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Stuck with Four Horses, Boarding Stable Owner Seeks New Law
February 2013 - Marcella Peyre-Ferry

Debra PasseroStable owner Debra Passero is seeking a new Pennsylvania law that would allow stable owners to take possession of abandoned horses.

There are many legal aspects to be considered when running a boarding facility. Stable owner Debra Passero thought she had herself covered by a detailed contract, but as she recently found out, her contract needs support from a law that does not exist.

In May of Last year, Debra Passero took on a new boarder with four horses at her Rock Ridge Ranch in Dingman’s Ferry, PA. “She signed my boarding agreement and paid me for May’s board. My boarding agreement states that after one month I may in lieu of unpaid board put the horse(s) and her equipment up for sale, notifying her of the sale two weeks prior. It also states that in the case of non-payment for two consecutive months the horses will become the property of my ranch in lieu of board.”

Passero stated that after the initial payment in May, the board went unpaid and bills started piling up. “After sending numerous certified bills and letters I did not hear a peep. The owner signed for one certified letter which was the one that stated the horses were taken over for unpaid board,” she said. “This letter was sent in August - well after the two month time frame. She then contacted me via text and said she would have the money to pay me at the end of August. I had possession of the horses and as per my boarding agreement and relayed to her that they were owned now by the ranch.”

From a stable owner’s point of view, it seems like a straight forward case that should end there, but it didn’t. Passero reports that she received service of a lawsuit stating that the owner wanted the horses back or a monetary amount of over $30,000. Passero has secured a lawyer and has now countersued for possession of the horses. “My feeling is that these horses are owned by the ranch and I shouldn't even be at this point,” she said.

No Law Regarding Remedy
Even though the boarding agreement included a provision for the ranch to sell or take possession of the horses in the event of unpaid board, Passero has found that the terms can be challenged because there is no law that spells out her remedy for unpaid board.

“My lawyer stated that she could come back in a year - two years, whenever to pay her back board and take possession of the horses - through legal means. This is absurb,” Passero said. “If you leave your dog at a boarding facility and don’t pick it up within a certain amount of time the animal goes to the SPCA or such. If you do not pay for your rental storage unit they can sell you stuff after a certain amount of time.  BUT if you do not pay board and leave your horse and not be in touch in any form or manner with the boarding facility - which to me is abandonment - you can come back and any time - get an attorney if the boarding facility will not relinquish the horse(s) and sue for possession.”

Now, Passero is faced with the expense of defending herself in court. Plus there are other complications. Unlike a storage unit with inanimate objects, horses continue to need care, even if no one is paying for it.

“At this time I am owed over $13,000 for back board, vet and farrier bills, etc. So being that there is nothing to protect me and I cannot do anything with these horses - lease, train, use for lessons - until this is resolved, puts this facility owner in a rut,” Passero said. “The horses are in great condition - happy and well cared for, but until this is settled I do not officially own them. One of the horses is 32 and has cancer. If this horse becomes ill and I have to euthanize him - what do I do?  Wait till Monday and let him suffer because I am not the legal owner and need to get in touch with the attorney?”

Not Alone
Passero knows that she is not alone in this position. With the economic downturn and the recent issues limiting the sale of unwanted horses for slaughter, the incidences of horse abandonment are likely to continue to grow.

“With more and more horses being left, the boarding facility that does wish to keep the horses should have a legal avenue to do so. They should not have to go to court to fight for something that was in their contract,” Passero said. “There needs to be a bill protecting the facility owner and ultimately protecting the horses.”

In her research Passero has not found one state with a law determining when the boarding facility may take ownership of a horse after non-payment of board.

To change that in Pennsylvania, Passero met with State Representative Rosemary M. Brown and spoke with her about her story in hopes that a bill can be introduced to address the issue.

“As I have begun my research, this does seem to be an increasing problem in Pennsylvania and a problem I am willing to work towards fixing in law if necessary,” Brown told Pennsylvania Equestrian via e-mail. “There are many reasons this may be an issue but I do believe our struggling economy plays a significant role.”

Brown is taking a look at the situation and possible solutions. “Currently, Ms. Passero's course of action would be through her attorney. However, I am currently researching and working on drafting legislation to protect the business owner as well as the horses in this situation,” she said. “I would ask the public from across Pennsylvania to contact my office at (717) 260-6171 or through my e-mail at rbrown@pahousegop.com if they have had this problem as well.  Any additional information that the public can offer me while drafting this legislation will help Pennsylvania truly remedy the situation in the correct manner... I look forward to helping move forward legislation that will avoid this type of situation in the future.”