New York Horse Breeders Arrested For Animal Cruelty Charges

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In light of the arrest of horse breed Ernest Paragallo for the neglect and malnourishment of horses, New York horse breeders are concerned whether they are at risk for criminal prosecution.  Paragallo, a well-known horse breeder in the racing community and a resident of Long Island, is facing 35 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty in Greene County, New York.  After 177 horses were seized from Center Brook Farm in Coxsackie, New York, the New York Racing Association revoked his license.  If convicted, the Thoroughbred horse breeder could be sentenced up to two years in jail and $35,000 in fines.  Due to challenges that the horse industry has had in the aftermath of the Horse Slaughter Ban, there have been an increase in arrests of horse breeders due to the starvation and malnourishment of horses.

This blog will serve as a brief reminder of a few of the animal laws in New York that affect horse breeders and other livestock producers.  I will make a special point to blog about specific New York animal law statutes in the future so please stay tuned for more information.  Please note, however, that the below statutes are New York specific.  Though your state may have similar statutes, livestock producers are encouraged to talk to an attorney licensed in his/her jurisdiction for an interpretation of their state’s animal welfare laws as statutes differ somewhat from state-to-state.

Horse Breeders and Other Livestock Producers Can Be Criminally Charged For Animal Cruelty If He/She Fails to Provide Access To Ample Food, Water, Shelter, and Veterinary Care To Farm Animals.

Article 26, Chapter 69 of the New York Agriculture and Markets Law (“N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law”) provides for animal welfare laws affecting both farm and companion animals.  See N.Y. Agric. & Mkrts. Law § 350 et seq. Horses are considered a “farm animal” under New York law in additional to traditional livestock species (e.g., cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, poultry).  See id. § 350[4].  “Companion animals” in New York are restricted to the traditional definition of household animals (e.g., dogs, cats, pet turtles).  See id. at § 350[5].

Among other types of “animal cruelty,” N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353 proscribes the deprivation of “necessary sustenance, food, or drink” or the neglect “to furnish [farm animals] sustenance or drink. . .” and identifies this crime as a Class A misdemeanor.  “Sustenance” in New York is defined broader than simply food and drink– the statute also requires the owner of animals provide sufficient veterinary care and shelter.  See People v. Mahoney, 804 N.Y.S.2d 535, 536 (Sup.App.Term 2005).

Unfortunately, the statute and case law interpretations are somewhat ambiguous on exactly what is exactly is defined as “necessary” food, water, shelter, and veterinary care.  Horse breeders and other livestock producers should keep feeding records as evidence of regular feeding and proof that the farm animals are being provided necessary food and water.  If you have any question whether you are providing ample food and/or water to your livestock, you should consult a nutritionist who is a specialist in your livestock species.  Here in New York, Cornell University Extension Specialists can provide great insight and advice on your feeding regiment (e.g., Dr. Mike Baker can be contacted for beef cattle advice or this lesson discusses condition scores in horses to help train breeders to understand when their horses are too thin).

Notably, this criminal statute applies whether the “deprived” animal belongs to the owner him/herself or to another person or entity.  See People v. Arcidicon, 347 N.Y.S.2d 850, 852-53 (N.Y.D.C. 1973) (where defendant was given feeding instructions from owner and knew that the diet supplied to the horse was inadequate but failed to adjust the feed ration).  Additionally, this is not a strict liability crime — a culpable mental state (i.e., mens rea) must still be proved by the People.  See id. at 853.

Livestock Producers Must Be Cognizant to Provide Proper Food and Drink to Livestock That Trespassed and are Temporarily Restrained or Confined On Their Private Property.

Pursuant to section 356, livestock producers who confined or impound animals and neglect to supply ample “air, food, shelter and water,” to animals that are temporarily restrained or confined on their property is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment (< 1yr) or $1000.00 fine or both.  Id. at § 356.   The statute gives permission for “any person” the right to enter the land and give the animal necessary food and water if the impounded animal went without “necessary food and water for more than twelve successive hours. . . .”  Id. When doing so, the statute allows for that person to be reimbursed for the “reasonable cost of such food and water. . . .” Id.

Importantly, the New York Supreme Court in the Third Department held in Chenango County Humane Soc. v. Polmatier that this statute did not apply to the owners of the animals themselves but to animals placed in a public “pound” or detained on private property (e.g., detention of stray cattle trespassing on a farmer’s property in a barn pen without food or water).  See Chenango County Humane Soc. v. Polmatier, 177 N.Y.S. 101, 102 (3rd Dep’t 1919) (noting that the statute “does not relate to an animal on the premises of its owner, but to one which has strayed from such premises, and has been distrained or impounded because of such straying or trespassing.”).

The important implication for livestock producers here is to be extremely vigilant of the care of livestock that strays on your property.  If you choose to take care of the horse, sheep, or cow for a day or longer, make sure the livestock animal has ample food and water.  Even if you are annoyed with repetitive trespasses on your property, since criminal charges are at stake, it is best to discuss this with your neighbor after the animal is properly cared for.  If you do not know whose animal it is that has strayed on your property, you should contact the police immediately to alert them of your “finding.”  The owner of the livestock animal who trespassed on your property is liable for the costs to keep it and damages for its trespass.  See id. at 103.

The Felony of “Aggravated Cruelty’ is Only Applicable to Companion Animals.

N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353-a (a.k.a. “Buster’s Law”) identifies the felony of “aggravated cruelty” of animals.  See id. at § 353-a[3].  “[A]ggravated cruelty” is defined by the statute as conducted which: “(i) is intended to cause extreme physical pain; or (ii) is done or carried out in an especially depraved or sadistic manner.”  Id. However, this crime only applies to the cruelty of “companion animals” and is not applicable to livestock (or “farm animals”) or anyone engaged in “hunting, trapping, or fishing” under the New York Environmental Conservation Law.  See id. at § 353-a[1]-[2].  Therefore, livestock producers and horse breeders will not violate this felony by neglecting of farm animals– only by extreme abuse inflicted on companion animals like “cow dogs.”  Interestingly, the New York Supreme Court in the First Department held a boy who intentionally stomped on his pet goldfish was found guilty of aggravated cruelty.  See People v. Garcia, 812 N.Y.S.2d 66, 70-71 (1st Dep’t 2006).

For the purpose of brevity, these are just a handful of the animal law statutes that New York livestock producers should be cognizant of.  Among other issues, the New York Farm Bureau (”NYFB”) hopes to discuss this topic at this animal welfare conference on October 15, 2009 at the Clarion Hotel in Albany, New York (register here).  I highly suggest livestock producers in New York (and throughout the Northeast) attend this conference discussing this very timely topic.

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