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Published: Thursday, 7/3/2008

Helmsley estate might go to dogs, animal welfare organizations say


NEW YORK - Animal welfare groups are preparing to try to fetch some of Leona Helmsley's vast fortune.

At least two groups are eyeing the hotel queen's estate - estimated to be up to $8 billion - after a report that Helmsley wanted her fortune to go to the dogs.

The real estate baroness, sometimes called "The Queen of Mean" for the imperious way she treated her staff, died in August.

The New York Times reported yesterday that she left instructions that her estate be spent on the care and welfare of dogs.

While the instructions are not part of her will, and there may be wiggle room for the estate's trustees, the Times reported that courts consider expressions of intent.

The Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said they will be suggesting programs and applying for funds if Helmsley's billions really end up funding dog welfare.

"You could solve the pet overpopulation problem," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society. "You could attack dogfighting. You could attack rabies in China and India, where there are tens of thousands of cases a year. You could take care of dogs left behind in disasters."

Helmsley's will named her own dog, Trouble, as a beneficiary, while explicitly leaving out two of her grandchildren.

But in April, a Manhattan judge reduced the trust fund for the 9-year-old Maltese from $12 million to $2 million. The grandkids got $6 million each.

That added up to a tiny fraction of the estate, and the animal-welfare groups would love to get the rest.

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