Think trust bankers have it easy?

Listen, then, to the bizarre tale involving billionaire Doris Duke's estate, and parts played by a leading trust bank, and assorted camels, miniature horses, and a couple of dogs named Foxy and Minni.

An ardent animal lover and conservationist, Ms. Duke - who died in October 1993 - left behind many animals, none more exotic than her two double-humped camels named Princess and Baby.

Because the camels were vulnerable to parasites carried by white-tailed deer in warm weather, Ms. Duke reportedly would transport the animals in a double-horse trailer from her Somerville, N.J., farm to her cooler and deerless Newport, R.I., cottage every summer.

For reasons that are still unclear, the camels were not taken to Newport last summer, and Baby died.

Moreover, several of Ms. Duke's former domestic employees allege in court papers filed in Manhattan surrogate court that actions by U.S. Trust, a preliminary co-executor of Ms. Duke's estate, may have contributed to the animal's untimely death.

While the circumstances surrounding Baby's death may forever remain a mystery, what's perfectly clear is that trust banking can sometimes seem more like animal husbandry. Bankers say that the Duke case is not unique and that they are often called in to deal with situations best left to Dr. Doolittle.

"Are you duty bound to somehow become an expert on camels and discover that there is a parasite in July in New Jersey that attacks camels?" said one former trust officer who wished to remain anonymous. "I don't know. You would certainly assume that the quality care, feeding, watering, and veterinary care of the camel would get you off the hook."

One story the former banker offered was the time a client died and requested that her healthy cat be killed and buried with her. The bank decided to let the cat live out its natural life and then buried it in a capsule next to the woman.

Then there is the story - perhaps apocryphal - of the trust banker who got so fed up with a deceased client's cat that he threw it off a bridge.

While dogs, cats, and rabbits are the typical pets left behind, llamas have become the latest craze on the West Coast. And llamas often outlive their owners, which means more work for bankers and attorneys.

A few of Ms. Duke's domestics are alleging that Ms. Duke's former butler, Bernard Lafferty, the other preliminary co-executor of her estate, had wanted the camels with him in New Jersey last summer.

They also allege that the other co-executor, U.S. Trust Co. of New York, acquiesced, content to cut down on transportation expenses.

The bank, which is currently involved in a court fight to stay as a co- executor to the estate, denies the latest round of accusations related to animal care.

But the trust bank can't deny that it's had its share of work dealing with Ms. Duke's brood of four-legged creatures.

Following an urgent request last August from the manager of Ms. Duke's New Jersey farm asking for the purchase of other animals to keep the surviving camel company, both U.S. Trust and the butler agreed on a $2,600 acquisition of two miniature horses.

"U.S. Trust determined that a $2,600 investment to preserve a $20,000 asset (Princess) of the Estate was reasonable," wrote Anthony Marshall, U.S. Trust's senior vice president in charge of the estate, in an affidavit.

And in another twist, Ms. Duke's April 1993 will, which was submitted for approval in surrogate court, left $100,000 to any dog "owned by me and residing at my death at my residence" in Beverly Hills, Calif. The will requested that such a dog be given to the caretaker.

The problem is that there were 10 dogs living on that property at the time of Ms. Duke's death, according to her Beverly Hills housekeeper, Ann Bostich, who is married to the caretaker, and who is asking for custody of the dogs.

And the issue that representatives for U.S. Trust, which was temporarily removed as co-executor, and Morgan Guaranty, temporarily installed in that position, are working on is to determine which of the dogs on the Duke estate really belonged to her.

They are two Akitas, Benji & Kanzi; two German Shepherds, Tina and Beau; three pugs, Eva, Valentino, and Bella; and three mongrel strays, Minni, Foxy, and Robert.

Ms. Bostich, a self-proclaimed animal lover, has alleged that the animals have been neglected ever since she and her husband quit the estate last October, taking the stray mutts along.

She has claimed that the dogs remaining on the Duke estate have "been illegally warehoused" in the garage by the butler and has recently submitted a $1,500 invoice for the upkeep of three strays.

"It's sad that animals have been neglected in all of this," Ms. Bostich said.

"Most of us have friends to whom we can entrust our pets," said Raymond J. Dowd, the attorney representing Ms. Duke's domestics who has made the animals' plight something of a cause celebre. "Doris Duke had only her staff, lawyers, and bankers to take on the huge duty that she left," he said.

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