For the past 25 years, children have come from as far away as China, Argentina, Spain and Mexico to rural Union County to participate in Serendipity Stables' healing horse-child enhancement program.

For the past 25 years, children have come from as far away as China, Argentina, Spain and Mexico to rural Union County to participate in Serendipity Stables' healing horse-child enhancement program.

The majority of families who travel to the 15-acre ranch near York Center have one or more children who have been diagnosed with autism.

The legend began with "Magical Mac," a horse that lived to the age of 50. Longevity wasn't Mac's only claim to fame. He was the original Serendipity Stables "healing horse."

Serendipity Stables founder Michele Davis said McDougall earned his "magical" nickname with his first client, an 8-year-old boy with autism.

"The boy was comatose and stiff," Davis recalled. "He was unable to move his limbs, did not speak or demonstrate eye contact."

When the child was laid face down on Mac's back with his arms around the old horse's neck, something magical happened.

"The child began moving his fingers in an attempt to pet the horse," Davis said. "He also tried to vocalize as he tried to speak for the very first time."

With each weekly visit Davis said the child continued to show improvement. Six months later he was functioning well in his daily activities - including school.

While every child doesn't respond to the horse therapy program in the same way, Davis says that over the past 25 years she has witnessed many similar success stories. Although "Magical Mac" has moved on to greener pastures, a stable of horses carries on his legacy today.

Davis said she fears that years of hard work and the dreams of families of children with autism may soon come to an end.

The horses at Serendipity Stables are about to get some new neighbors - about 6-million new neighbors.

If the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) approves a permit, Iowa-based Hi-Q Egg Products plans to build a 6-million-chicken egg farm adjacent to Serendipity Stables on state Route 47 near York Center.

That location is immediately adjacent to Serendipity Stables.

"The entrance to the proposed chicken factory farm will run parallel to my driveway and the buildings containing the chickens will literally surround my 15 acres," Davis said. "There are already other chicken facilities in this area. These other chicken farms are much smaller. However, the manure smell, flies and noise have driven many residents away and have created lifestyle problems for those neighbors who have had to stay in the area."

Davis said one farmer was forced out of business by an egg farm one-third the size of the proposed Hi-Q operation.

"One of my friends had a dairy operation, but after 2-million chickens moved in next to him, his cows were so crazed by the fly infestations, that out of pity for his livestock, he sold his cattle and closed his business." she said.

Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy said she has tried to make sure state officials are aware of Davis' situation.

"I have sent a letter to the governor about the expansion of Hi-Q Eggs into Union County," Kilroy said. "I think it's a real serious concern with 11-million chickens, the residents, the odors, the health concerns, the watershed concerns, the devaluation of people's property. There are family farms and businesses that will be affected. This latest example is Serendipity Stables. This big corporation is coming in and taking away from what people in Union County have spent their lives to build."

Kilroy said she didn't understand why Hi-Q chose the York Center location for its operation.

"This is an example of poor planning," she said. "There are already 3-million chickens in that area and adding 8-million more, I think, is a real burden on this community."

Kilroy said she also has issues with the confinement of the animals, feeding operations, the use of antibiotics and the potential effect on public health.

"There are some bigger issues and I think that's something they (Ohio Department of Agriculture) need to take a look at," Kilroy said.

Marysville Mayor Chris Schmenk says if the Hi-Q permit is granted, the company should be held to the highest environmental standards.

"While this proposed egg farm is not within our city limits, Marysville does have concerns about its possible environmental effects," Schmenk said. "Much of our city's drinking water comes from Mill Creek, and it is imperative that our water supply not be contaminated. If Hi-Q does come to our county, we will expect it to go above and beyond environmental standards and demonstrate that it is a good corporate citizen."

Union County Commissioner Gary Lee said he shares Davis' concerns and would hate to see Serendipity Stables legacy cut short..

"I think the concerns that she (Davis) has are the same concerns that the whole area and the region have," Lee said. "We're very concerned for her mission. I wouldn't call it a business. It's much more of a mission. We have directly expressed our concerns to Hi-Q about that situation. I can't say that we have really had much response from them other than they have talked about planting pine trees around the property."

Lee said the county commissioners are frustrated by the lack of control local authorities have over the permit process.

"One of our biggest frustrations is how little legal control we have over any of this process," Lee said. "Essentially we have none. We have pushed the envelope as far as we can."

Lee said the decision on the Hi-Q permit application could come at any time.

"We talked with a representative from the ODA about 30 days ago, and it was our understanding that it was going to be put in the hands of the director of agriculture to make a determination," he said. "That is the last that we have heard from ODA. I really thought we would have heard something by now."