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More litigation coming in animal seizure case

LOCKPORT – Six years on, the litigation over the seizure of a horse and dogs from a Hartland farm is not yet over.

The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court kept the case going with a ruling Friday that ordered a second trial in the case involving Barbara Hale Gonzalez, who was charged with animal cruelty on the complaint of her veterinarian, one of the vet’s friends and one of the vet’s employees.

Since State Police took three dogs and a horse from Gonzalez’ farm June 9, 2009, the case has worked its way through several courtrooms.

Gonzalez received an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal on the cruelty charges in March 2010, and went to court to try to get her animals back from Dr. Jeanne Best of Royalton Equine Veterinary Services; Best’s employee, Stacey A. Bailey; and a friend of the vet’s, Robert A. Winslow. They adopted the animals from the SPCA of Niagara after the police took them.

One of the three dogs died of cancer shortly after the seizure, and Brian J. Hutchison, Gonzales’ attorney, said Friday the horse was euthanized a couple of weeks ago because of a twisted intestine.

The first trial in the case was held in March 2013 before Lockport City Judge William J. Watson, who ruled that Gonzalez should get the animals back.

However, Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon overturned Watson’s ruling on appeal in October 2013, ordering another trial on the question of their return. Best, Winslow and Bailey appealed that, and Friday the four-judge appellate panel in Rochester decided that Sheldon got it mostly right.

There was an argument raised by those who ended up with the animals that they were entitled to them because of a purported lien on the animals, which supposedly derived from their visit to Gonzalez’ farm a couple of months before the police were called. They cleaned out the horse stall and helped the underfed dogs. The appellate court rejected that claim, which Best and her business had dropped anyway.

The Appellate Division also weighed in on Gonzalez’ claim that the SPCA failed to take control of the animals legally. Gonzalez argued that the SPCA should gone to court with a forfeiture motion, but the appeals court said the SPCA wasn’t required to do so because Gonzalez was keeping them in unsanitary conditions. Gonzalez had five days to reclaim the animals and didn’t do so, the Rochester court found.

Hutchison said a new trial on return of the two surviving dogs and potential monetary damages for the seizure of the animals and the loss of the horse likely will be held in Niagara Falls before State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III. He had the case in the first place before punting it to Watson in November 2010.