Published December 24. 2009 4:00AM
A stable owner whose animals had just been seized by the state vowed last Thursday to get them back and threatened legal action.
Charging neglect, state and local officers last Wednesday seized 14 horses, two ponies, three mules, and various other domestic pet animals from the Rambling River Ranch, 138 Spring Road, owned by Gina Rapuano.
The seized horses, ponies, and mules have been transported to the state Department of Agriculture's large animal rescue facility, Second Chance, located at the Gates Correctional Institution in Niantic, according to agriculture spokesman Wayne Kasacek.
In addition to the livestock, four dogs and several other domestic pets were taken from the ranch to the town animal pound in North Haven and a second area animal control shelter.
Criminal animal cruelty charges are being considered against Rapuano. A news release from the agriculture department stated that a criminal investigation began Oct. 6, 2008, prompted by a complaint from a citizen concerned about the welfare and condition of the animals.
An angry and tearful Rapuano was intent on getting her horses back the day following the raid. She explained that the stalls looked "disgusting" because she had been in the hospital for a week and would probably have to go back.
"I am cleaning this place up spotless. I am going to get my animals back," she vowed, and added that she was looking for a good horse lawyer.
Rapuano claimed that the state had offered her a deal: If she would give up the horses, she could have the dogs and smaller animals back. Noting that some of the horses are worth $10,000 each, she said the state has a financial interest in acquiring her horses.
She also criticized the state for showing only old horses to the media at the time of the raid. State officials have since refused to allow photos of the seized animals.
"A 32 year-old horse is the same as a 90 year-old man," she said. "I've had these horses since they were babies. They would not have lived this long if I hadn't cared for them."
The day following the raid, the seven-acre farm was getting help from a young woman who wished not to be identified. She boards her horse there and was devastated at hearing of its being taken. She was anxious about getting her horse back because it was sick and was set to be transported to a care facility.
The woman said that Rapuano had just purchased more bedding and wood chips for the barn. She said the horses were fed well, but the stalls were bad. She had been going there every day to feed the horses and clean the stalls in exchange for a reduction in the monthly boarding rate of $400.
Nine reviews of the ranch were found through a Google search; six of them were positive. Comments ranged from "My horses were skinny, overworked, and never had water" to "Rambling River Ranch is a great facility. I myself have been riding there for nine years now and I have loved every minute of it."
State animal control officers got a search and seizure warrant from the Superior Court in Meriden, allowing them to remove the animals. The warrant alleges that some of horses and mules were kept in conditions that contributed to poor body, skin, and hoof conditions.
The warrant charged animal neglect in that there was inadequate and inappropriate feed, but this was denied by Rapuano, who said in a television interview that she feeds the animals every day, although she admitted that the stalls were not in good condition.
The state said that some of the animals lacked proper veterinary and dental care and that some appeared to be suffering from skin infections and cracked and/or infected hooves and lower legs.
The department said the animals are owned by Rapuano and Paul Novicki and there are also animals owned by other individuals boarded by Rapuano for a fee.
In 2003, the agriculture department confiscated 29 of Novicki's horses from his land in Hamden and North Haven and charged him with animal cruelty.
Kasacek said this is an ongoing investigation.
"State animal control officers are working with the attorney general's office in the civil case to gain custody of the animals and may ask the state's attorney to pursue criminal animal cruelty charges, he said."
Monetary donations to help offset the costs of rehabilitation for the seized animals may be made by sending a check to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, 165 Capitol Ave., Rm. G8-A, Hartford, CT 06106 and designating the money for the Animal Abuse Cost Recovery Account.
For more information on the Second Chance rehabilitation program, visit www.ct.gov/doag and click on "Programs & Services."