Press-Republican

October 8, 2013

Skeletal horse remains found on Essex farm

Essex County DA building case against mother, daughter

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — ESSEX — Among 1,800 photos taken at the farm where 41 horses were seized are images of equine skeletal remains. 

One series shows a pile of horse bones on the dirt floor of a barn. Others were found beside a pasture barren of grass and lined with birch trees stripped of bark.

“The entrance to the barn and the barn itself had bones present; a scapula, a vertebra and several other bones were seen,” veterinarian Suzanne B. Russell said in the statement she gave to the Essex County Sheriff’s Office after viewing the situation at Wing and a Prayer Farm off Route 22 in Essex on Sept. 18.

A total of 28 horses were removed from the farm that day; 13 others that could not be caught were taken away the following day.

The Essex County District Attorney’s Office is bringing a criminal case against Shelley Wing, 59, and now her daughter Emily Wing, 20, for allegedly not properly caring for and feeding the herd, which ran unmanaged on the farm.

CHARGES

Photographs and veterinarian statements fill two boxes, chronicling condition of the 41 horses seized over the course of two days. 

Neither Shelley nor Emily appeared at the hearing in Essex Town Court on Monday.

“She (Shelley) will not be coming,” Essex Town Justice Stephen Sayward said. “It was requested by the public defender.”

A phone number for the Wing farm has been disconnected, so they could not be reached for comment.

The hearing brought criminal charges against both women, a total of 41 misdemeanor counts each of failure to provide sustenance.

‘ANIMAL HOARDER’

Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request, Sayward granted the Press-Republican access to depositions, horse evaluations and photos taken to document the case.

Evidence of food for the 41 horses kept on 20 acres there was sparse, Russell said in her statement.

“I did not see remnants of hay on the ground in any pasture,” Russell said. “Nor did I see any remnants of grain in any bucket in the barn or field.”

Retired Veterinarian Diane Dodd also helped secure horses.

“The horses were all very emaciated from chronic malnutrition,” she said in a deposition on file with the Town Court.

“It is my opinion that Shelley Wing is an ‘animal hoarder,’” the veterinarian wrote. 

“And (she) does not have the ability, financially or physically, to feed or house her animals in a life-sustaining and healthy manner.”

The deposition continues to say that, “I know that in her (Shelley Wing’s) mind, she thinks she is doing a good job and that the horses are fine.”

‘IMMINENT DANGER’

Dodd also described skeletal remains.

“There were at least two skeletons in evidence in the barn,” the document states. 

The horses were kept in mixed company, with three stallions roaming free among mares.

“Her herd size continues to grow, as she has no way to keep the stallions and the mares apart,” Dodd’s statement says. “These animals were in imminent danger of not living through the winter.”

In addition, there was some indication that Shelley was not entirely cooperative when the animals were taken.

One veterinarian described the initial encounter.

“Shelley Wing was trying to drive out of the driveway. She called me a ‘witch’ and inferred I didn’t know how to drive the truck and trailer, as I could not move past her.”

HERD OVERVIEW

Among the boxes of evidence, including veterinary exams of each horse, was an overview of the herd. Only three of the 41 animals were anywhere near normal body weight, the statements say. 

And most of the animals scored 2 or less on the Henneke Scale, an evaluation system used to assess condition of horses. Only two scored a 4 or above on the Henneke scale, where 5 is optimal.

Numerous horses had lacerations on their hips or flanks. And the foals in the herd were found to be low on the Henneke Scale “and in need of help.”

A third veterinarian, Lacey Knapp, said “many of the lower-scored horses were mares with foals at their side, which also scored very low.

“Some mares had both this year’s and last year’s foals at their sides, and some seemed to be pregnant again. This is a heavy strain on these mares. 

“I saw mares and foals that had a low chance of surviving the upcoming winter.”

One mare, horse No. 20, died despite efforts to feed and nurture it to full health, according to the court.

The foal with that mare survived.

NUMEROUS MEDICAL ISSUES

Extensive notes taken by veterinarians document repeated and numerous medical issues with the horses. 

Most of them had “distended” abdomens (indicative of worms), with pronounced rib and hip bones, and they needed work done on their teeth. 

Most had rough coats indicating lack of nutrition.

Today, the Wing farm has to post a bond of $43,890 to keep ownership of the horses or the animals are forfeited to the county. 

The bond amount set by Sayward was based on veterinarian bills and county estimates to cover 30 days of feed. 

If paid, the bond would have to be renewed each month until the criminal proceeding is closed.

SEPARATE CASES

Sayward presided over court shortly past 4 p.m. Monday with about 10 people gathered in the small courtroom.

Public Defender William Tansey is representing Shelley. The town justice appointed attorney Reginald Bedell to represent Emily in a separate case.

Langey announced readiness in writing on both cases, telling Sayward they have provided copies of the 1,800 photos to defense attorneys.

Tansey said they have received the photos.

An appearance for motions in each case was set for 4 p.m. Oct. 21 in Essex Town Court.

Sayward explained that, by law, the civil case seeking bond payment is run as a separate case.

The 41 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty in failure to provide sustenance can bring up to a year in prison per count, the town justice said.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com