Benny, a chocolate brown miniature horse who is about 8 months old and has a habit of nibbling visitors’ shoes and cargo shorts, found a new home at the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm two weeks before Christmas.
And Benny didn’t arrive alone from the Homestead area on Dec. 12.
The farm’s director for 10 years, Jeanne Selander, and the Stock Island jail’s inmate staff welcomed Benny along with his best friend —a black pot-bellied pig named Pierce — and two additional mini adult horses with rock star-blond manes named Zena and Hercules.
These days, Benny spends his days grazing at a fenced-in field next door to the Monroe County jail on Stock Island, often sharing the space with two alpacas.
“He’s still a baby. He’s a sweetheart, the kids are going to love him,” Selander said this week as the young colt soaked in some Key West sunshine and affection from her new caretaker. “He’s not been mistreated, he’s not afraid of anything. He doesn’t know the alpacas are different than him so he’s really getting along well.”
The animal farm reopens Jan. 8 after the holiday break, with the four new additions ready to greet the public. About 135 animals live on the farm, including every last reptile, and dozens of species are represented including Mo the sloth, a popular public figure.
Benny the mini horse and pig were rescued together after being found roaming as running buddies near Homestead. The South Florida SPCA, a Miami-Dade agency founded in 1992 to rescue abandoned horses and large livestock, took in the pair and contacted Selander to arrange the adoption.
“He has his pig friend,” said Selander, who discovered the pair sleep side by side in their covered stall, and noted pigs and horses historically are enemies on farms. “Of course, we couldn’t separate them.”
Nearby, Hercules the mini horse is still on stall-rest as he heals up from a chipped bone in one of his back legs. Like Benny, Hercules readily greets visitors, coming so close he brushes up against a camera’s lens. Pierce the pig does the same but with a friendly grunting as he takes a break from getting a belly rub.
While anyone can drop off a dog, cat or rabbit at an animal shelter, horses and livestock are a different matter, said Selander, who with Peanut and Bam Bam now has five mini horses on the farm. “There is nowhere to take them, that’s why so many horses are abandoned,” she said, adding that sometimes their owners simply can’t afford them anymore. “There is no surrender facility.”
Often, the owners “abandon” their livestock in a place they know animal control officers patrol, Selander said.
The nonprofit South Florida SPCA has rescued more than 2,000 large farm animals and has about 50 horses on its ranch, which isn’t open to the public but arranges tours for those who join as members.
Sheriff Rick Ramsay’s animal farm on Stock Island is open to the public the second and fourth Sunday of each month from 1 to 3 p.m. Groups tours are available. For information call (305) 293-7300.
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen