Some residents picture suburban development as a slow-motion tornado that has ripped through Southern Maryland in the last several years, tearing up an acre of woods here, depositing a subdivision there. Humans aren't the only ones uprooted or disoriented, they say. The same tornado also has spewed all creatures -- pigs, goats, horses, rabbits, mules and even emus -- willy-nilly in every direction.
Left to clean up the mess is the Tri-County Animal Shelter, which has been handling an increased caseload of lost, abandoned and neglected farm animals. The shelter just received a $5,000 grant to build a barn where these critters can receive proper care.
Shelter director John Mudd attributes the problem to "gentlemen farmers" who have moved to Southern Maryland from more urbanized areas and want farm animals as pets.
"It's the novelty. People think, `We live in the country now, so why don't we buy a goat just for fun?' " Mudd said. "They don't realize the hard work that farmers have to put in to take care of their animals properly."
Especially popular as pets are goats and potbellied pigs, according to Mudd. Owners may buy such a creature without realizing that a goat can jump over a six-foot fence or that a potbellied pig will wander off and not return home. Or they may fail to provide the regular veterinary care even erstwhile barnyard animals need.
In 1998, the Tri-County shelter housed 182 animals classified as "other" -- meaning other than cats and dogs. While the shelter has not kept long-term statistics, Mudd said lost or neglected farm animals constitute a rising trend.
"There was a span last summer when there was not a day for three months when we did not have a pig or a goat at the shelter," Mudd said.
The same problem is occurring in other parts of Maryland, wherever rural and urban are colliding with all the force of a natural disaster, said Lora Junkin, executive director of the Baltimore-based William Snyder Foundation for Animals, which gave the shelter its grant.
"I think it's a reflection of Southern Maryland counties becoming a bedroom community for Washington," Junkin said. "People get these animals they have no experience caring for. I think it's the attraction of what people conceptualize as the idyllic, rural life."
The barn, slated to be built this fall, probably will have about 400 square feet of space and flexible stalls to accommodate animals ranging from two horses to a herd of goats, said Don McGuire, director of emergency services for Charles County.
Currently, the shelter handles farm animals by contracting them out to farmers, keeping them in an outdoor, 10-by-10-foot kennel, or simply housing them amid the barking dogs.
About half of the farm animals are retrieved by their owners, Mudd said. The rest are almost always rescued by humane groups.