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Animal care team grows for handling seized horses

More animal welfare experts have been called in to help care for 73 horses that were seized March 18 from a Town of Aurora horse farm.

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals field investigators and a response team arrived last week at an undisclosed location where 67 of the horses are being cared for.

The ASPCA also announced that it will grant $10,000 to the SPCA Serving Erie County for the horses' extended care. Members of the American Humane Association also were tapped to help in caring for the horses until mid-April.

A team of five emergency responders who arrived Friday from the Denver-based Humane Association's Red Star Animal Emergency Services will help form a team of skilled horse handlers.

The care team, joined by some Erie County equestrian experts and veterinarians, plans to work with the Morgan horses, a high-end breed known for showing.

"Our goal is to help the SPCA Serving Erie County rehabilitate these horses, both physically and behaviorally," said Jeffrey Eyre, the ASPCA's northeast director of investigations and response. "These are just really good horses, and some have very neat personalities."

The SPCA is handling an additional six horses for closer veterinary supervision. Cost of the care is adding up to much more than was expected, said Gina M. Browning, local SPCA public relations director. The case is the largest and most costly in at least four decades, she said.

The SPCA had to hire experienced horse care professionals on an as-needed part-time basis to help out. The SPCA also is accepting donations from the community for the horses' continuing care and treatment.

Conditions at the horse farm owned by Beth Hoskins on Emery Road have been described by local SPCA officials as "extremely unsanitary."

No charges have been filed against Hoskins, who strongly disputes the allegations through her attorney, Barry N. Covert. The SPCA has indicated that multiple misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals could be forthcoming.

When the SPCA was last called to the farm in 2008, Browning said, the agency did not find poor conditions like it did this time. Although there were allegations that the horses were not "let out," Browning said, that is not illegal.

"Now it appears there are more animals than she is able to care for," she said, "and that is what would make it a hoarding situation. Not the number of animals, but the quality of care, according to a more sophisticated definition of hoarding in the animal welfare world."

Sunday, Eyre described the current status of many of the horses. "There are a lot of . . . issues with their hooves . . . being extended and altering the way they stand and changing the way the horse walks," he said.

Eyre, who described himself as an expert on equine cruelty and not on breeds, said many of the horses "have a rough appearance."

"A lot of their coats are scabbed or have blisters," he said, ". . . and a lot of their manes are fur matted. Every day, we get a little further. It's really intense work. We don't want to hurt them. We put salve and rub their coats, and eventually, after another two weeks, these horses will be cleaned up."

Eyre said there also have been issues with mites and parasites collecting on the animals.

However, Covert insisted Sunday that the conditions at the farm when the 73 horses and 50 cats and dogs were seized were typical of what one would expect at Western New York farms in late winter and early spring.

"I walked around the stalls in my suit and shoes and didn't have to clean my shoes," Covert said, referring to the day the horses were taken away. "I've been out there since spring cleaning, and [the barns] are spectacular. You could throw a party there."

Covert was adamant that Hoskins can handle the horses back at her farm and would be willing to do so under close supervision by the SPCA.

"We are ready, willing and able to have them look at the premises," Covert said. "We think it is a waste of the SPCA's resources when we're perfectly capable of handling the horses. We're happy to take them back and under tight control under their supervision."

A neighbor who lives across from Hoskins' horse farm called on the Aurora Town Board last week to consider clamping down on the number of animals allowed in a barn.

"I think we really have a problem maintaining good animal husbandry," Mark Mann said. "We need to create some legislation."

A winter barn should not have more than 20 animals inside, Mann said.

"You guys have got to do something about this," Mann said. "This is just insane. You can't just say it's the state's problem. It's not."

e-mail: krobinson@buffnews.com

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