The Indictment of Ernest Paragallo

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As I mentioned in this blog, Ernest Paragallo was arrested last spring for the malnourishment and neglect of horses on Long Island, New York.  177 race horses were seized from his property and he was charged with 35 misdemeanor counts. After studying the indictment, Paragollo’s 35 misdemeanor counts are an alleged violation of Section 353 of the Agriculture and Markets Law of the State of New York for 35 different horses for the “Overdriving, Torturing and Injuring Animal [and/or] Failure To Provide Proper Sustenance.”

The New York criminal statute for the neglect of animals provides the following:

A person who overdrives, overloads, tortures or cruelly beats or unjustifiably injures, maims, mutilates or kills any animal, whether wild or tame, and whether belonging to himself or to another, or deprives any animal of necessary sustenance, food or drink, or neglects or refuses to furnish it such sustenance or drink, or causes, procures or permits any animal to be overdriven, overloaded, tortured, cruelly beaten, or unjustifiably injured, maimed, mutilated or killed, or to be deprived of necessary food or drink, or who willfully sets on foot, instigates, engages in, or in any way furthers any act of cruelty to any animal, or any act tending to produce such cruelty, is guilty of a class A misdemeanor . . . .

See N.Y. Agric. & Markets Law § 353 (emphasis added).  Most of Paragallo’s misdemeanor counts were for deprivation of “necessary food and/or appropriate veterinary care and/or appropriate shelter and/or caused said horse unjustifiable physical pain or suffering due to the lack of proper food and/or appropriate skin and/or hair care.”  See e.g., People v. Paragallo, Indictment 09-148 (Greene County, New York) at 1-2.  As I previously stated here, New York’s definition of “sustenance” is broader than food and water– it also includes requisite veterinary attention and shelter.

So What Is “Necessary” Food, Water, Shelter, and Veterinary Care?

This is really the crux of the problem.  The case law interpreting this statute in New York is ambiguous and does not clearly explain what exactly is “necessary” food, water, and sustenance.  And, as we all know in the agriculture industry, the general public’s view on what is “necessary” for an animal is very different than what a veterinary or a animal nutritionist would recommend.  For example, many in the public believe that livestock should be on an ad libitem diet (i.e., all they can eat) when this simply is not the case.

In a criminal court, the question on whether a livestock animal has received ample food, water, shelter, and veterinary care is highly fact specific and varies according to the circumstances in each case.  The prosecution in these cases will bring up experts to testify that your livestock animal did not have enough food, water, or sustenance (e.g., veterinarians and pathologists).  In their defense, horse breeders and other livestock breeders will need their own experts testify.  Many of these farm animal cruelty cases become a battle of the experts.

Seek Guidance From Veterinarians, Extension Specialists and/or Nutritionists — Document Your Compliance With Those Recommendations

Farmers and ranchers can help build their case before the prosecution press criminal charges.  Livestock producers should reach out to veterinarians and cooperative extension nutritionists.  Keep records of their recommendations for food, water, shelter, and veterinary care.  Document compliance with those recommendations.  These business records can be used as strong evidence of your good farming practices.  Additionally, your veterinarians and extension specialists will be able to testify that you complied with their recommendations.

Though this issue is more common now among horse and dog breeders, it is increasingly becoming a problem among other types of livestock producers.  Like New York, many states have ambiguous statutes and case law in this area.  Unfortunately, livestock producers are oftentimes at mercy of law enforcement officers and animal groups that do not understand proper farm animal care.  Therefore, horse breeders and other livestock producers must get guidance from qualified experts and document compliance with those recommendations.  The best way to build a defense against farm animal cruelty charges is to start long before you are being prosecuted.

I will be a panalist on this topic at this animal welfare conference sponsored by the New York Farm Bureau (“NYFB”) in Albany on October 15th.  This will be an informative venue to talk about the specific farm animal cruelty laws here in New York and meet several experts in the field.

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  1. Pingback: Checklist: What Should New York Livestock Producers Do If A Peace Officer Asks To Investigate Their Property | Food and Agriculture Law Blog

  2. Pingback: Part II: Debrief from NYFB Farm Animal Welfare Conference | Food and Agriculture Law Blog

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