply room, an obstacle course to promote mental and physical stimulation, a grooming program and other amenities.

The organization regularly works with law enforcement agencies in several counties and provides horse training. It also works with the ASPCA.

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Last year, Horses' Haven took in 121 horses, 87 of which were adopted. So far this year, the sanctuary has taken in 67 horses and 65 other animals. As of Wednesday, the sanctuary had taken in 23 horses from multiple cases with police, in addition to voluntary surrenders.

“Part of my personal development that I've learned through this experience is an appreciation for other species,” Dvonch said. “And new relationships with veterinarians and animal shelters. I will appreciate that.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Eberbach at [email protected].