By LOHR McKINSTRY
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — An irate animal-rights attorney and a 50-minute executive session were both aspects of a meeting where Essex County lawmakers made decisions about 40 horses seized for alleged mistreatment.
The horses were impounded from Shelley Wing’s Wing and a Prayer Farm in Essex in mid September, and Wing and her daughter, Emily, were later charged with animal cruelty.
In a separate civil case, Essex County was granted ownership of the horses after the elder Wing failed to pay a $43,890 bond to cover their care.
With bills for feed and medical care mounting, the County Board of Supervisors voted in the special session Tuesday to contract with Crane Mountain Valley Rescue Service of Westport to adopt out the horses.
The board also voted to pay retired Westport veterinarian Diane Dodd $75 an hour to care for the equines while they are in county custody. Most are at the horse barns at the Essex County Fairgrounds in Westport, while some are at private farms.
The Board of Supervisors went into executive session with County Attorney Daniel Manning III and Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague to discuss the horses but not before attorney Nancy Guttenberg of North Hudson tried to stop them.
The stated reason for the executive session was to receive information about the prosecution from Sprague and legal advice from Manning.
Guttenberg said she was representing the National Animal Interest Alliance, a Portland, Ore.,-based animal welfare group.
“I am representing my client,” she shouted at the board. “It (the closed session) will be a basis for appeal.”
Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) told her it would be a conflict to speak with her.
After the board left the room for its closed-door session, Guttenberg said only that she plans a lawsuit to stop the county from adopting out the equines.
“A lawsuit will be brought. Foster care is one thing; giving them away is another.”
After the executive session, Manning defended its necessity since the criminal matter is pending.
“A crucial part of what we do today involves the criminal matter. We don’t want to prejudice it.”
He said State Agriculture and Markets Law provides for seizure of abused animals and setting a bond for their care.
“We cannot continue to pay for their care. Winter is coming.”
Crane Mountain Valley Rescue Services will contract with the county to adopt out the horses over a six-week period, he said.
“They represented to us they have qualified adopters,” Manning said. “They requested no money from us. Any donations earmarked for our horses will come to the Essex County fund.
“We will be able to monitor those horses on any adopters’ property.”
Any irregularity in the legal proceedings that would require the horses to be returned will be honored, he said.
‘DON’T JUDGE HARSHLY’
The Wings have been charged with 41 counts each of animal abuse in failing to feed and care for the herd, a misdemeanor charge. Conviction can carry as much as a year in prison for each count.
There were originally 41 horses, but one died at the fairgrounds.
Joanne Curtis of Ticonderoga, who is a horse owner, addressed the Board of Supervisors at the special meeting, urging supervisors not to judge Wing harshly.
“We’ve had a lot of these rescue cases where owners have had problems,” she said. “I don’t consider these people who have fallen on unfortunate circumstances to be criminal.
Dodd said she has been working with the seized horses since the day the Essex County Sheriff’s Department went to the Wing and a Prayer Farm to look at them.
“Diane Dodd has been caring for the horses at this juncture,” Manning said. “She is a veterinarian with many years experience.
“We need someone who qualifies so we don’t run into any liability.”
Dodd told supervisors she would gladly work for free just to help the county.
“I’ve been volunteering my services,” she said. “The primary reason I’m doing this is I want to help my county. I’m a longtime horse owner and handler.”
She said most of the horses needed tranquilization to be removed from the Wing farm.
“I feel like I need to check on them every day,” she said. “The primary problem seems to be that they were not getting adequate nutrition, water.”
Supervisor Sharon Boisen (I-Essex) said Dodd’s help has been invaluable.
“I’d like to thank Diane personally for the amount of time she’s put in,” Boisen said. “She’s been incredibly generous in donating her time.”
Manning said after the meeting that Essex County is on the same page as animal rights organizations.
“We want to do everything we can to protect the horses. No one stepped up to the plate to take care of this matter, so we were forced into the position of protecting the horses.
“The only reason we’re adopting them out is we don’t have the facilities nor can we afford to spend $40,000 a month for the care of the horses. If any animal-rights organization wants to adopt the horses, they’re welcome to adopt them.”
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