Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Miniature horse is therapeutic for boy, but violates county codes

SPRING HILL

In 2007, the Hernando County Commission allowed a pot-bellied pig to live as a pet on residential property in Spring Hill. Prior to the vote, his owner coaxed the pig to turn around, beg and sit in front of commissioners.

More recently, in March 2012, the County Commission, after much debate and objections from Realtors, signed off on permitting people to keep chickens in some residential areas — up to four hens per family — to provide eggs.

Now, the county has another animal dilemma on its hands: whether the beloved miniature horse of a boy with a rare genetic disorder should be allowed to stay in the back yard of a Spring Hill home.

Daisy, a dun-colored female, belongs to the family of 11-year-old Elijah Samaroo, at 219 Galaxy Drive. Elijah feeds the horse twice a day, rides her and brushes her.

"I care for her, and I love her," he said.

Elijah was just 2 days old when Kelly Samaroo, 52, took him home as a foster child. His mother lived in a mental health treatment program at the time; the identify of his father was unknown. When Kelly first saw Elijah, he was in a car seat behind the desk of a Florida Department of Children and Families social worker.

"I cried, because no baby as precious as this belongs sitting behind a social worker's chair in an office," said Samaroo. "I said, 'Come on, baby, you're coming home.' And from that day on, he's been home."

Born with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a chromosomal abnormality that makes him cringe upon human touch, Elijah hated being held as a baby and struggled to interact with other children in school, Samaroo said.

When the boy was 3 years old, Samaroo enrolled him in physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy to address his sensory issues and a host of other problems, including struggles with balance and eye contact.

Then Samaroo noticed Elijah's interest in horses grazing in Hernando County. She bought Daisy from a petting zoo in Dade City in January 2012.

"It's helped with his sensory issues. Before, he didn't like to be touched," Samaroo said as she watched him high-five a reporter.

The horse has bonded with the entire family, in fact, joining the Samaroos throughout the day by the pool and in the play room.

It's a big family that includes Kelly Samaroo; her husband, Jairam Samaroo, 47; six adopted children, ranging from a 1-year-old to a teenager, and three grown adopted children who live in different states. Kelly also has three grown children from another marriage; Jairam has four.

"It's like a heaven," Kelly says of the two-story house that backs up to Hunter's Lake.

The small horse prances in a corral looking out on the water. Manure is composted by the Samaroos and their neighbors, Kelly said.

Experts say that young people bond in a special way with animals.

"Animals are great as therapy for children because they are small and don't intimidate," said Daniela Sharma, program director of animal sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "Even when talking with a therapist, the child can be disconcerted. But a miniature horse doesn't give you that stare in the face the way adults do."

Trouble began in October 2012, when an anonymous neighbor filed a complaint with the county, noting that a horse was living in a residential zone. The county's Code Enforcement Department sent the Samaroos a postcard.

"I was sad — I thought, I'm not here to cause trouble. This is my safe little world with my children," Kelly said.

No citations or fines have been issued so far, just several warnings, said Chris Linsbeck, the county's zoning supervisor. But he says he's waited as long as he can.

The neighbors on either side of the Samaroos say they enjoy Daisy's presence and use her manure as compost.

However, "ever since they've had the horse, I've had rats in the garage," said Diane Kohna, 41, who lives catty-corner from the Samaroos.

A week ago, county Commissioner Diane Rowden pulled up to the Samaroos' house in her Mercedes Smart Car to meet Daisy.

"I'm on your side," she told Kelly Samaroo. "I've had a Great Dane that was bigger than this horse."

Linsbeck said the question of whether Daisy remains in the Samaroos' back yard normally would hinge on whether the horse qualifies as a "variance" from zoning rules — an exception usually reserved for particulars such as dimensions of buildings, not for noncompliant uses of property.

However, Daisy may qualify as an emotional support animal, meaning she would fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act and be approved to live with Elijah.

On Wednesday, Elijah's pediatrician, Flora Howie of the University of South Florida/All Children's Hospital, faxed a letter to Linsbeck describing the therapeutic benefits of Elijah's relationship with Daisy.

"It's a term that's new to me — 'emotional support animal,' " Linsbeck said. "Now we're trying to see if this qualifies for ADA protection."

Rowden said the county is leaning toward granting an exception, based on the doctor's recommendation.

"I have no problem with that,'' she said.

She said she has seen how Elijah lights up when he is interacting with Daisy.

"It's not something that's made up,'' she said.

Staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report. Alison Barnwell can be reached at abarnwell@tampabay.com or (352) 754-6114.

Miniature horse is therapeutic for boy, but violates county codes 06/14/13 [Last modified: Friday, June 14, 2013 6:56pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Arcade Fire open hearts, play with passion at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa

    Blogs

    Gloves off, hearts open and disco balls glittering, Arcade Fire scaled the stage for the first time ever in Tampa, pouncing and flailing and performing with all the passion that’s made them one of the world’s most celebrated rock bands this century.

    Arcade Fire performed at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa on Sept. 22, 2017.
  2. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.
  3. Rays journal: Alex Cobb may have pitched last game in Rays uniform (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — RHP Alex Cobb pitched well enough to lead the Rays to an 8-3 win over the Orioles on Friday.

    Wilson Ramos gives thanks after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  4. Steven Souza Jr. vindicating big trade for Rays

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — There was a time when the three-team, 11-player transaction the Rays orchestrated to get Steven Souza Jr. from the Nationals looked liked a bad deal.

    The Rays’ Steven Souza Jr. has 30 home runs this season while improving his defense and baserunning but wants to improve on his .236 batting average.
  5. Fennelly: Lightning's Manon Rheaume made history 25 years ago Saturday

    Lightning Strikes

    The name is part of Lightning history, hockey history, sports history.

    Lightning goalie Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL game 25 years ago today.