Press-Republican

September 25, 2013

Volunteers pitch in for horse care

KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

ESSEX — It took two days to move the 41 horses seized from Shelley Wing’s farm.

“We had six or eight different trailers and many experienced volunteers to help us,” Essex County Sheriff’s Department Major David Reynolds said on Tuesday.

The horses were taken from Wing and a Prayer Farm, officials say, because they were neglected, suffering from a range of issues, including malnutrition and injury.

Some are housed now by nearby farms, with 31 staying at the Essex County Fairgrounds in Westport, Reynolds said.

They are being fed and walked there daily as the criminal case in Essex Town Court continues to unfold.

‘COOPERATED’

Wing faces 41 counts of failure to provide sustenance, all unclassified misdemeanor charges.

She was home when deputies went with warrant in hand, Reynolds said.

“We were there to check the horses and, if necessary, take the ones that were unhealthy,” he said. “She was cooperative with us.”

Authorities determined that all of the horses were to be seized for violation of State Agriculture and Markets Law.

BOND HEARING

A civil hearing in the case is set for Oct. 7 in Essex Town Court.

“The town judge (Steve Sayward) would set a bond amount for care of the horses for a month, and the owner has to come up with that amount or she forfeits the animals,” Essex County Manager Dan Palmer said.

If she can bond for the funds and the case isn’t completed by the end of that month, there would be another hearing. The bond provision repeats as the criminal case moves through court, he explained.

He said County Attorney Dan Manning will represent the county in court. If Wing secures the bond, funds would be turned over to the county for the purpose of caring for the 41 horses.

“If she is unable to do that, then either the county can name a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or designate someone else to be lead agency for the bond,” Palmer said.

“Ultimately, the reason the county has ended up with the horses is that the warrant was issued to the District Attorney’s Office.”

ONGOING INVESTIGATION

With the warrant in hand, each of the 41 horses was scored by a veterinarian as to an individual level of health, Palmer said.

Those scores are part of the ongoing criminal investigation.

“At this point, we as a county are waiting on what the law-enforcement side of the case determines,” Palmer said.

The county’s cost will add up daily, though no official cost analysis has been determined.

Numerous volunteers are helping to care for the horses, Palmer said.

There are foals included among the herd, as well as three stallions. Roaming together at Wing’s farm, the horses were breeding. And several of the mares are pregnant, the county manager said.

“These horses are not used to being handled,” he also said.

“We couldn’t have done this without all of the volunteers involved,” Reynolds said.

Essex County Sheriff Richard Cutting said this is one of the most severe cases of animal cruelty the county has ever seen.

UNDER OBSERVATION

Town officials here had been eyeing the Wing and a Prayer Farm with concern for some time.

Records posted online from Essex Code Officer Lauren Murphy date to March, suggesting the farm may have violated the zoning law.

On March 18, she included in her monthly notes that she had to send an “email to (District Attorney) Kristy Sprague re. Shelley Wing horse issue and property maintenance codes issues. …need to go over to the house and investigate both ...,” according to the code officer’s minutes posted online.

Again, on July 8, Murphy indicated she had to “schedule visit with (Essex County Sheriff’s Deputy) Bob Rice to Shelley Wing’s farm.”

ACREAGE SPECIFIED

Town Supervisor Sharon Boisen said the zoning ordinance in Essex is specific on the acreage necessary for keeping horses.

And she provided the Press-Republican with a copy of the town’s applicable rule.

“The minimum lot size shall be two acres for one horse plus one acre for each additional horse,” it says.

The Wing Farm is 20 acres, Boisen said.

Essex County property-tax records show Wing’s farm at 2291 Route 22 in Essex is valued at $200,800 in the current tax year. 

She has owned the farm since 2000.

PASSED BACKGROUND CHECK

Anita Deming, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Westport, said Wing is a member of the Agricultural Program Committee and that she passed the background check required by anyone connected with the agency for more than a day’s volunteering. 

“Cooperative Extension has a very strong background check program,” Deming said, noting no criminal convictions had showed up for Wing and that, in fact, she has not been convicted of the charges she now faces.

Wing had not attended any Agricultural Program Committee meetings this year, she said, but has pitched in as a volunteer, as she had done when her daughter was a 4-H member.

‘VERY REWARDING’

Boisen said many volunteers are helping care for the horses at the Essex County Fairgrounds.

“I did assist in haying and watering the horses yesterday,” she said Tuesday. “It was fascinating to me — I went there, and I thought, ‘These animals are obviously aware and grateful of the efforts being taken to care for them.’ 

“It is very rewarding to be able to assist.”

Other town officials are helping with daily care, as well, among them LeeAnn Hoskins, secretary to the Essex town supervisor. She has been pitching in every morning at 7.

Dr. Diane Dodd of Westport is the primary veterinarian working with the horses.

VOLUNTEER SCHEDULE

Signs posted by the Sheriff’s Department forbid unauthorized entry, saying: “Horses under strict vet care. Do not feed, handle or approach any horse.”

A schedule is being set up for volunteers; don’t just show up at the fairgrounds, officials stress.

Nancy Lushia, William Daily Sr. and Chrys Grant, all of AuSable Forks, signed on — they help feed the horse and clean stalls.

“I am here because of my love for animals,” Lushia said on Tuesday. “I hope they can get good homes.”

“We have some horses ourselves, three big ones and a colt, and were devastated when we heard about this,” Daily said.

Lushia, her gaze on a horse in a makeshift corral, let out a sigh and said, “Poor boy.”

— Contributing Writer Alvin Reiner and News Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this report.