If you’re a cow in La Grande, Oregon, you’d be well advised to say off Dr. Joel Rice’s property.
Local officials arrested the 57-year-old psychiatrist on Aug 29th and charged him with seven counts of aggravated animal abuse and first-degree criminal mischief. Why? Well, pull up a chair.
According to press reports, Dr. Rice arrived at his home on August 15th to find a number of cattle blocking his driveway.
“He was pretty upset about that,” Capt. Craig Ward, of the Union County Sheriff’s Office, told the La Grande Observer. Indeed he was. This was apparently another in a series of events in which livestock found its way onto the Rice property.
This time, Dr. Rice became so upset, reports have it, that he took a rifle and shot seven cows. Six of them died. Their bodies were found on Dr. Rice’s property.
In La Grande, loose cattle wandering around have been a recurring problem. It’s an area that used to be open range. Dr. Rice reportedly spearheaded the creation of a “livestock district” in La Grande because of the free roaming animal problem.
What‘s a Livestock District?
In Oregon, what homeowners legally may do when they find livestock running loose on their property depends on whether the property is “open range” or a “livestock district.”
In an open range area “livestock may lawfully be permitted to run at large.” People living in an open range area are therefore responsible for protecting their own property. If they want to keep these animals out, they must “build adequate fences or have natural barriers to keep livestock out.”
Oregon law defines a livestock district as “an area where livestock may not run at large: the livestock owner or manager must keep livestock on his or her own property.” When an animal is found at large, those who live in a livestock district are supposed to contact the animal’s owner.
Owners are responsible for keeping their livestock on their own property. If they fail to do so and loose animals become a problem, state law provides a civil and criminal remedy. Neither of these remedies involves summary execution, needless to say.
When livestock are roaming where they shouldn’t be, Capt. Ward told the La Grande Observer, “There is a remedy for that. When animals are loose, the sheriff’s office and Department of Agriculture go out and investigate. Generally [livestock owners] are pretty good about getting their animals back home.”
Why Take it Out on the Cows?
Clearly, this was an act by an angry homeowner who’d apparently had enough. One can, of course, imagine the damage a lot of cattle can do if left to their own devices on private property. The cow patties needing to be picked up and disposed of were undoubtedly the least of it.
Loose livestock probably damaged a myriad of things on the Rice property over time. It’s entirely understandable that someone would eventually become very angry at those who failed to follow the law and control their livestock.
When it comes right down to it, though – if these charges are true, why take it out on innocent cows? Why kill them? That’s a rather stunning overreaction. It’s even more surprising coming from a mental health professional who should have the tools to better channel those angry impulses.
It’s disturbing to imagine, from beginning to end, how the entire event must roughly have played out. Assuming the rifle wasn’t already in the car, the shooter presumably would have to go get it, come back, and then aim at and shoot down seven cows, one by one.
This whole episode seems very much at odds with the public information known about Dr. Rice. On the Blue Mountains Conservancy website, he’s described as a “passionate conservationist” who is “committed to protecting farmland, timberland and wildlife habitat from development.”
Clearly, La Grande needs to get a much better handle on enforcement of its livestock policies, while aggrieved landowners should follow established procedures when they need help. It’s a crazy world out there and the animals are defenseless against the madness. They don’t need to end up in harm’s way because of disagreements between ranchers and homeowners.
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