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Electricity shut-off could put Farbotnik’s animals at risk

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MASSENA - The animal control officer caring for the animals on the farm owned by the late James A. Farbotnik tuned to the Massena Town Council for guidance Wednesday night.

Hughy Blain told the town board the Massena Electric Department is scheduled to shut off power to the farm Friday.

“The power gets shut off, that’s no water, no electric fence,” Mr. Blain said. “Eleven horses and three cows, they get out and (injure someone), who’s liable? I’m worried about a 1,500-pound cow in the road and someone hits it.”

When Mr. Farbotnik died on Nov. 13, he left behind a variety of animals on his hobby farm on state Route 37C. His five children have been placed in foster care since his death.

Following his death, Mr. Blain stepped in to take care of the animals, which include 11 minitiature horses, three cows, five pigs, nine piglets, six chickens, eight ducks, seven dogs, “three rabbits that I can’t catch” and more than 35 cats, all needing attention.

But he said as the days grow into weeks the challenges involved in caring for the animals grows “I’m getting lots of donations now but how long is that going to last?” Mr. Blain wondered.

He said he talked to representatives of the New York State Police, surrogate court and Massena Electric seeking answers to his many unanswered questions.

Mr. Blain said the Farbotnik estate has not filed with the surrogate court yet, and Massena Electric officials said they could keep the power on if they had a letter from an attorney indicating the estate would be paying the power bills. “They’s need a letter from an attorney saying the estate will pay for it, but there ain’t nothing in motion in court yet,” he pointed out.

Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said he didn’t want to leave Mr. Blain hanging, but he suggested the Town Council was sympathetic didn’t have any real role in the process. “We haven’t been involved, and I don’t know that we have a dog in the hunt. Our job is to look out for the town’s best interest. I don’t see us geting involved,” he said.

But Mr. Gray recommended Mr. Blain discuss the issues with Town Attorney Eric J. Gustafson, who is also counsel for the Massena Electric Department.

The shut-off would pose problems with Mr. Blain’s efforts to feed the animals, if he does no have access to lighting or running water. He also said as winter sets in the house would also need to remain heated so the water system doesn’t freeze up.

Feeding and tending to the animals is a job that Mr. Blain said has no timeline to end. That will be decided once the estate is taken care of, he said.

“By law you cannot remove the animals until you get a court order,” he said.

Mr. Blain said he would also need a New York State veterinarian to inspect all of the animals before they can be removed from the property.

Several council members expressed an interest in seeing the animals removed from the property, both for the safety of the community and the well-being of the animals themselves.

“Some judge has got to say you have to remove the animals from the property,” Councilman Charles “Chuck” Raiti said.

Councilman Robert Cunningham suggested there might be people in the community willing to take in the animals, if allowed to by law.

He pointed out the animals, in essence, have been abandoned. “There is no one living there. No one is providing any care. They are abandoned. He’s (Mr. Blain) doing a great service. I commend you. I say get the animals removed,” Mr. Cunningham said.

“No one will argue with you on that,” Councilman Albert N. Nicola said, “but who and how.”

Mr. Cunningham said he was confident north country people would step in to offer a helping hand.

“We have a great outpouring of good people in this community who would help out to get the animals taken care of. It will just keep rolling,” he suggested.

Mr. Blain said he’s already received a number of offers from people interested in taking in some of the animals. But he reminded the board that some of the animals, such as the cows and miniature horses, require special living facilities.

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