Fight Cruelty

Erie County, New York—March 2010

ASPCA FIR Team Responder standing next to horse

The Case

On March 16, under the authority and request of the SPCA Serving Erie County (NY) members of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team were dispatched to assist in the sheltering management and care of 73 horses seized from what is believed to be the area's largest farm animal rescue ever. The animals were found living in deplorable and extremely unsanitary conditions on a farm in East Aurora, NY (about 20 miles southeast of Buffalo). Several cats and dogs were also found on the property—they were immediately signed over to the SPCA Serving Erie County for medical treatment and subsequently made available for adoption.

Jeff Eyre, the Northeast Director of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team, was sent to the scene with other ASPCA staff skilled in horse handling. "Our group played a vital role in helping to feed, water and clean the animals," said Eyre. "More importantly, we spent time nurturing the horses, helping them to rebuild their broken spirits."

The Aftermath

On July 12, Beth Hoskins was charged with 114 counts of animal cruelty, in addition to the 10 counts previously filed in May. Despite the pending charges, State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Glownia ordered the SPCA to return 40 of the seized horses to Hoskins. The unexpected ruling was accompanied by the conditions that Hoskins hire additional employees to care for the animals and that adequate care be provided. The SPCA retains the right to inspect the returned horses and to monitor their care (the remaining 33 horses are still under its authority).

"While the animals were under our care, they received medical, physical and environmental enrichment vital to their daily well-being—more importantly, time was spent helping rebuild their broken spirits,"said Jeff Eyre, ASPCA Northeast Director of Field Investigations and Response. "I can only hope the same level of care will be maintained under these new circumstances."

Hoskins pleaded not guilty to all charges and was released without bail. She is ordered to return to court on August 18. Visit SPCA Serving Erie County's website for updates on the progression of the case.

Field Reports from the Scene

The following is a series of field reports from Jeff on the ground in Erie County.

03-26-2010 | Field Report #1

Attended an early morning briefing with team leaders to set up a swing shift for the day to day operations—this will cover the early morning feeding and medications. Our goal today is to finish barn and stall improvements, provide handling for a vet visit and move or separate the horses.

After the meeting, we provided food and water for the horses, improved the stalls and cleared an area for the intake of new supplies and equipment. Later, we unloaded two tractor trailers full of supplies. We also created a staff office and site command center for operations planning and evidence organization.

A special event this afternoon we watched as ASPCAs Logistic Manager Joel Lopez handled a newborn horse, moving him from one stall to another—great job!

03-27-2010 | Field Report #2

We were briefed in-route to the shelter in order to make our 8:00 A.M. shift.

We completed the erection of a fence to secure the area around the barns and set up a rental to supplement the Gator, an all-terrain vehicle, for use around the barns. Oil was changed in the Gator.

Moved another young horse without incident. 

03-28-2010 | Field Report #3

We now report directly to the shelter to start our shifts at 8:00 A.M.—briefing is now covered during lunch breaks for updates and new changes.

Repaired front of stalls in small barn and began lead walking and lunging some of the horses within the fenced area—hopefully tomorrow we can erect a round pen.

I am amazed at...any given time I can look at someone here and they are smiling. The amount of physical work required to care for a horse is intense. But the joy a horse gets in a clean stall—they sniff, snort and roll just because! It can only make you smile. I am very, very proud of our team. More tomorrow...

03-29-2010 | Field Report #4 

Today was a full day of cleaning and improving the barn for the horses. We added another Gator vehicle with a power lift for cleaning and moving supplies.

Due to the rainy weather conditions, the area is full of water and mud—we have decided to keep all horses in.

Today we received three more horses from the case; there are now 69 horses on site, four are being held at the SPCA.

03-30-2010 | Field Report #5

Josh Burkhart, our farrier, arrived today to repair and shape the horses' hooves—the majority of the horses here need work done, some extensive.
Evidence of their poor hoof care was documented for prosecution purposes—including bagging all hoof trimmings and photographing the work being done.

03-31-2010 | Field Report #6

New team members arrived this morning and we explained to them the procedures and barn setup. With the additional staff, we have improved our scheduling by having a half-day shift start at 7:30 A.M. to cover feedings, and a full-day shift beginning at 8:00 A.M. to cover the remaining work.

We received approval for the arena and round pen for exercise. The round pen will arrive tomorrow and arena was created or "fluffed"today.

Our farrier was here for a second day, working in the barns. Kristen Limbert, our Operation Manager, worked with him, handling the horses and obtaining evidence.

Overall, the team is making progress with the horses, and with each other. We are becoming more active and effective, we are also sleeping better—as we are finally able to enjoy watching the horses heal and change for the better.

A good day for all!

04-07-2010 | Field Report #7

The horses' health and spirits have vastly improved—they are now allowing us to approach and handle them with greater ease. As their strength improves, so does their intake of food and water. We have recently adjusted their feedings to meet their new daily requirements— approximately 60 bales of hay are being fed a day!

Cleaning and repairing the stalls is a common chore. We just surpassed 80 tons of stall fill—that's not including the 70 bales of wood shavings used a day for bedding. It's certainly not uncommon to see at least six wheel barrows, two all-terrain vehicles and multiple hay forks clicking away at any given moment. Cleaning and caring for these animals is an every day, all-day chore—and really what this whole situation is about. With 69 horses to care for, you really do need a team this large.  

04-07-2010 | Final Field Report

We just finished loading the last seven mares onto the trailer—they will be making the hour drive to their new foster home. A total of 69 horses have been relocated to new homes over the past few weeks, and this group was our last haul. It has been through the great efforts of our team—including members of the ASPCA, American Humane Association, Days End and the SPCA of Erie County—that the moves went smoothly and all of the horses were rehomed without incident or injury.

Overall, our response has dramatically improved the lives of these animal victims—physically, behaviorally and mentally. I can remember the first days after rescue, when the horses would react to us with horror and fear. They were emaciated, dirty and their manes full of tangles and mats. Today, these healthy animals can be gently walked with a halter lead and approach humans with interest and affection. I have spent more than a month working with these abused and broken animals and have watched them recover little by little each day. I can now only describe my final goodbye as moving.

It was during the morning feeding—when my favorite sound of the horses munching hay filled the air. As I approached each stall, a head would appear, and I would receive a gentle nuzzle from a nose. There were no flared eyes, no ears pulled back, no pinning against the stall walls—these horses were at peace. They were comfortable in their surroundings and with me. At the end of this journey, I know that these are happy horses with enriched lives—and I could not have asked for a better farewell.