SCIO TOWNSHIP — Not all heroes come with a cape and cowl, but for the animals at Starry Skies Equine Rescue and Sanctuary, Dexter High School alumnus Tricia Terry-Sauls is as big a hero as they come.
Terry-Sauls, a partner in the Ann Arbor law firm Marrs and Terry, has been rescuing animals for the past 2 1/2 years, long before the sanctuary made headlines for rescuing 18 horses from a boarding facility in Salem Township last December.
"Tricia loves animals," Sherri Richardson, the sanctuary's farm manager said. "Every single animal in our sanctuary is like a child to her."
That’s why Terry-Sauls has opened her farm up to 70 rescued animals — including goats, donkeys and dogs and horses — on top of working 80 hours a week as a lawyer and being a mom to two stepchildren and four adopted children.
"Tricia wants to save the world," Richardson said. "She's always had that quality about her, which led her down this path."
Terry-Sauls was unavailable to comment for this story but told Ann Arbor.com that her interest in establishing a rescue sanctuary came after reading about unwanted horses being sent to Canada or Mexico for slaughter.
"I really didn’t realize horses were at risk," she told the news site.
Richardson said the majority of the horses who arrive at the sanctuary are often sick, malnourished or otherwise abused by previous owners.
"If I had to pick one issue that is the most prominent that we deal with, it's the horse's weight," Richardson said. "Next is teeth problems, worming, vaccines and grooming.
"About 30 percent of our horses have never been hugged, brushed, petted or talked to. They were moved from auction to auction and have lost their affection mode because they've never experienced it."
Richardson said the bulk of a horse's rehabilitation time is spent learning to trust humans again.
"It could take us a couple of days or a couple of months just to break through that trust barrier. It's shocking to see that most of these animals can walk, trot and canter and always have been able to, but it got lost in the shuffle."
Saved from slaughter
Richardson said operating an animal sanctuary is not cheap. Terry-Sauls operated Starry Skies for two years, paying all the costs herself, but recently received non-profit status. The switch allows her to accept donations for the animals’ care, which costs about $100,000 annually.
She also invested about $100,000 to build a new barn with space for an indoor arena to accommodate the growing demand.
"The most expensive piece of the equation is not boarding the animals, it's the special feed you can only get in Texas, dental fees, farrier costs, hay cubes, etc. It all adds up," Richardson said.
And while some of the horses will be adopted out to families, others will remain permanently on the farm to be cared for by 4-H and horse clubs. Richardson said people who adopt horses from the facility have to sign a contract granting the sanctuary right of first refusal if they decide to get rid of their horse and they have to agree never to sell it at auction. The 150-acre sanctuary itself is one of 12 sanctuaries in Michigan and is equipped to house between 50-90 horses at any given time.
With the holiday donation season over, Richardson said the sanctuary's fundraising committee is actively soliciting ideas to help raise money.
"We had $500 and $1,000 donations coming in before Christmas, but now that's come to a screeching halt and we're having to tighten our financial belt," she said. "When you have an animal rescue, that change doesn't translate into less food for the animals, it just means it has to come out of your pocket."
Ideas for future events at the farm include horse sponsorships, a sawdust or food drive for the animals and a black tie silent auction at Weber's Inn in Ann Arbor.
"We're open to all suggestions," Richardson said. "We don't turn anything down — whether it's a bale of hay or a $1,000 donation."
For more information about the sanctuary or to inquire about volunteer opportunities, visit the sanctuary's website or call 734-660-6449.