The Oregon Humane Society has extensive experience rescuing small animals around the state. Usually, they're dogs that have been abused or neglected. This past week, the organization tackled a big-animal rescue, rustling up more than 160 starving cattle from a rancher in Columbia County.
The rescue was rare; so is the situation.
"It's very rare for us to get involved in a professional livestock operation," said David Lytle, Humane Society spokesman. "They're a cash crop for ranchers, (who) want to keep them fat and healthy."
These cattle were half their normal weight, Lytle said, with their hip bones protruding and ribs sticking out. They belong to William Frederick Holdner, an 86-year-old rancher convicted this spring of felony and misdemeanor charges in a water pollution lawsuit stemming from runoff. He was sentenced to five days in jail, a $300,000 fine and three years of probation. The judge ordered Holdner to give up his cattle in 90 days and in exchange agreed to rescind the $225,000 fine connected to a felony offense, Lytle said.
Instead, Holdner appealed. He's also facing a jury trial in Columbia County Circuit Court in November on misdemeanor animal neglect charges brought by the Humane Society.
Holdner denied that his cattle were underfed: "They're beautiful. They want us to grain-feed them. (Grain feed) has all sorts of chemicals in them."
He said he feeds his cattle only locally grown hay, and accused the Humane Society of inhumanely rounding them up and taking items that have nothing to do with ranching.
The operation took 16 hours. Lytle said the Humane Society had two veterinarians on site to evaluate the animals. They rescued 164 Hereford cows and calves from three of Holdner's properties. The Humane Society hired professional cattle hands to help in the operation. The cattle were rounded up, put into a trailer and taken to a fenced pasture near U.S. 30 owned by the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. The Humane Society has set up large tubs of water for the animals, and will feed them hay and supplements to bring them up to a normal weight.
What happens to them is up to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. Lytle said they'll probably end up where most beef cattle do: on a plate.
"Our goal is to end the suffering right now and get these animals healthy again," he said. "People aren't allowed to starve them to death."