Tuesday, January 23, 2018
News Roundup

Miniature horse is therapeutic for boy, but violates county codes


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 [email protected] or (352) 754-6114.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning shut out Blackhawks

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning shut out Blackhawks

CHICAGO — Turns out, Andrei Vasilevskiy is all right.And, believe it or not, so is the Lightning’s penalty kill, which was the unlikely hero in Monday’s streak-snapping 2-0 win over the Blackhawks at the United Center.Vasilevskiy, 23, played like the...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Back to work: Government shutdown ending as Dems relent

Back to work: Government shutdown ending as Dems relent

New York TimesWASHINGTON — Congress brought an end to a three-day government shutdown on Monday as Senate Democrats buckled under pressure to adopt a short-term spending bill to fund government operations without first addressing the fate of young un...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Male bicyclist struck, killed by vehicle in Pinellas Park

PINELLAS PARK — A male bicyclist was struck and killed by a vehicle on U.S. 19 on Monday night, according to Pinellas Park police.The incident took place at about 8:30 p.m. along the 8000 block of U.S. 19 N, near the Walmart Supercenter.The driver wa...
Updated: 6 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Jan. 22

Monday’s scoreboardBoys soccerPalm Harbor U. 3, Clearwater 0Boca Ciega 3, Indian Rocks Christian 1Girls soccerClass 4A, District 10: Countryside 7, Clearwater 0; Dixie Hollins 2, East Lake 0Class 3A, District 10: Osceola 14, Gibbs 0...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Lottery resultsNumbers drawn after 9 p.m. are no longer available by our deadlines. For results, go to tampabay.com/lottery.Pick 2, 3, 4, 5Mon., Jan. 22, midday:49 851 5049e_SRit11446Mon., Jan. 22, evening:05 733 5365e_SRit06330Fantasy 5Mon., Jan. 22...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Glass art shines at St. Petersburg’s new Imagine Museum

Glass art shines at St. Petersburg’s new Imagine Museum

ST. PETERSBURGThe bay area’s thriving glass art scene adds another member to its ranks today when the Imagine Museum officially opens in downtown St. Petersburg.Dedicated to the movement of studio glass, the museum is the brainchild of benefactor Tri...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Facebook vows progress in halting election meddling

Facebook said Monday that it fell short in preventing the social media network from being used for foreign meddling in the U.S. presidential election.New blog posts written by Facebook executives appear to be the most critical self-assessment yet of ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Judge: Victims of sports doc are ‘sister survivor warriors’

Judge: Victims of sports doc are ‘sister survivor warriors’

Associated PressLANSING, Mich. — The judge overseeing the sentencing of disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar said Monday that more than 120 girls and women who had given statements so far at the five-day hearing were "sister survivor warriors....
Updated: 8 hours ago
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri severs contract with CareerSource Pinellas

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri severs contract with CareerSource Pinellas

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri severed his agency’s contract with CareerSource Pinellas on Monday after learning that the jobs center told the state it helped 624 sheriff’s employees get hired since 2014.The sheriff said he has no record of CareerSou...
Updated: 8 hours ago

TexasVoter-fraud panel targeted Hispanics, documents showPresident Donald Trump’s voter-fraud commission specifically asked for records identifying all Texas voters with Hispanic surnames, according to newly released documents. Records made public by...
Updated: 8 hours ago