In the 1940s Jules Freund, inventor of Freund's adjuvant, worked on developing antibodies in horse to rabbit serum globulin. In a 1947 Journal of Experimental Medicine study, Freund describes the horses by number: 1026, 999, 1127. To others, they had names like Sylvester, Moses, and Doc Fried.
The horses had retired from the New York City police department to reside at stables on a 170-acre plot of land in the tiny town of Otisville, NY, 80 miles from midtown Manhattan in the shadow of the Catskill Mountains. New York City has been sending horses to Otisville since 1906. On this same land is the 10,000-square foot Otisville Complex. The New York City Department of Health originally owned it as a municipal sanitarium for tuberculosis, and the complex and land were home in the first decades of the 20th century to research that developed antitoxin to diphtheria. Horse serum produced the best highest titers, and the department built stables to have horses available for blood draws whenever they were needed.
As the decades passed, research at Otisville went through a number of iterations, including tetanus antitoxins, smallpox vaccine, and rabies diagnostics. In the 1970s the facility turned to gonorrhea diagnostics, and Ernest Green, now the president of Breonics, began working at Otisville as a microbiologist. He would bleed the horses for samples and became fond of a few of them. In the early 1980s, a trouble-making appaloosa named Billy knocked down the fence around the ranch about five or six times, Green recalls. "He'd knock it down and away they'd go and we'd be out catching horses the next day. They'd ruin the neighbors' yards, but usually come back when we'd yell for them."
As a way to save money, the city considered shutting down the facility in 1983. According to news reports at the time, 48 city police horses were residing at Otisville. "When they tried to shut it down a few of us wanted to salvage the facility," Green says. Green and his colleagues started a company called Otisville Biotech, which leveraged the land and labs from New York City to develop an adjuvant. Along with the facility came the horses, and responsibility for the costs of their upkeep. The company figured the horses would be there for 20 years, or until a certain number, say 150, had passed through the gates. But as ownership of the Otisville facility changed hands over the years, the horses kept arriving, with as many as 70 on the grounds at any given time.
A few years later the company became Alliance and worked on perfluorochemical oxygen carriers and drug-delivery vehicles. In 2001, Green left Alliance to start Breonics, which took over the land. Since then, Breonics has been working to develop systems that will preserve otherwise unusable organs for transplantation - work that doesn't involve the horses. After a few years the company was being swamped under the $200,000 per year cost of caring for the horses. "Finally we sent a letter to city of New York saying, ?There's no way Breonics can take care of these horses through the winter,'" Green says. "So that's when they turned around and sued us."
The city sued for breach of contract, alleging that Breonics was not living up to its end of the deal in caring for the horses. The city also started paying for the horses' care. Green denies that the horses were neglected. As the result of a settlement in November 2006, the agreement between Breonics and the NYPD was dissolved and Breonics is no longer responsible for the horses. In a statement from John Low-Beer, the attorney for the city, "Under the terms of the settlement, the City will ... move the retired horses to stables where they will receive the care that they so richly deserve." The settlement also stipulates that if Breonics sells the land the city will receive $175,000 in proceeds.
A police department spokesperson says the horses have been relocated - 26 to private adopters and 26 to ranches in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. The ranch placements cost about $450 per horse per month. For now, the fate of the Otisville facility is uncertain. Breonics has fallen on hard times and is looking to sell the land.
Green remembers the horses affectionately. "Sylvester, I really liked that one. He was a thoroughbred that came right up to you. I'm not a horse person like some people are, but there are some you grow fond of."