STONY RIDGE, Ohio - Kenny Hetrick has been getting some surprise Sunday wake-up calls at his home-cum-exotic animal menagerie in Wood County.
He and his wife will hear the security bell ring as someone drives up, nearing the fences containing their lions, tigers, grizzly bears, and other animals.
The vehicle almost always pulls away before Mr. Hetrick makes it outside. But the person will have left him a four-legged gift.
"I'll hear that bell ring, and by the time I get dressed and get out there, they're gone, and there's a horse standing," Mr. Hetrick said. "They'll just tie him to the barn somewhere and leave."
Mr. Hetrick, 64, who keeps 30 animals at his Tiger Ridge Exotics, 5359 Fremont Pike in Troy Township, said the horses are dropped off for a reason: his animals' tastes are well known.
"They love horse meat - every single one of them," he said.
As more area horse owners have struggled to afford the animals' upkeep in the ongoing recession, Mr.
Hetrick's exotic animals have been eating well.
He said he has noticed an uptick in recent months of people giving up their horses for financial reasons and now takes in two to three horses a month.
Although Mr. Hetrick said he refers the healthiest horses to area rescue groups - "there's nothing I hate worse than having to put down a good horse" - the many who arrive with signs of neglect or starvation usually enter the Tiger Ridge food chain.
Barbara Oberhaus, president of the Wood County chapter of the Ohio Horseman's Council, said she knows several horse owners who have recently lost jobs and been forced by financial necessity to have friends take in their animals.
Horses are an expensive hobby. Expenses for food and vitamins for one can approach $10 a day, and boarding a horse can cost about $300 a month. .
But there appear to be more horses than ready stables.
"Everyone who has horses has taken in as many horses as they can," Mrs. Oberhaus said. "At some point you have to say, 'Sorry, I just can't take any more.'•"
Mr. Hetrick has in fact put down two of Mrs. Oberhaus' own horses, in both instances because of painful physical ailments.
"I would rather see my horses go to the beautiful tigers, lions, and bears than to just bury them and have them eaten by a ground worm," Mrs. Oberhaus said.
Diana Murphy, founder and president of Voice for Horses Rescue Network in western Lucas County's Spencer Township, said her group is caring for 35 horses that arrived from as far away as California.
"We've had so many people calling us because they can't afford the vet care anymore, they can't afford to feed them anymore, they can't afford to pay the board on them anymore," Ms. Murphy said.
At Tiger Ridge, the circle of life picks up as Mr. Hetrick takes the horses and his gun into his barn. He does not use the common veterinary lethal injection because the chemical, phenobarbital, would poison the meat.
He considers marksmanship the key to a quick and painless death.
"When you put a horse down, there's only a little spot about the size of a nickel in his forehead, and that's where you have to put the bullet," Mr. Hetrick said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it's legal for Mr. Hetrick to shoot horses and feed his animals the meat. His exotic animal license is also in good standing.
And although the Toledo Area Humane Society stresses adoption, foster homes, and food aid to assist horse owners through hardship, it considers Mr. Hetrick's euthanasia methods acceptable in the appropriate circumstances.
"The Humane Society supports that type of euthanasia as humane euthanasia because it is direct, it is immediate there is no pain, there is no suffering," said Natasha Bailey, director of communications, adding, "The humane society wants to help those animals before they get to that point."
She said the Toledo Area Humane Society has spent about $12,000 so far caring for five horses it recently acquired and placed in foster homes.
Three of the horses were seized late last year from a western Lucas County property after they were found starving. Their owners had fallen on hard times and were going through foreclosure, Ms. Bailey said.
Kelly Seymour, 33, of Sandusky County's Rice Township north of Fremont, volunteered her family's 13-acre farm as a foster home for four of the five. All of them have regained weight, and this month one of the mares gave birth to a colt.
"There's a lot of people struggling right now to even keep their horses," Miss Seymour said. "You can hardly even give them away."
Mr. Hetrick also makes house calls, and for $50 will shoot a horse and haul it away in his pickup truck.
His services are significantly less expensive than the $100 to $150 often charged by area veterinarians for lethal injection, on top of disposal fees that can run several hundreds of dollars.
Mr. Hetrick said the majority of these trips are for lame or dead horses, but occasionally he's called to pick up horses that obviously died of starvation or are so underfed they've been eating the wood of their stalls.
"When that happens, I call the sheriff or the humane society," said Mr. Hetrick, who is a part-time police officer for Walbridge and a reserve deputy with the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office.
Mr. Hetrick's methods have generated some controversy among area horse lovers, said Joan Miller, the northwest regional representative of the Ohio Horseman's Council.
"It's a very touchy subject for some of these people out here," Mrs. Miller said. "A lot of people consider their horses companion animals."
Human consumption of horse meat is legal in the United States but is rarely done. It's more popular food in countries such as France, Italy, Belgium, and Japan.
The Toledo Zoo once fed horse meat to its own exotic animals but switched to beef.
There are no legal horse slaughterhouses operating in the nation. Anti-horse-slaughter bills were reintroduced this year in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Contact JC Reindl at:
or 419-724-6065.41.50915 -83.5112
Kenny Hetrick has been getting some surprise Sunday wake-up calls at his home-cum-exotic animal menagerie in Wood County. He and his wife will hear the security bell ring as someone drives up, nearing the fences containing their lions, tigers, grizzly bears, and other animals.