By Becca Tucker
The animals seized from Noah’s Park in Goshen, N.Y., nearly a year ago are missing despite an overdue judge’s order that they be returned.
“They haven’t showed up,” Rebecca Vives, co-owner of the embattled animal sanctuary, said Aug. 15. “I don’t even know where they are.”
The case against the Noah’s Park owners is closed. The court dismissed the criminal animal neglect charges against Diana McGowan on July 17, granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss based on numerous problems with the investigation and ensuing trial process.
Vives’ case previously had been dismissed for failure to provide a speedy trial.
Three weeks later, Vives and Diana McGowan, the other co-owner, had not heard a thing.
The dozens of animals impounded from the 7.3-acre property include miniature horses and a donkey, pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks, peacocks, a Sebastopol goose and guinea hens. Vives and McGowan each received a ticket on the day of the confiscation charging failure to provide food and water.
“The whole thing has been extremely confusing,” said Vives, 83. “We don’t have any animals to show, and that’s ruining it because this is how we made our living.”
Equally in the dark is the person who is supposed to be rounding up the animals, Eugene Hecht, the Hudson Valley SPCA’s humane law enforcement chief.
“I know nothing about it,” he said. “I didn’t get any letter or anything else. As far as I know, neither did the SPCA. They would have called me.
“We don’t even have their animals,” he added.
Stephen Mullkoff, the lawyer representing the Noah’s Park owners pro bono, said, “They can say they know nothing about it all they want, but I paid for a process server to go out there and hand-deliver it to them.
“I think what is really going on is they don’t have the animals,” he said. “We’ll find out soon enough.”
The judge’s July 25 order was delivered by hand to the kennel manager, Matt, at the Hudson Valley SPCA in New Windsor on July 31 in the afternoon, according to a notarized affidavit of service from Jason Westrick of Orange Paper Placers, a licensed process server in Goshen. (Matt refused to give his last name, per the affidavit.)
“I don’t know who they think they are that they can defy an order from a judge,” Mullkoff said. “I’ve been admitted (to the bar) over two decades; I’ve never seen where someone just deliberately defies a judge’s order.”
Hecht maintained that he never saw the subpoena and declined this reporter’s offer to scan the judge’s order and email it to him.
“I’ll get it from the D.A., I’ll get it from whoever,” he said.
The Hudson Valley Humane Society - the nonprofit with whom Hecht is affiliated and acts as secretary, according to IRS filings - referred the matter back to Hecht.
“That’s really nothing to do with us,” said the woman who answered the phone at the humane society.
“That’s a humane law enforcement case,” she said, confirming that Hecht was the person to call. The SPCA did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
The Hudson Valley SPCA did not respond to an emailed request for comment by press time.
Hecht, 81, requested the search warrant and seizure order last year after he investigated Noah’s Park based on an anonymous tip. Accompanied by Goshen Town Police, he spearheaded the confiscation of dozens of animals on a Sunday morning in September, and his signature is on the ticket issued to each of the women that day.
Hecht created his position years ago, seeing a need while doing volunteer work for the Hudson Valley Humane Society, he said.
He carries a gun in the line of duty and in certain cases involving animal welfare, he has more power than the police, he said.
Hecht has an old felony conviction for vehicle fraud and declined to discuss how he is paid.
“They never keep us or any other law enforcement agency posted on what’s going on unless they need us for some reason or have a question,” he said, referring to the Orange County District Attorney’s office, to whom he referred this reporter’s inquiries. The D.A.’s office did not return multiple calls by press time.
After their animals were confiscated, Vives and McGowan were not told where they were taken, except by this reporter.
Pets Alive, an animal shelter in Middletown that accompanied the seizure mission and provided the transport vehicles, boarded the larger animals, including sheep, two miniature horses and a miniature donkey. The pigs were emergency housed at Pets Alive, then taken to Two by Two Animal Haven in Pleasant Valley in Dutchess County, Becky Tegze, executive director of Pets Alive, said in September.
The smaller animals, such as the chickens and guinea hens, were taken to a farm in Clintondale, Ulster County, N.Y., Hecht said in September. Now he says all of the animals were taken to Pets Alive.
“Pets Alive took all the animals. We didn’t distribute anything. Pets Alive took all the animals,” Hecht said Aug. 15.
Pets Alive did not respond to an inquiry by press time.
Freckles, an elderly spotted miniature donkey with a chronic condition called Cushing’s disease, is the most prominent member of the seized menagerie. He was the main attraction at Noah’s Park for about 12 years, grazing alongside toddlers in photos, featured in Make-a-Wish events and appearing onstage in a Nativity scene.
After the donkey’s seizure, he featured in Pets Alive’s fundraising material, until he was adopted in July.
An earlier post by the shelter said Freckles must have been struck in the past because he flinched when his caregivers pet him, a tenuous allegation that the elderly Noah’s Park owners find saddening and absurd.
Vives had given up rights to Freckles shortly after his confiscation with the hope that the donkey’s previous owner, Arty Pisacano of Long Island, could readopt him. Pisacano was eager to do that, said Vives, until he learned he would have to pay for the animal’s boarding and vet bills for the week the donkey had been in custody.
“They wanted $600 for a week and vet bills too. Then all of a sudden, it came to $1,000. He said they were jerking him around, they kept raising the price,” said Vives.
“He struck gold and is home with our amazing ferrier (sic) and overall wonderful person, Cheyenne. Happy life, Freck! You deserve it so much,” Pets Alive wrote on Facebook on July 5.
Vives only knew of the adoption because she’d been keeping tabs on Freckles on Facebook, she said.
The case against the Noah’s Park owners is over, but another case begins. Mullkoff is filing a motion for contempt against Hecht and the Hudson Valley SPCA in town court, seeking up to 30 days of incarceration and reimbursement of his clients’ additional legal fees. “They’ll have to come to court and explain to Judge Brady why they didn’t know anything about this order when they were served by a duly licensed process server in New York.”
The lawyer also is pondering taking the case to the next level: filing a companion case in federal court seeking damages for the missing animals and arguing that the search violated the Noah’s Park owners’ Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.
In federal court, the cronyism that plagues local courts ceases to be a factor, he said. “You can actually get things accomplished easier because people follow the law.”
Mullkoff and his wife, both lawyers and animal lovers, drove up from New York City in time to see the end of the seizure. They arrived at Noah’s Park just in time for Mullkoff to stop Hecht from confiscating the largest of the animals: a Highland cow that looked healthy to Mullkoff.
The seizure “was based on a search warrant that was unaccompanied by any affidavit of probable cause or anything to support the signing of that warrant and the subsequent seizure,” he said. “The public policy around that is to protect everyone, right? So people like Hecht can’t just go around and search people’s homes because he feels like it.”
The seizure “was based on a search warrant that was unaccompanied by any affidavit of probable cause or anything to support the signing of that warrant and the subsequent seizure. The public policy around that is to protect everyone, right? So people like Hecht can’t just go around and search people’s homes because he feels like it.”