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The price to pay for horses' abuse

Do not tell her there is no one to blame. Do not insult her. Do not insult us.

Judy Miller rode her first horse when she was 8. They have been part of her life for the 31 years since. Her four horses -- Brandy, Blue, Mariah and Red Man -- live in the barn behind her house in open-spaces Akron. Like people, each horse has a separate personality. They feel happiness. They feel pain. You see emotion in their eyes, in the way they carry themselves. Judy Miller knows about horses.

Because she knows horses, she also knows about outrage. She was outraged when she went last week to a farm in Somerset, in Niagara County: There was one dead horse and seven starving ones, who were taken in by animal rescuers. Miller tried to save the thoroughbred colt, Black Jack. A few days of caring could not defeat months of neglect. She was with the colt, too weak to stand, just before he died a week ago.

His death broke her heart. What she said she saw at the farm nearly broke her spirit.

Within sight of the barn housing four of the starving horses was a huge bale of hay. Separated by a fence from the corral of mud where Black Jack and other horses wasted away was a green pasture, with healthy horses eating and romping.

The owners apparently fed some of the horses and let the others starve.

"That is what killed me," said Miller, a compact ball of energy and a nurse at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. "All somebody had to do was throw the hay over the fence to the [starving] horses. The horses could see the hay. They knew what it was. How cruel can people be?"

Very. That is why cruelty needs to come with consequences.

State police are investigating. They expect to meet with prosecutors next week about filing animal abuse charges. There is plenty of blame to go around.

The horses were caught in the middle of a bankruptcy dispute. But that is no reason to stop feeding them.

Candice Starkweather and Julie Walker are co-owners of the company that owned the horses. Starkweather reportedly filed for bankruptcy in October. The horses are not just flesh and blood, they are an asset worth about $350,000. Once bankruptcy was declared, the horses were controlled by a court trustee. That is why, Starkweather's lawyer told The News, the co-owners were unable to sell or give away the horses.

Black Jack and the others were stuck in legal limbo. But that doesn't mean they couldn't eat. Between the co-owners and the trustee, somebody should've thrown the horses some hay -- especially when there was food on the farm.

The co-owners supposedly cared about the animals. The trustee, if nothing else, had an interest in keeping $350,000 in assets fed and healthy. I don't know much about horses, but I know this: They are worth a lot more alive than they are dead.

It takes months to starve a horse. You have to work at it. A horse is not a hamster. They can take a lot of abuse before their knees buckle and they slump to the ground.

Co-owner Starkweather eventually called for help. That's what led Miller and co-rescuer Steve Nelson to "Horse Hell Farm." I don't know why co-owners Starkweather and Walker lost their money. I'm sure the past few months haven't been easy. But if you can find your way to Bankruptcy Court, you can find somebody to feed your horses. There are folks like Miller who, if they had known the horses' lives depended on it, would have fed them for free.

"The fact that there was food on the property," said Miller, "that is where my anger really comes in. . . . If you have a conscience, how could you feed some animals, and not others?"

That is a good question. I would like to hear it answered -- in a courtroom.


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