Section: CAPITAL REGION Page: B1 Date: Friday, May 9, 1997
VETS LIKEN HORSE TRAINER'S FARM TO DEATH CAMP***** CORRECTION PUBLISHED MAY 10, 1997 *****In Friday's story about the trial of an animal trainer in Colonie, the feminine pronoun "she" incorrectly identified one of the veterinarians who testified. He is Dr. Lee H. Schechter. CHRISTOPHER RINGWALD Staff writer
COLONIE -- In the first day of testimony in the trial of a Latham horse trainer charged with cruelty to animals, two veterinarians compared conditions on the woman's farm last August to that of ``a concentration camp.'' Marie Gaida was charged Aug. 5 after State Police reported finding 19 emaciated and unhealthy horses on her farm at 1133 New Loudon Road. All were removed to other farms, but Gaida is now believed to have yet another five or six horses on her farm, according to the prosecutor, Albany County Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Boland.
``The animals were packed into a barn, which was the only shelter for 17 of the horses, many standing in three feet of fecal material,'' Dr. Tatty Hodge said. ``There was no water available, no hay put out, no feed buckets.'' Another veterinarian, Dr. Lee H. Schechter, said the horses she saw at Gaida's farm that day evoked pictures of ``people coming out of concentration camps.'' Gaida's defense attorney, Randall Kehoe, objected to the phrase the second time it was enunciated, by Hodge, as ``extremely prejudicial.'' Town Justice Mary Sweeney allowed it to stand, though she spent much of the day refereeing the lawyers. Gaida, who faces up to two years in jail if convicted, has maintained her innocence. Last August, she said she was nursing sick animals back to health. The district attorney's office refused to plea bargain the case, wanting Gaida, at a minimum, to give up all her horses and never again own any in New York state.
The trial is unique for Colonie Town Court in that it is being held during the day instead of at night because of its expected duration. Town Court handled 3,600 criminal cases in 1996. The jury of four women and two men, all middle-aged or younger, examined photos of the horses in question and listened to the sometimes gruesome descriptions with little visible reaction. ``Most of the horses had numerous bites and kick marks,'' Hodge said. ``There was one chestnut mare who could not move.'' Schechter recalled his estimate that most of the horses were nearing death without intervention. ``I didn't think 30 percent of them could survive another winter,'' he said. The case was based on the work of State Police Investigator Susan McDonough, who last August offered descriptions like those of the veterinarians she took to Gaida's farm. In cross-examination, Kehoe established that Schechter had visited Gaida's farm 51 times before 1986 on veterinary calls. In an apparent effort to compromise Schechter's testimony, Kehoe intimated that the two had a falling out. In reply, the Clifton Park veterinarian called Gaida difficult, her farm unsafe and the horses routinely underfed. But there was no animosity, he said, adding ``I just stopped being her veterinarian.''