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Homeless pony part of shelter animal crowd

FAIRBANKS -- A pair of intertwined ferrets napped, a parrot relieved himself and Alaska huskies yelped in the outdoor pen at the local animal shelter Tuesday.

One animal caretaker showed another a picture of the pot-bellied pig saved on her cell phone from a couple of days ago, when the house-trained wriggler got loose, was picked up as a stray and delivered to the Fairbanks North Star Borough animal shelter.

"When the owner realized that piggy was gone, she was already in here getting her belly scratched," said Matt Ruger, manager at the shelter.

In the back paddock, Sandy Klimaschesky touched the only sockless leg of a brown pony that showed up at the shelter about a week ago. The unidentified pony was turned over to animal control about two-and-a-half weeks ago, when someone found her running along the Salcha River and picked her up. Now the pony is hanging out in the yard of the shelter next to a menagerie of sled dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, roosters and other animals, waiting to be claimed or cleared for adoption.

Though the pony has an old injury, employees said they hope she will find a home as a light-pack or children's packhorse. Until then, animal control has canvassed the town of Salcha and Interior feed stores with fliers while the pony is coexisting healthily with about 60 other rescued animals, unwanted house pets and five busy caretakers.

The little horse is an unusual tenant, according to animal-shelter employees. It is so unusual that there is no set adoption fee for horses, which Mayor Jim Whitaker planned to try to resolve with the North Star Borough Assembly.

"Right now, the number that's being pitched is $300," said Ruger, noting it is not yet set in stone.

That number is dwarfed by the roughly $2,000 the shelter has spent on the horse so far, according to Ronnie Rosenberg, president of the animal shelter fund.

"We bought horse panels and a hay seeder, bug spray and a brush and hoof pick, and all the things you need for a horse," she said.

Tanana, one of the pony's temporary names, is light brown, about 10 years old and 13 hands high. Her stature, tail and coloring resemble the pony of America Appaloosa breed, minus the spots, Klimaschesky said.

Many people have expressed an interest in Tanana as a riding horse, employees say, for which her use should be limited to small children.

"She has a fused pastern joint," said Klimaschesky, rubbing the bulge above Tanana's right front hoof. "Probably from a fracture sometime in her life.

"There's also arthritis in the coffin bone," she added. "The final bone that's inside the hoof."

After scanning her for microchips and other signs of identification, employees said they have no idea where Tanana came from or whether she is broke to be ridden. She is also head-shy at being haltered, Klimaschesky said.

"She's very sweet," she said, but added that Tanana had the wits to take advantage of an inexperienced or timid person.

"She plays off what you know and what you don't now," she said.

As a policy, animal shelter staff are as candid as possible about an animal's shortcomings.

"We're not snake-oil salesmen," Ruger said. "Stuff here is an open book, and it needs to be."

One challenge shelter workers face is having no way of knowing the history of most animals.

"The downside to shelter animals is we only (know) what we were told and what we've observed," he said.

Still, the shelter sees it all: dogs, cats, mice, rats, rabbits, llama, sheep, goats, parrots and other birds.

"You never know when you open it what you're going to find in the evening drop-off cages," Ruger said. "We just roll with the punches."

While dogs and cats make up about 98 percent of the animals, ordinance requires the animal control division to care for any domestic animal, Rosenberg said.

A few years ago that included an alligator and crocodile duo brought in by a frustrated pet owner.

"That still holds the record," Klimaschesky said.


Fairbanks Daily News-Miner