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Animal control officer tends to Farbotnik’s animals

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MASSENA — When James A. Farbotnik died Nov. 13, he left behind five children, along with a variety of animals on his hobby farm on Route 37C.

Following his death, Hughy R. Blain, the animal control officer for the towns of Massena and Brasher, stepped in to take care of the animals, a task that he said has no end in sight.

“I am taking care of them twice a day,” Mr. Blain said Tuesday. “I don’t go the same time every day. When I get there, I get there. They were never on a schedule anyway. I get there not too early in the morning when the frost gets off the ground. I did them tonight at 7 o’clock.”

Mr. Blain also had been called to the farm by state police when Mr. Farbotnik’s wife died on Memorial Day 2011.

“They called me to remove the dogs,” he said.

When Mr. Blain was contacted by state police about the animals following Mr. Farbotnik’s death this month, he found a field of animals that included 11 miniature 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.

The property is about 10 to 15 acres, and some of the animals use all of the land to roam.

Tending to them is a one-person job because of liability concerns, according to the animal control officer.

“Because the New York State Police asked me to do it as a person with animal experience and dog experience, it’s a liability. I prefer not (to have others assisting) because if somebody slips or gets bit, who’s liable? The state trooper said, ‘Hughy’s got experience, he’s worked on the farm, he’s got connections, he did it the last time and didn’t get bit,’” he said.

“Everybody says, ‘We’ll all help you.’ But if someone slips and gets hurt, it’s more red tape,” Mr. Blain said.

Caring for each type of animal has its own particulars, he said, whether it’s ensuring there’s plenty of water or enough food or hay to last until the next visit.

“There are nine horses and three cows outside, so they’re pretty much set. Water is the issue. And you want to make sure the hose is drained so it doesn’t freeze,” Mr. Blain said. “There are two ponies in the barn, and they don’t get much exercise. I’ve been giving them a little extra (food).”

But it’s all coming out of Mr. Blain’s checkbook.

“I bought food Wednesday out of my own pocket to get me started,” he said.

He said a school may hold a drive to help out, and Heidi Bradish from the Massena Humane Society also put out an appeal during a radio interview last week.

“Heidi’s got donations coming in,” Mr. Blain said, noting that one person bought some pig feed that he picked up on Tuesday and that someone else is supposed to bring him hay.

Because people might not be familiar with the needs of farm animals, Mr. Blain said, monetary donations are useful.

“I opened up a checking account at NBT Bank in Massena for anyone who wants to donate,” he said. “It’s a special food account, or they can drop money off at the animal shelter. If everybody donates food, we have the right food or we don’t have the right food. We really don’t want to start mixing food.”

Ms. Bradish has suggested that gift cards also would be handy for the purchase of food.

Feeding and tending to the animals is a job that Mr. Blain will have to do until the Farbotnik estate is taken care of, he said.

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

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