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Cop horse deaths lead to worries

November 10, 2003

Is there something amiss in the Police Department's vaunted Mounted Unit? In the past 12 months, five of the unit's 110 horses have died, more than double the average.

An officer in the unit told Newsday three of the deaths occurred at the Remount facility in the Bronx, where about two dozen horses are supposed to be trained for three to six months before going on the street.

The officer, who asked for anonymity, noted that all were between 5 and 8 years old, considered the prime of a horse's life. He and a second officer in the Mounted Unit said they believed poor feeding and care, as well as improper use of a deworming drug, were factors in the deaths.

"Our horses get the cheapest grain and the worst quality hay," the first officer said. "What the racetracks don't want, we get. The horses are not getting the grains they used to get. It used to take my horse 15 to 20 minutes to eat its grains. Now it takes him an hour."

"It all comes down to money," said the second officer, who also asked that his name not be used. "At times, the quality of hay is really bad. We have had sticks, twigs, squashed beer cans, thorns. We have had problems with horses getting sick from the hay. Sometimes the shipment comes in pouring rain and the hay is sitting for a couple of months and gets moldy."

The department's equine veterinarian, Dr. Dennis Farrell, confirmed the number of deaths but said the horses are well cared for and get "good quality hay."

He said an average of two horses die annually and noted that one of the horses this year died after breaking his leg.

In addition, a veterinarian and equine expert cautioned against reaching conclusions based on the horse mortality numbers, saying the increase might not be statistically significant.

"It could be nothing," said Dr. Andrew Lott of Waitsfield, Vt., the animal care coordinator of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. "It could be bad timing, especially if they were older horses. Maybe none had died for a long period of time."

Horses normally live into their 20s and remain functional. Some have lived into their 40s, the doctor said. Lott acknowledged that poor care and poor feed, as well as the careless use of a deworming drug, can be a factor in a horse's death.

"If a horse is ridden with parasites and you deworm him with a powerful drug, all the worms die at one time and can overwhelm a horse's digestive system," he said.

Christopher Acerbo, the Mounted Unit's commanding officer, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Apprised of the officers' allegations, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Michael O'Looney said, "I'll look into it." He did not return subsequent calls.

Deputy Chief Michael Collins declined comment.

An officer familiar with the Remount facility said horses there go without exercise for days, although they are supposed to be exercised an hour daily. In addition, he said, their stalls are not cleaned out each day, as they are supposed to be by the civilian hostlers under police supervision.

He added that the horses also were not properly dewormed on schedule, leading to the buildup of parasites.

An officer said that, last year, an out-of-state friend of the wife of a top police official picked up an older horse named Noble Cause at the Remount facility, and noted how skimpy the horses there were. For the next two months, the officer said, the horses were given high-quality grains.

The NYPD acquires its horses through local stables and from wealthy donors through the Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

Pam Delaney, the Police Foundation's executive director, said she knew of no complaints of poor care.

Blast From Past. The NYPD may not have informed New Jersey's Office of Counter-Terrorism that Intelligence Division detectives were conducting a telephone sting of scuba dive shops along the Jersey Shore last month.

But police historian Tom Reppetto says there is precedent for the department's out-of-state involvement.

During World War I, he says, imperial Germany conducted a sabotage campaign in the United States, with Hoboken, N.J., a center of German plotting. On July 30, 1916, an explosion rocked New York City after saboteurs blew up munitions barges off Jersey City.

The blast was so strong the Brooklyn Bridge swayed. Spectacular fires were seen on the Jersey waterfront.Shock waves were felt as far away as Philadelphia.

Then-police Commissioner Arthur Woods formed a 34-man bomb squad, which became the premier agency investigating the blasts. The squad was headed by Inspector Thomas Tunney, whose cousin, Reppetto says, was the boxer, Gene Tunney.

Of course, there was no New Jersey Office of Counter-Terrorism then.

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.