‘Devastating loss’: Kentwood barn fire puts animal therapy sessions at risk

Kent County

KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — A big fire broke out in a Kentwood barn on Wednesday.

Fire crews got the call around 5 p.m. from neighbors who noticed smoke from the scene on Shaffer Avenue near 32nd Street.

“We honestly don’t know what happened,” said Nicole Zaagman, who works at Equine Assisted Development, which runs out of the barn. “It’s a mystery to us at this point. Everything was fine one minute, and it’s gone the next.”

The non-riding therapy program helps teach and empower kids and adults, including rescued victims of human trafficking. During the pandemic, free services were offered to frontline workers.

EAD rebuilt the barn five years ago. Deb Vanderband was at the reins. She lives on the property and came home to the barn in flames.

“I looked out to the field and I went, ‘Thank you, God. Because all the horses were outside, then I thought about the goats in the back, so we ran and got the goats out,” Vanderband said.

All the animals made it out alive and no one was hurt. But now, the owners are figuring out how to continue the therapy sessions.

“The life change that these horses have and the impact that they have on people, there is nothing that compares to it. So, this is a devastating loss, not only to us and all the volunteer that put their time, sweat and energy into it, it’s a devastating impact on the community moving forward,” Zaagman said.

The barn is a total loss, including the animal food stored inside. The group is now working to continue services without.

“Knowing Deb, she will continue as long as she has the energy and the stamina,” Zaagman said. “The horses are doing therapy for people who just stopped amidst this devastating situation, so I hope it will continue and time will tell.”

Kentwood fire is now investigating the cause.

If you would like to donate to the group to help with the animals’ care and the program, visit EAD’s GoFundMe page.

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