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Legal battle over care for NYPD horses

NEWSDAY - October 5, 2006
BY ANTHONY M. DESTEFANO - Newsday Staff Writer

Dozens of retired New York Police Department horses spending their sunset years grazing on land in Orange County are at the center of a legal battle between the city and the landowners over allegations that the noble steeds had been mistreated.

Some of the animals were grossly underweight, had difficulty chewing and were kept in stalls without straw bedding, according to a police veterinarian who filed an affidavit in the case in 2005.

As the dispute, which began in 2005, makes its way through court it could end with the horses, once the stalwarts of the NYPD Mounted Unit, shipped off to another farm. Two alternate sites in New York State and one in New Hampshire have been identified, said police spokesman Paul Browne. He said the NYPD also allows people to adopt horses.

Legal issues surrounding the case are a bit arcane and revolve around things real estate lawyers are paid to worry about. But a decision in July by acting Supreme Court Judge Elaine Slobod in Orange County focused on a peculiar legal rule, the "Rule Against Perpetuities," that put the 1983 agreement and subsequent contracts for the care of the horses on the private Otisville farm into question.

City lawyer John Low-Beer said there are 33 horses now stabled on 170 acres of land and they are entitled to good treatment and "a happy retirement."

The controversy is rooted in the 1983 sale of the city's old Otisville Veterinary Service Laboratory for $490,000. The corporate purchaser agreed that both it and its successors would pay the cost of caring for the pensioned horses until the death of the last horse or 10 years after the city disbanded the mounted unit. The horses range from 20 to 30 years old.

According to court records, the land was sold to Breonics, Inc., a start-up biomedical company, for $1 million in June 2001. In 2003 Breonics' president got approval from the city to sell 54 acres of the property not used by the horses to Mt. Hope Technology Park, LLC.

Things seemed fine until city officials in 2005 got information from an Otisville neighbor who alleged the horses weren't being cared for properly. NYPD officials and veterinarian Dennis Farrel visited and found eight of the 58 horses grossly underweight, according to court papers. Other horses were unkempt and had no record of dental care in two years, Farrel said in an affidavit. The city spent $140,000 for hay, heating oil and veterinary supplies to help, said Farrel.

But after the city filed suit for breach of contract and to reverse the sale to Mt. Hope Technology, Slobod said there was a problem because the original 1983 deal involved selection of the animals' imprecise life span as a benchmark for measuring the performance of the contract. Still, Slobod thinks Breonics has an obligation to care for the horses at their expense. Low-Beer said settlement negotiations are under way. Neither Breonics nor its attorneys would comment.

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