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URBAN COWBOY ON THE ROPES

but not for long, if city officials find a buyer for a 25-year-old gelding named Cowboy.

For about four years now, Cowboy's been lolling in stables and munching on donated hay, unaware of the fuss kicked up when he became the first (and last) equine member of the city's mounted police unit.

To pay for Cowboy's stable bills, up to $900 a month, city officials agreed to dispose of tons of manure for a local riding center. But then the police union saddled them with a grievance that wiped out the mounted unit. And now, city officials are saying whoa.

"Get rid of the horse . . . Get rid of the horse," city Budget Director James B. Milroy has ordered, threatening a solution that involves an adhesives factory.

It may not be easy.

In the words of one police source, Cowboy is "an old horse that is . . . set in his ways . . . He's not worth very much."

Last week, Police Commissioner Rocco Diina asked Buffalo lawmakers for permission to donate Cowboy to a riding center. But that may violate a law against making gifts of municipal property, city lawyers claim.

A "handsome" gray, former U.S. Army parade horse about 15 hands tall, Cowboy was donated to Buffalo in 1995 after former Police Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske said he was re-establishing a mounted police unit.

New York City with hundreds of mounted police, and other cities, including Rochester, have successful mounted units, police officials noted.

City Marketing Director David Vanini arranged for Cowboy to be donated and transported from Virginia, where he was used to pull Army caissons at funerals and other ceremonies.

To resurrect the unit, Kerlikowske chose Lt. Linda Krajewski, an experienced horsewoman who runs a stable and trains riders and horses.

But that prompted a protest from the union, which claimed Kerlikowske should have assigned the job based on seniority, not horsemanship.

A lengthy grievance ensued, and officials wound up staging a horseback competition between Lt. Krajewski and another female lieutenant, complete with videotaping of the test.

Lt. Krajewski passed, the other rider did not, officials recalled.

Nevertheless, a state labor arbitrator ruled the lieutenant who failed the test deserved the right to on-duty training with Cowboy in order to prove she could ride him, too.

Meanwhile, the union brought internal charges against Lt. Krajewski, forcing her to hire an attorney and defend herself for what officials say was merely following Kerlikowske's orders.

She declined to comment on the labor dispute or Cowboy.

"There's a lot of really hard feelings over this whole thing," one police officer familiar with the case said.

"It was a mess all the way around . . . and it affected a lot of good, well-intentioned people," Diina recalled. "It cost the city taxpayers an awful lot of money, and we very seldom were able to put the horse out on the street."

"The city used the horse for a few events, but the (union) grievance knocked us right out of the horse business," Diina said.

During most of the dispute, Cowboy remained at the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center on Amherst Street, where a trade was arranged to see to his care.

In return for a stall and some oats for Cowboy, city officials agreed to dispose of manure produced at the center, recalled director Susie Schoellkopf.

For months, streets sanitation workers were assigned to haul away and dispose of mounds of horse dung, but Ms. Schoellkopf claims the deal never worked right.

"They still owe us a lot of money . . . about $40,000," she said. But, rather than money, she'd like to have the city dispose of the manure, she said.

Cowboy later was moved to a stable in Attica and finally to a riding center in Eden, where he awaits the next step in his career.

According to Diina, the city would be better off donating Cowboy to the riding center. These days, about the only time a police horse roams the city is when Buffalo Place hires the Erie County Sheriff's Department mounted unit for $18 an hour.

The waste is what nags at Diina. Currently, $3,000 in yearly stable fees are being paid by a private police foundation, but the city may have to begin covering medical bills for the aging horse.

"What's painful is the cost to the taxpayer," Diina said, estimating that Cowboy and the ill-fated mounted unit may have cost the city $80,000, including the officers' time and pay.

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