ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County is taking ownership of 40 underfed horses that were seized from an Essex woman, and some are questioning the county's decision.
The county sheriff's office originally seized 41 horses from Shelly Wing, who faces 41 counts of failing to provide sustenance in violation of the state Agriculture and Markets Law, but one horse has since died, county board Chairman Randy Douglas told the Enterprise.
The county has had the horses in its possession for about three weeks. About 28 are being housed at the county fairgrounds, and the rest are scattered at private facilities that can house horses.
After an executive session that lasted close to an hour, in which county Attorney Dan Manning and District Attorney Kristy Sprague updated supervisors on the legal issues in the criminal case against Wing, supervisors approved two resolutions in a special full board meeting Tuesday.
One resolution contracts with Diane Dodd, a veterinarian who has been taking care of the horses, to provide veterinary services for $75 an hour, not to exceed $5,000. The money is to come from a fund the county set up last week to take donations for the care of the horses, and if it exceeds that amount, the issue will come back to the board. Last week, supervisors expressed concern about the county having to pay for the horses.
Dodd has thus far been caring for the horses on a volunteer basis, starting with eight- to 12-hour days, though she said she's now down to about six hours a day. Supervisors thanked her for her help and said she shouldn't incur any out-of-pocket expenses.
"For the most part, I feel willing to extend my services," Dodd told supervisors. "I'm not trying to make money on this."
The second resolution contracts with Crane Mountain Valley Horse Rescue Inc. to help with the adoption and/or euthanasia of the horses. Manning said the county needs to stop being responsible for the horses, so Crane Mountain Valley will help find homes for them over a six-week period.
Manning said the organization won't ask for money. Any donations for the horses would go to the fund set up by the county, not to Crane Mountain Valley, and if the courts decide to overturn an order that gives ownership back to Wing, the agreement with the agency stipulates that the horses would be returned. The county would also still be allowed to monitor the horses and their health, due to the criminal case they are involved with.
Joanne Curtis, who owns a Morgan horse farm in Ticonderoga, told supervisors she is concerned about the county's decision to take the horses and prosecute Wing. She said she doesn't consider Wing a criminal, just a person who has fallen on difficult times.
"They love their horses, and they just didn't know what to do," Curtis said.
She told the Enterprise she's worried that Wing hasn't been found guilty yet, but her horses will be gone by the time she goes to court. Livestock owners throughout the area and around the country are under stress, and many are facing situations like this, she said.
"They aren't criminals," she said. "They're people just trying to hang on."
She told supervisors that many people who own livestock in Essex County are worried now that someone will see one of their older horses or cows and report them, and they'll face the same fate as Wing.
"This case has struck terror into the hearts of livestock owners," Curtis told the board. "I hope this subcommittee doesn't act like a vigilante group."
Manning said he wants to assure people that the county is not on a vigilante path, and the DA isn't interested in finding more cases like this.
"This is not something we prefer to do," Manning said. "The condition of the horses was such that it necessitated us doing something about it."
Curtis also expressed concern to supervisors about an attorney who was at the county meeting when it began but left shortly after supervisors went into the executive session. The attorney, Nancy Guttenberg, said she was from the National Animal Interest Alliance, an animal welfare group that resists what it calls "animal and environmental extremism," and told supervisors when they were going into executive session that she is representing Wing and that it would be the basis for an appeal if they didn't let her into the closed session. After supervisors left the room, the attorney said Wing's fines are going to be paid and then the county is going to be sued for taking the horses without due process.
Douglas said he and other supervisors would not comment on that, due to the potential court case.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.