SPCA inspectors at Beth Hoskins' Aurora horse farm say conditions have worsened over the last few months for her 40 horses, as the relationship between the agency and Hoskins grows more hostile.
The situation came to light Tuesday during a hearing on Hoskins' request in a civil case to have a judge end the court-ordered inspections at her farm, which have been ongoing since he ordered the return of 40 of her 73 horses last July.
Hoskins is charged with 125 counts of animal cruelty connected to care of horses and cats. Fifty-one of the counts tied to the cats were dismissed last week by the Aurora town judge handling the separate criminal case.
The SPCA insisted the inspections must continue, saying the horses' care would otherwise "deteriorate further." The agency also suggested to State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Glownia that Hoskins must cooperate with inspections and stop harassing the agency's inspectors.
"They're not taken care of in an exemplary manner," said SPCA attorney Ralph Lorigo. "You need to allow an inspector on the property. How else do we do the inspections? You can't touch the horses. You can't get near them. These have been the conflicts."
Hoskins, through her attorney, said the horses have been adequately cared for and the SPCA has not filed any sustainable charges during all of the inspections. This, said her attorney, Thomas J. Eoannou, is a case of blatant harassment that must stop. He said Hoskins denies any wrongdoing and suggested the inspections have been used to build evidence against her, rather than ensure the health, welfare and safety of the horses.
However, in a sworn affidavit, Alex Cooke, the SPCA's horse barn manager who has been the primary investigator at Hoskins' farm, said conditions are far from ideal.
Cooke highlighted alleged deficiencies and described how the SPCA is treated by Hoskins during its inspections. The SPCA videotapes conditions and animals at the farm, while Hoskins also videotapes the inspectors. Hoskins also has contacted East Aurora police to have the SPCA vehicles towed from her property. On one occasion, she called the police to complain about a police vehicle at her farm that had escorted the SPCA.
According to Cooke's affidavit:
* On at least 25 occasions since Nov. 1, unsanitary conditions were noted, with a majority of horse stalls not having been cleaned within three to seven days. A March 1 inspection found that most horse stalls had not been cleaned "in over a week" and that approximately three feet of fecal pack had accumulated.
* On at least 27 occasions, horses were considered not properly groomed, with several horses not provided adequate food on seven instances and others with no water in 14 instances. Most water buckets were empty, some were filthy, and one bucket contained fecal matter.
* Horses have not been in their pastures getting exercise regularly, and on 19 occasions their legs were swollen or "stocked up," caused by standing in stalls without getting taken out for exercise.
* A general lack of veterinary care and absence of farrier care also were noted. On Feb. 17, the SPCA issued three notices to Hoskins to have at least three of her horses examined and treated by a vet or farrier. As of March 22, the SPCA said it had not been given any proof the treatments had occurred.
Glownia reserved decision on the inspection issue. The SPCA inspections will continue for now. Glownia asked both sides to suggest ideas to him for a potential independent inspector, which Eoannou said Hoskins would pay for. The next court hearing is April 28.
"I want to further think about this," Glownia said. "It is clear there is a source of antagonism by both sides."