According to the Oswego County SPCA, the town of Palermo, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and neighbors, a purported animal rescue on Hare Road in Palermo may be neglecting its animals. (Photo courtesy of HSUS)
The Oswego County SPCA is looking into allegations of neglect on a so-called animal rescue farm in the town of Palermo.
As the Star-Review reported in our July 5 edition, Mary Lorini of Liverpool started an informal rescue called “Hooves, Claws and Paws” on a friend’s farm on Hare Road. Lorini’s friend, Clay resident Dawn Brocious, started a GoFundMe campaign to assist Lorini in paying for the care of numerous animals on the farm.
Now, the Oswego County SPCA, the town of Palermo, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and neighbors of the farm have raised concerns about the apparent lack of shelter, water and proper care of the animals.
“They do not appear to be in good shape,” said Oswego County SPCA President Tanya Semchenko. “We know the alpacas have not been sheared, the sheep have not been sheared. That does provide mobility concerns for those animals, as well as their health and well-being.”
Semchenko and Palermo Town Supervisor Patty Redhead visited the farm July 25. Despite not being allowed inside the property, the two observed the animals from the outside.
“The horse is so thin I can see [her] ribs, and the sheep’s wool is so thick it can barely walk,” Redhead said in a statement provided by HSUS. “The alpaca never stood up while I was there. I saw his ears move, so he’s still alive, but I question his health. There are two dog kennels full of ducks, and they didn’t seem to have a source of water.”
Back in July, Brocious and Lorini told the Star-Review that the farm indeed lacks a water source, so Lorini hauls water in buckets and cat litter jugs. Lorini said she cannot afford to drill a well on the property.
“It’s about $13,000 and I just don’t have that right now,” she said.
As for the well-being of her animals, Lorini said the allegations of neglect are unfounded.
“I spend more time there than I do with my own family, my own kids,” she said. “The animals are well-taken care of, well-fed.”
Lorini said most of her animals have been treated by a veterinarian, including the horse, whose name is Dreamer.
“When I had the vet come out and look at her, she said she actually looked really good for her age,” Lorini said.
It takes about three hours per day to water and feed the animals, Lorini said — much longer than the 15 to 20 minutes her neighbors alleged she spends on the farm per day.
“My animals are loved and they’re well-cared for,” Lorini said. “It just is so wrong to come forward like this and say things that just aren’t true.”
Lorini said she was not aware of the allegations of neglect until media reports began flooding in.
“I was completely unaware of all of this yesterday [Sept. 21],” she said, “until my friend called me at midnight and said, ‘Oh my God, what the heck is going on? My daughter saw this on the news.'”
Lorini said the “disastrous nightmare” of the allegations stemmed from a dispute with a neighbor. Then, more neighbors got involved.
“It just blew up into ridiculousness,” she said. “I’ve been literally harassed by a specific neighbor for months until I had to get a lawyer.”
The Collinses are suing the farm’s owners, Terri and Kevin Gamage. The Collinses’ well has been contaminated by E. coli, which they suspect is from a manure pile 95 feet from their well. The New York State Department of Health requires barnyards, silos, barn gutters, animal pens and manure piles to be 200 feet away from wells to prevent contamination.
According to HSUS, the Collinses also say the property is located in a residential zone, not an agricultural zone. Neither Lorini nor the Gamages reside at the farm, which the HSUS complaint said is infested with rats and has piles of garbage.
Dawn Brocious, Lorini’s friend who started the GoFundMe page, said Lorini does not run an animal rescue and “Hooves, Claws and Paws” is not a not-for-profit organization.
“Mary does not run an animal rescue. She has animals that she has rescued. I believe people are confusing the two,” Brocious said in an email to the Star-Review. “She is not a not-for-profit. She is a wonderful person who loves animals.”
Brocious said her GoFundMe page was “pulled, to try to alleviate the confusion about her being a rescue organization until the issues with the town [of Palermo] were settled.”
Lorini said she has had “nothing but problems” with the town in terms of code enforcement and zoning.
“Prior to locating her animals there, she spoke at length with the code enforcement officer, who assured her she could keep them there. Now he is backpedaling and saying she did not apply for a site plan to have animals there,” Brocious said.
Semchenko said she has contacted the Oswego County District Attorney’s Office, but was told to coordinate a wellness check for the animals before the DA would intervene.
“In our county, technically we are not cruelty officers and we have no law enforcement authority,” Semchenko said. “If they were to take the lead and go out there with the vet and see if cruelty laws are violated themselves, they could could take swifter action. We have no way to legally hold somebody accountable.”
Lorini said she is open to granting the Oswego County SPCA and a veterinarian access to the farm to examine her animals.
“I spent the middle of the night in the barn [gathering] my vet records, receipts for feed,” Lorini said. “I told [Semchenko] she could come out anytime.”
Lorini said she is taking steps to build better enclosures for her animals.
“Just because there’s a little bit of mess right now does not mean they are not loved and cared for and checked on,” she said.
Syracuse.com and CNY Central reported that Oswego County DA Greg Oakes visited the property, but there is no word on whether there will be charges filed.
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.
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