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Supporters pack court to support stable owner charged with cruelty

Updated: 08/28/08 6:56 AM

Supporters of a Grand Island stable owner packed the courtroom for his arraignment Wednesday on animal cruelty charges.

Peter L. Sparks, 56, pleaded not guilty to all 17 counts and remains free without bail. On Aug. 12, the Erie County SPCA seized 12 horses and five sheep from his Sparks Trading Post stables on Bedell Road.

The SPCA alleges the animals were malnourished and dehydrated, and suffered from untreated conditions. They remain at the SPCA’s facility in the Town of Tonawanda.

Several dozen supporters attended the arraignment in Grand Island Town Court.

“It goes a long way to show you the character of Peter Sparks,” said Allison Mackenzie, a former employee. “The man would give you the shirt off his back if you need it. And that’s the way he takes care of his horses.”

His supporters applauded him after the proceeding. Thanking them, he said: “I still need your continued support.”

Appearing before Town Justice Mark J. Frentzel, defense attorney Patrick Wesp raised concerns about the warrant resulting in the seizures and charges against Sparks.

“The warrant might have met standards for the Agriculture and Markets law, but it falls short of the constitutional protections for somebody charged with a crime,” Wesp said.

Later, Wesp acknowledged that some of the horses have health issues, but not all of them were being used for riding.

“There’s a couple horses [that] look old and thin, but that’s because they are old and thin. Peter hasn’t made the decision to put them down,” Wesp said.

“It’s the same thing as with your dog. It’s a decision you would have to make,” Wesp said.

Veterinarians will join lawyers in the next court appearance, which hasn’t been scheduled.

Attorney Thomas M. Viksjo, representing the SPCA, filed a petition Wednesday seeking a bond to pay for the boarding and care of the animals until the criminal case is resolved.

The judge will have to determine if there’s sufficient evidence to believe Sparks is guilty as charged and if so, he would be required to post the bond.

“If he doesn’t post it, he would forfeit the animals,” after a prescribed time, Viksjo said.

The SPCA petition seeks $9,442.50. “In my opinion, it’s a back-door attempt to gain possession of the animals,” Wesp said.

Wednesday afternoon at the SPCA, five of the horses were in the barn while seven grazed in an enclosed field. The sheep were in a pen in the barn.

Gina Browning, an SPCA spokeswoman, said all 12 horses have tested negative for equine infectious anemia, an incurable disease that requires infected horses to be quarantined or euthanized. Some dental work has been done, including two extractions.

All the animals have been dewormed and vaccinated. The SPCA alleges the sheep also were emaciated. Sheila Foss, the SPCA’s farm manager, said Wednesday that they also were suffering from parasites.

“They have been picking up weight remarkably,” Foss said.

While the horses haven’t been weighed, they also appear to have gained weight, Foss said. “Personality-wise, they are picking up and they are brighter,” she said.