SPCA investigators called it the biggest local roundup of large animals in decades, as they removed 73 horses along with more than 50 cats and dogs Thursday from a Town of Aurora horse farm.
"This is the biggest case we've had with large animals in at least 35 years," Gina Browning, SPCA public relations director, said following the raid that found more than 100 animals living in what authorities claimed were filthy conditions.
Armed with a search warrant, SPCA veterinarians and investigators descended on the horse farm owned by Beth Hoskins to check allegations that the animals were being maltreated.
Two largely conflicting versions emerged late Thursday of the conditions at Eden Farms on Emery Road.
Browning described the conditions as "extremely unsanitary."
She cited horses standing in piles of feces at least a foot and a half deep, so deep that observers couldn't see the hooves. She said feces also were found in some of the food dishes and water buckets. She also described holes between some of the stalls and one barn having only two walls, with some of the open areas covered with blue tarps.
"No living thing should be inside this structure," she said of one of the barns. "The unsoundness of the structure aside, it's very hard to breathe in here. These horses are caked in feces."
That's one side of the story.
Attorney Barry N. Covert, representing Hoskins, admitted that he is no expert on horses, but he said the horses looked healthy and did not appear emaciated or maltreated.
"[Hoskins] disputes that the horses are being kept in unsanitary conditions," he said. "She loves her animals and will do everything possible to satisfy the officials that the animals are maintained in a safe condition."
Covert said his client has been the subject of numerous prior complaints that she believes were in retaliation for unrelated issues. In each of those cases, he added, she was cleared of all accusations.
Town of Aurora building inspector Patrick Blizniak gave a similar description of conditions at the farm.
"This actually does surprise me, because it's always been up to snuff every time I've been out there," Blizniak said.
He called the animals top-notch, highly valuable animals.
"These are not just gutter horses," he added. "They're worth tens of thousands of dollars apiece. They've always been well cared for. I'm shocked."
One thing both sides did agree on: Hoskins was very cooperative with authorities who raided the premises.
Browning said it was too early to tell about any possible criminal charges against the owner. Unsanitary conditions can lead to misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty, she said.
More than 15 SPCA employees, including Executive Director Barbara S. Carr, veterinarians, farm staff and investigators, went to the horse farm at about 8:30 a.m., along with East Aurora police.
The SPCA had been receiving anonymous tips about the horse farm for about a year but was unable to obtain permission to enter the property. Recently someone came forward with complaints that led officials to obtain a search warrant for the property. That warrant authorized the SPCA to rescue the horses, if necessary.
Investigators seemed bothered by both the structural problems with the barns and the conditions inside.
"Based on the initial investigation by our officials, the stables are not sturdy enough for these horses, in terms of stability and cleanliness," Browning said from the scene.
While it was too early to determine the exact nature of all the horses' physical conditions, some of their hooves, on initial inspection, appeared to be in rough condition, she added.
"None of them look emaciated, none of them look dehydrated, a few of them are underweight, and some have minor injuries on their legs or other parts of their bodies," she said.
One of the horses had a fairly bad leg injury and was scheduled to be taken to the SPCA. The other horses were expected to be taken to another location. SPCA officials provided no details about that location.
News Staff Reporter Karen Robinson contributed to this report.