Big Heart, Big Impact

Tricia Stewart Terry helps animals find sanctuary

One night some months ago, a baby pig got loose at a Pilot truck stop on I-94 in Ann Arbor, Mich. Upon learning this, the store manager ran out to rescue the little guy so he wouldn’t be killed.

Turns out baby pigs are surprisingly fleet of foot. The entire staff and a few customers chased it for two hours, with no success. Then a teenaged girl pulled up for gas. Upon learning a baby pig was loose, she reached into her car for a container of dry cereal. She shook the container and, presto, up came baby pig.

So how does this piglet relate to Tricia Stewart Terry BS96?

The girl, Cindy Sauls-Terry, is Terry’s daughter, and Cindy knew about pigs because her mother, a partner in the Ann Arbor law firm Marrs & Terry, also operates a very unusual animal sanctuary on her 160- acre farm near that Pilot truck stop.

A wide variety of animals live their best lives at Starry Skies.

Primarily established to rescue horses from grisly fates such as slaughter or severe neglect, the sanctuary, called Starry Skies Equine Rescue and Sanctuary, has become something of a menagerie. Right now, Terry has about 50 horses, and has harbored donkeys, llamas, alpacas, miniature horses and mules, ducks, geese and turkeys. “I’ve even had people drop off birds,” Terry says. She also has rescued pigs, of course. Several of them. That’s how Cindy knew how to attract Little Piggy. Marrs & Terry handles bankruptcies, real estate, estate planning and probate cases. So why would Terry want to spend what most of us would consider a crazy amount of her spare time feeding and cleaning up after (you get the idea) a barn full of forlorn animals—at considerable cost to her? “’Cause I’m a sucker,” says Terry, 45, with a sardonic smile.

Terry grew up an only child on that 160-acre farm. She attended Dexter, Mich., schools, graduating high school in 1992. She helped tend livestock and she also had a horse, “Pal.” So she was used to life with animals. She chose to attend EMU because she knew it was a great school, and because it was close to home. “I didn’t want to live in a dorm,” she says. More important, EMU offered two programs Terry was passionate about: criminal justice, and ROTC. “I’m so glad I went to EMU,” Terry says. “I was in the Honors program, which one year meant going to Yellowstone National Park to do survey work. It was amazing. I eventually did live on campus in student housing that was where the new library is now. It was an awesome place. “I really liked Eastern. I still recommend it to people.”

These goats don’t drive, but sometimes they accompany Terry to her law office for the day.

Back to the homestead

Terry earned her bachelor’s in criminal justice in 1996 and was a Golden Key National Honor Society recipient. She planned to go on into the U.S. Army, but decided instead to attend Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing; the law school is now part of Western Michigan University. Terry graduated in 1998; she was just 23. Terry and her husband, Danny Sauls, have been married for 15 years. Sauls primarily runs the farm/ranch. They produce hay, soybeans and corn. By 2010, the couple had two children and had adopted four foster children. Then living in Manchester, they moved back to the farm, where Terry’s mother, Sandy Stewart, still lived. Terry had no horse at the time, but, she says, “I wanted some. I decided on rescues. I started calling horse recue organizations and learned about horse slaughter. “I ended up taking in thoroughbreds. We built a big barn with an indoor arena, and started doing private rescues. People would stop by, ask about the horses, and pretty soon some asked if they could help. We made the rescue a nonprofit.” Volunteers are crucial. They come and go, she says, and donations never cover the costs. That doesn’t really matter to Terry. “I get something more from animals than I do from people,” she says. “I don’t understand what people who have just 40-hour work weeks and maybe one dog do with all that spare time. We process hay on weekends and on ‘vacations.’ I’m on the tractor a lot.”

“I get something more from animals than I do from people”

As if the Terrys aren’t already generous enough, they also work with the Washtenaw County Juvenile Drug Court Residential Program. Troubled teens are paired with their own Starry Skies horse. The teens clean stalls, groom their specifically-assigned horse and walk them on a lead rope. They learn about horse behavior, a recent Legal News feature described, “and process how their own behavior impacts the relationship and behavior of the horse, while learning to self-regulate their emotions and have the horse respond to their request.” The article also noted that, according to Washtenaw County Probate Judge Julia B. Owdziej, “Horses have shown great promise in helping to heal traumatized kids.” Owdziej serves as Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Division. Interestingly, the court for several years partnered with EMU to provide therapy services such as visiting Starry Skies for first-time, misdemeanor level offenders in high poverty, high-crime areas—students who also suffered health issues and poor graduation rates. While all this is going on, Terry works her day job at the law firm. It’s not surprising that animals inhabit these offices. Right now, that includes two office cats, and a dog. Call them the white-collar Terry rescue animals. Back at the farm, the rest of the four-legged rescues enjoy life and the incredible generosity of the Terrys. One of those animals is that runaway baby pig, which is now, of course, big. Real big, as in some 600 pounds or so. Terry named the little guy when Cindy brought him home that night: They called him “Pilot,” after the truck stop. He was destined to become bacon, at best. He was ultimately relocated. But his Starry Skies rescue meant a longer life, and lots of love, thanks to an EMU alumna who has a heart as big as that 160-acre farm.

­­By Sheryl James

(Photos by Leisa Thompson)