May 1, 2012

State, owners to talk options after 23 horse deaths

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

State agriculture officials plan to meet with the owners of a Gorham horse farm today to outline options for disposing of 23 horse carcasses that died of botulism.

State Veterinarian Don Hoenig plans to present Anne and William Kozloff with a letter describing the two options for disposing of the horses, which died over a three-week period in the past month.

The preferred disposal method would be to compost the remains, a process by which the soft tissues decompose within a few months, and the long bones after about six months.

However, these horses are already buried about eight feet deep at the Nonesuch Road farm and the owners have said that digging them up would be upsetting as well as messy, he said.

An alternative proposed by the department's soils experts would involve installing a curtain drain. That method would entail digging a trench around the burial area, lining it with crushed rock and a plastic barrier so that runoff would not leach through the burial location but be diverted around it.

Hoenig had earlier said the farm has a history, but he elaborated Monday, saying that the last time state inspectors were called to the farm for a complaint was in January 2010 and the owners corrected areas of concern. He said he did not know the specifics of the complaint or the remedy.

A woman who said she was an owner said Monday she did not want to comment on the issue.

State authorities say they are not worried that botulism will contaminate the water table, but are concerned that water leaching through the decomposing carcasses would be bad for the water quality.

Linda Beck, who lives on nearby Mountain View Road, said she is worried about water quality. She already installed a filter system because of high arsenic levels in the groundwater and she doesn't drink the water but does use it for cooking.

Her husband Bill Beck said others also are worried.

"Everybody on this side of the road is concerned about the water table," said he said. "We need information on where the horses were buried."

Linda Beck said she also is disturbed that so many horses died so suddenly.

"I was just devastated" after learning about the deaths. "I'm an animal person. I love horses," she said, sporting a pair of earrings in the shape of horses.

State officials became aware a week and a half ago that almost two dozen horses had died from the paralytic condition that indicates botulism poisoning. The toxin interferes with the nerves ability to communicate with muscles and the horses are unable to swallow or breathe.

Some of the horses recovered from their symptoms. Between 40 and 45 horses remain at the farm, Hoenig said.

The state's investigation into the deaths was sparked by a complaint. A resident called Gorham police who forwarded the complaint to state authorities, said Town Manager David Cole.

The state welfare agent found no evidence of neglect, and the care for the animals met state standards, Hoenig said. State standards require that horses have waterproof shelter, unlimited access to clean water and enough food to maintain body weight.

He said the state has received complaints about the farm before, but the last one was in January of 2010. He said the owners complied with the corrective action that the state inspectors required. Hoenig said he did know the nature of that complaint or what inspectors required them to change.

The state is still trying to pinpoint what caused the poisoning, though it has suspects. Horses usually contract botulism from feed and because so many horses were exposed to it at one farm, that is a likely source.

(Continued on page 2)

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