"I swear, this mare is living a charmed life," says Virginia Stack of Quakertown, PA. She was talking about Sharp Gal, a retired race horse that was among the 82 horses seized from Norcrest Farm, a breeding farm in Troupsburg, NY on August 29 and 30. The horses were starving, deprived of medical care and did not have access to water. Investigators found one dead horse and subsequently euthanized nine others.
Sharp Gal's journey from racetrack to the epicenter of a horrific case of animal cruelty was paved with the best of intentions. "She ran at Penn National and broke down," Stack explains. Although the mare's racing career was over, Stack purchased her because she thought she had potential as a broodmare.
Stack moved Sharp Gal to her Wishful Thinking Farm, where she has several thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. Her plans for breeding Sharp Gal were not working out, though. "I'd been having problems getting the mare in foal, and someone I know referred me to Norcrest Farm." Stack says she spoke with Geraldine Trupia, who operated Norcrest Farm, and who was looking for mares to breed to her stallions.
Trupia convinced Stack that she could help, and Sharp Gal was shipped to Troupsburg. Stack says now that she regrets not listening to her instincts, because Trupia had made several statements that, in retrospect, were signals that something was not right. "Oddly, she made a few comments to me about her situation. She said her mother had lost her job, and that a developer was interested in her property." Stack didn't think too much about those comments, because she was in frequent contact with Trupia, who reported that Sharp Gal was happy and doing well.
But soon there were other things that made Stack suspicious. "She said that she had taken the mare to another farm for breeding, and that the owner of that farm had been making fun of her (Trupia's) stallions." Stack's instincts by now were in overdrive, and it was not long before she saw a report about the SPCA's raid on Norcrest Farm. "I tried to call her, but there was no answer. No response. I called the police. They said the situation was very bad, and that I should call the sheriff." The sheriff had begun referring all calls to the SPCA.
Stack was frantic, not knowing whether Sharp Gal had survived or had been one of the horses that had been euthanized. "I couldn't sleep. They wouldn't tell me anything," she says. "I jumped through hoops, and persisted, and finally I identified her by her tattoo number." Sharp Gal's good luck saved her once again. "They told me that she was weak, and down, but they got her up." They were able to move her to a foster care facility where she started yet another comeback. "She doesn't look pretty," Stack says. "But she's alive."
Another Pennsylvanian whose horse was at Norcrest was not as lucky as Stack. We We C, a mare owned by Anna Marie Cray of Grantville, was one of five horses euthanized shortly after Trupia's farm was raided.
Stack says that it's hard to imagine the conditions on that farm. "She had 15 stallions in a barn that had so much manure in the stalls that they couldn't get the doors open. They had to pry the doors off to get the stallions out. And the horses had not had any hoof care in years, so their hooves had started to grow into the soles of their feet. They had to carry the stallions out." Trupia admitted that there had been no veterinarian and no blacksmith on the property for three years.
"There was no food on that property when the SPCA raided it," Stack says. Sharp Gal had been there for two months, and probably had no food in that whole time. On October 3, Trupia entered a guilty plea to two counts of animal cruelty after reaching a plea agreement with local authorities. As part of the agreement, Trupia has undergone psychological evaluation. Her sentencing hearing will be in November. "She apparently thought she was the Mother Theresa of horses," Stack says.
This instance of animal neglect is not unique, unfortunately. As horse owners face rising costs for food, animal bedding, fuel and routine care, they are also dealing with economic uncertainty, along with weather conditions such as drought and floods which destroy hay crops and pastures. Animal welfare agencies throughout the country are reporting increasing cases of equines that are malnourished or starving in the hands of farm owners. Some of those owners have run out of money. Some are hoarders. All of them put their animals in devastating predicaments. And equine rescue organizations are dealing with the same economic realities, even while they are confronting increased populations of horses needing rescue. Sharp Gal is one of the lucky ones. She recovered in foster care and returned to Stack's Quakertown farm where she'll get the care and treatment she deserves. Thousands of equines will not be that fortunate.
"It's been a major roller coaster," Stack says, but Sharp Gal "knows she is home now, and she knows she is safe."