by David Flint
Horses seized back in August from Black River Stable in Cherry Plain have somehow disappeared from an animal shelter in the Catskills. A mare and her colt, Carrie and Baxter, were among 17 horses that were seized from the riding stable after the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society pressed charges against the owners alleging neglect and animal cruelty. The horses were taken to be boarded by various animal rescue groups.
Carrie and Baxter were placed with the Pets Alive Sanctuary in Middletown, Orange County, an animal rescue center heavily supported and subsidized by Rob Thomas, lead singer for the rock band Matchbox Twenty, and his wife Marisol, formerly a model for Victoria’s Secret.
In September, following a hearing in Berlin Town Court, Judge Joseph Rechen ruled that the proprietors of the riding Stable, Thelma and Mary Wadsworth, could take back any six of the horses that were seized. Four animals have been returned and the other two that the Wadsworths wanted are Carrie and Baxter. But Pets Alive and the Thomases resisted. According to a posting by Marisol on their Sidewalk Angels Foundation website, Pets Alive, fearing for the safety of the horses, offered to buy them for $2,000 but Wadsworth asked for $4,000. Pets Alive agreed, but Wadsworth then declined, and when the offer was raised to $10,000 by Rob and Marisol Thomas, she turned it down and demanded the return of the horses pursuant to the Court order.
According to the Wadsworths’ attorney, Todd G. Monahan of the Albany law firm Kindlon Shanks & Associates, the Wadsworths had brought Carrie here from North Dakota and Baxter was born in Cherry Plain. They had invested a lot in the animals and they had become beloved members of their family. They did not want to sell them “for blood money” to the Thomases. Monahan said Pets Alive “flatly ignored and scoffed at” the Court order to return the horses. He said they refused again after a subsequent order was issued in late November.
Where Are Carrie And Baxter?
Now, Monahan said, he has received an email from an attorney for Pets Alive saying that the horses are missing and that the Sanctuary has filed a report with the police in Wallkill. The Thomases have expressed concern over the disappearance, and, according to Monahan, they suspect that the Wadsworths had something to do with it. Monahan said his clients had nothing to do with it and would have no incentive to steal back their own property which a Court has ordered should be returned to them. Monahan suspects that an animal rights group may have been incited by Pets Alive to steal the horses to prevent their return to Cherry Plain. He believes that Pets Alive “and persons affiliated with them” have knowledge of the whereabouts of the horses. He points to a “media situation” with Rob Thomas resisting the return of the horses. There have been interviews with several newspapers including the Times Union and the New York Daily News, and the Pets Alive website has been urging people to send comments to Justice Rechen and to the guest book on the Black River Stable website.
Justice Rechen would not comment on the matter except to say he has received “quite a few” comments. The Guest Book on the Black River Stable website now has 17 pages of comments received since the middle of August, many of them blasting the Wadsworths for mistreatment of animals and urging them to give up their fight to retrieve Carrie and Baxter. Some of the comments, however, defend the Wadsworths saying that some of the horses taken had recently been purchased at auction and were in bad shape to begin with, while others were suffering from Lyme Disease which caused their loss of weight.
Monahan said there was an agreement in September between the Wadsworths’ lawyer at the time and the District Attorney that some of the horses seized would not be returned for the time being. A trial had been asked for on the criminal charges of neglect that had been lodged, and Monahan said he had been negotiating with the District Attorney on a plea bargain. But now with the horses, which constitute evidence, being supposedly stolen, he may have to take a different tack. He is now contemplating a civil suit for slander and libel for inciting of insulting and degrading comments on the internet, and he would also not rule out legal action against the Hudson & Mohawk Humane Society. In the meantime, he has filed a criminal complaint with the State Police at the Sand Lake station against Pets Alive and “associated individuals” regarding the disappearance of the horses.
Monahan asserts that the horses at Black River Stable were never mistreated and that they were seized for no good reason. He noted that the Humane Society had consented to the return of six of the horses. When his clients are acquitted, Monahan said, they would demand the return of all of them. Part of the problem, he said, is that the wording of the Ag & Markets law is “primitive” and so allows a humane society to bring criminal charges without foundation.
Amy Chaitoff, Counsel for Pets Alive, believes her clients were never actually served with a court order directing them to do or not do anything. She said there was some sort of agreement produced in September among certain parties to the effect that the Wadsworths would be permitted to take back six of the 17 horses. Pets Alive, she said, had not been consulted regarding this agreement, and she believed it was not clear what action was to be taken. She said that whatever document came from Berlin Town Court in November, it was never actually served upon Pets Alive because the horses in question had already gone missing.
Chaitoff stated categorically that her clients had nothing to do with the disappearance of the horses, and she rejected as “ridiculous” Monahan’s suggestion that comments posted on the internet may have incited persons unknown to steal them. She said her clients are heartbroken over their disappearance. They have invested a great deal of time, energy and love in the animals, she said, and they wish only for their safety and their safe return.
That Monahan should speak of libel and slander on the part of her clients Chaitoff found “interesting” as she had herself sent a letter to Monahan warning that he and his clients were courting such charges themselves for statements posted on the internet as well as comments made to the press.
Chaitoff noted that the owners of Black River Stable had been charged with 17 counts of animal cruelty. She pointed out that the horses had been seized because a humane society had found that among other things they were not fed or cared for properly, that they were being fed commercial bakery products instead of grain and oats and that their hooves had not been tended to and were way overgrown. The foal placed with Pets Alive, she said, was emaciated. Her clients, on the other hand, she said, were people who only care for abused, hurt and neglected animals.
Rensselaer County District Attorney Richard McNally said that custody of the seized animals belonged to the town court and/or to the State Police who seized them in cooperation with the Humane Society. Pets alive received the horses only as a service to the Humane Society. Their role was just to board them pending court action. Regardless of whether a proper court order was actually served on Pets Alive, he said, there was an agreement in the Berlin Town Court that six of the horses should be returned. Pets Alive had no right not to comply with that agreement, and they should not need a court order to comply. “The judge said to give them back,” he said, “and Pets Alive has no legal right to resist that.” McNally added that the intentions of the people at Pets Alive are “probably good” but he considered that the whole thing now “has turned into a fiasco” with their encouragement
As of Wednesday, Carrie and Baxter were still missing. Brad Shear, Executive Director of the Hudson & Mohawk River Humane Society, said he was very concerned about that because stolen horses very often do not end up well. Shear confirmed that four horses have already been returned to Black River Stable. The Humane Society has been monitoring conditions there and has found no problems so far. The Wadsworths, he said, have surrendered ownership of the other eleven horses.