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Local farm helps police spot cruelty to horses

Columbia County Sheriff's deputies (l-r) Kelly Briscoe, Jordan Brahm and Scott Kline meet the horse named Hamlet. Photo by David Lee
Columbia County Sheriff’s deputies (l-r) Kelly Briscoe, Jordan Brahm and Scott Kline meet the horse named Hamlet. Photo by David Lee

OLD CHATHAM–The Balanced Innovative Teaching Strategies, Inc. (BITS) of Little Brook Farm, presented its second annual Investigating Equine Cruelty and Neglect workshop for law enforcement late last month. In all, there were 66 participants, including the New York State Police, the deputy sheriffs from several counties, animal control officers, college students and others involved with the rescue of neglected animals. Of the participants, 43 were first-time registrants.

The gathering was convened at the Powell House Quaker Retreat and Conference Center which, in addition to being conveniently near the Little Brook barns, helped host the event. Little Brook Farm has 46 horses, and Lynn Cross, her daughter Summer Brennan and large group of volunteers care for about 75 horses in total.

For local police agencies, the issue of animal cruelty has become more pressing since the recent announcement that the Columbia-Greene Humane Society would no longer be an investigating organization but will continue to work in an advisory capacity. Police agencies have the primary responsibility for investigations and confiscations as well as arrests.

The first presenter for the workshop was Sue McDonough. Now retired from the State Police and a member of the New York State Humane Association, she teaches law and procedure courses for law enforcement training programs. She said that state laws regarding cruelty to animals are described in Article 26 of the Agriculture and Markets Law, not in the penal codes commonly used by law enforcement. “Law enforcement doesn’t get sufficient training because the laws are written into the Ag and Markets laws,” she said. She wants the animal cruelty laws in the penal code “so the officers can get the routine training they should have.”

Steve Naile, one of eight veterinarians with OakenCroft Equine Clinic of Ravena and a friend of Little Brook Farm discussed the Henneke nine-point horse body condition scoring system. He said it is not always easy to know what constitutes neglect.

The group gathered in the gravel parking lot of the Powell House and Little Brook volunteer Katelyn Storey led a horse named Sunny out for inspection. As Sunny pulled her back and forth in front of the workshop participants, Dr. Naile said the index uses a scale of physical conditions from 1-9, one being an extremely emaciated bony animal and nine being an extremely obese animal. Number five indicates a horse that is moderate in body condition for which the spine and ribs cannot be seen, however the ribs can be felt, the tail head is spongy and the withers , shoulders and neck are rounded and smooth.

Pointing to a well-fed but not overweight Sunny Dr. Naile said, “He’s 34 years old. There’s an old preconception that old horses are always thin.” He a horse may be thin but not starving, but its sanitation and circumstances are terrible; its shelter was inadequate or nonexistent, or feed and water scarce.”

“The owners are often so much in denial; they don’t want to see it. But that’s not an excuse. Look at the quality of the hay. It’s not all the same,” he said.

Dr. Naile also said that chewed trees may be an indicator of an underfed animal but it may also be just an indication of boredom. “It must be looked at as a part of an overall circumstance.”

The session also discussed the transportation of horses. Any time a horse owner transports an animal in a trailer the owner must carry papers that identify the horse and certify its health, papers which include a Coggins test for equine infections anemia. He said that enforcement has reduced this serious disease from 25% of the population in the mid-20th century to about 5% now.

Next the workshop gave participants the opportunity to handle some of the horses stabled at Little Brook Farm. They walked the horses around the demonstration arena, observed them up close and talked to the volunteers who explained some of the intricacies of horse behavior. And finally they drove to a distant pasture to meet two horses rescued on May 8 in Berlin, NY. According to the veterinarian, they were within days of starvation death.

Ms. Cross said that the horses were reported to the Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Office, whose deputies photographed them. They emailed the photos to Ms. Cross, who forwarded the images to Dr. Naile at OakenCroft. He confirmed her assessment. The horses were transported to Little Brook and the owner arrested.

Ms. Cross was satisfied with the event and explained why it was successful. “We have 20 volunteers to help get the horses ready and to work with the participants, and we have such a diversity of animals, all breeds, ages, sizes and colors. The other great thing about this is that people have a chance to network.”

“So here is the disconnect,” said Ms. Cross after the workshop. “For the rescue of the two horses in Berlin, law enforcement has done its job and two horses have been saved. But now I have two more emaciated and expensive animals to take care of. Horses are big complicated animals, and re-feeding them from starvation is not easy.”

She encouraged people to get involved. “The best thing people could do right now is leave a gift card for Little Brook Farm at the Agway in Chatham,” she said. Little Brook Farm will present its annual fund-raising gala on August 15.


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