TRAVERSE CITY — Editor's Note: Part of a series of stories about people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region in 2012.
A horse known as Lil' Bit was at death's door when she arrived at Horse North Rescue in Kingsley in January.
Michelle Smith, who now owns the 23-year-old quarterhorse, said a veterinarian estimated the animal would have died within a week had it not been removed from Danelle Round's Fife Lake-area property.
"I honestly did not know how she'd ever recover," said Smith, a volunteer for Horse North. "I'd never personally seen a horse that thin."
Now, several months and at least 300 pounds of weight gain later, Lil' Bit is doing just fine.
"My friends are probably going crazy because I'm constantly posting pictures of her on Facebook," said Smith, who permanently adopted the horse in April. "Her coat is shiny, her tail is full, her mane is growing back."
Round's story attracted plenty of attention in Grand Traverse County and beyond early this year. Two malnourished horses were euthanized after police and a veterinarian inspected Round's property in January. Lil' Bit and two other horses ultimately went to rescue groups.
All three horses are now in great health, Smith said. One was adopted by a family in Vanderbilt and another was taken by a family in the Jackson area.
A judge on March 2 sentenced Round to 14 days in jail and two years probation on one misdemeanor count of abandoning or being cruel to two or three animals. Among several other probation restrictions, she isn't allowed to own or possess animals.
The abuse was reported by her neighbor, Cora Wilson. Wilson said she witnessed abuses on Round's property "year after year," and said she repeatedly complained to authorities about problems there. She said Round moved off her former property, and she's glad to know those problems are in the past.
"It's real nice to know that I won't have to look out my window again and see a horse dying," she said.
Round told a Record-Eagle reporter that one horse that was euthanized was near death because of stomach cancer, not starvation. She declined further comment for this story.
Grand Traverse Sheriff Tom Bensley said the incident served as a reminder that there are legal ramifications for people who don't take care of their animals.
"There are groups willing to help. All you have to do is ask before they get sick, malnourished or whatever the case may be," he said. "If you can't take care of them, you better ask for help, or you're going to be in trouble."
In an unrelated case, Mayfield Township resident David Leo Prosch was charged in September with abandoning or being cruel to two or three animals after authorities found malnourished horses on his property. His trial is set for January.
Donations at Horse North skyrocketed after the Round incident, Smith said. People donated money, materials, food and more, and requests for horse adoption also went "through the roof."
"It really raised awareness," Smith said. "It helped people to know that these things happen, and they have a voice. It was a wonderful part of a negative story."
Horse North is still in need to volunteers to help house horses for the winter. Information can be found at www.horsenorthrescue.org.