Authorities descended on a Calverton farm Friday and took custody of two dozen horses and ponies — two of which were found locked in a barn with no food or water — as well as goats, a sheep and a pig, Riverhead Police and Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals officials said.
One of the locked-up horses was severely malnourished and a pony was found suffering from an intense eye infection, said SPCA Chief Roy Gross, who received a tip from cops last week about the allegedly neglected farm animals.
“I don’t ever remember seeing a horse in such poor condition; this is not your standard backyard cruelty case.” Chief Gross told the News-Review.
No food or water was available for the animals, he said.
“The ones that were out in the field, obviously had grass to eat,” he said. “And because of the wet spring water that had puddled up, that must have been the water they were drinking. All the animals were neglected, though some fared better than others. We still need to do a complete evaluation.”
The two horses and pony in the worst shape were taken to nearby Hillcrest Stables on Middle Road, where proprietor Darlene Wilcox said they have all been seen by a veterinarian, are eating well and are doing much better. “The one’s feet were so terrible; the other had a very bad eye infection,” said Ms. Wilcox, who laid out her own money for the horses’ care.
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said his department investigated the property, which he identified as Abbess Farm on Route 25, last Wednesday before turning the case over to the Suffolk SPCA.
Authorities were granted access to the property by a law firm overseeing foreclosure proceedings there, officials said. No charges have been filed.
The owner of the animals, Marie Tooker, said she has been fighting in court to hold onto the 130-acre farm, located just west of Splish Splash, and had been sending people to care for the horses as she commuted by day to courthouses in New York City and elsewhere.
She also said her horses have been repeatedly let out at night over the last 12 months by people she suspects are involved in an ongoing dispute over the land.
“I told [the SPCA] why I locked the horses up; they were letting them out!” she fumed. “The last thing I wanted was the two [horses] who were out front, and could get to the road the fastest, getting out.”
Horses were reported to have escaped from Abbess Farm twice last year, in one case ending up on the Long Island Expressway, according to Riverhead police.
Ms. Tooker also blamed the condition of the animals in part on her enemies in the land dispute between her and a family member, who is also an ex-business partner. She said at times she has been kept from the animals.
“I’ve been fighting it and fighting it and not getting any justice in any courthouse,” she continued, speculating that her ownership of the animals was what was allowing her to stay on the land with her three children.
She said the horse described as emaciated is “sick and old.”
“We were just trying to make him comfortable,” she said, although Chief Gross later said in an interview that same horse had been eating “like a horse” since a vet visit and dental work.
“All he wants to do is eat and eat,” he said.
Chief Gross declined to comment on where the animals came from or what led to any neglect.
“Whether charges will be forthcoming or not will be determined upon completion of an investigation,” he said. “Right now we want to make sure these animals have good homes.”
The SPCA, a nonprofit organization that is not affiliated with the Manhattan-based ASPCA, is seeking both monetary and supply donations to help the animals. Donations can be made by visiting its website, suffolkspca.org, or by dropping off supplies at Hillcrest Stables.
Michael White contributed reporting to this article.