Crook’s seized large animals to go to local humane society

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: December 25. 2006 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – In the case of the mean-tempered llama, everyone lost.

Crook County took possession of the animal earlier this year, and it went home with a county employee until the dispute with the owner could be settled. But it was so cantankerous that the employee brought it back, saying he could not care for it. Eventually, it had to be put down.

“I think it was the nasty llama that finally told me, we need to figure out something better to do with this,” Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said. “Because, frankly, after the employee brought it back and said, ‘I don’t want him,’ I don’t have a list of people who love mean animals on my desk – he’s not moving into my backyard.”

For years, Crook County operated under an informal protocol whereby large animals that had been abandoned or seized were often housed at the farm or ranch of an employee such as a sheriff’s deputy. The county now plans to shelter them at the local humane society.

Cooper said that the problem has not been very frequent in the past, but when it has occurred it has posed a significant challenge for the county.

“It really hasn’t warranted a big discussion prior to this, and (the Sheriff’s Office) just gets the call in the middle of the night, they have to do something with the animals, and they look for the first and most immediate person who will deal with the problem,” he said.

Now, the Crook County Court wants to establish an official policy for dealing with large animals like horses and llamas that are surrendered or seized. It is working out the details of a contract with the Humane Society of the Ochocos to make housing and caring for these animals its responsibility.

Lori Durant, the manager of the humane society, said the organization is building a new enclosure on its 2-acre property in Prineville to care for larger animals. It will also look for foster caregivers to take in livestock in the future. The county and the humane society are not currently caring for any large animals.

“There were a few animals that came in from the county (in the past), but there was no definite agreement or any kind of contract that really told what parties were responsible for what,” Durant said. “So the new contract will take care of that, give us a little bit better guidelines.”

Durant said that the employees at the humane society all have some degree of training with livestock. The animals she anticipates they would care for could be strays or ones taken in by the county because of charges of neglect or abuse. They could eventually be put up for adoption.

Crook County Sheriff Rodd Clark said the new system will help with investigations into those kinds of incidents.

“It’s like anything else received as evidence in an investigation and it has to be guaranteed security,” Clark said. “There’s been more and more of these occurring and it’s an expense and it’s an inconvenience, obviously, for employees to do this.”

Cooper said that county employees who took in horses or llamas in the past were not paid to care for them, but would occasionally receive a small sum for hay or feed. Sometimes, the employee ended up keeping the animal permanently.

“There’s been no system for compensating them and that didn’t seem very fair either, to dump these animals on someone else in a crisis situation and then expect it to be their burden forever,” he said.

Under the new contract, the county will pay the humane society a set fee for large animals in addition to the usual monthly support it gives the private, nonprofit organization. The exact amount will be determined in the new contract.

Nearby Deschutes County has a more formal system in place than Crook County’s current one. Troy Kerstetter, animal welfare director at the Humane Society of Central Oregon, said that the organization has a contract with the city of Bend and Deschutes County to care for livestock. Each situation is evaluated on a case-by-case basis because the humane society does not have large animal facilities on site, so it will work with the county and city to find temporary care or a foster home.

Crook County Sheriff Clark said that the new animal policy is further evidence of the changes occurring in the county as the population grows. In 2005 and 2006, Crook County was the fastest-growing county in the state, according to the Portland State University Population Research Center.

“As population grows, things that you used to do on a handshake become more formalized just because of the way society is today and the certain number of people,” he said. “Years ago we may have even had a rancher that would say, ‘I’ll take care of those horses for a while for you, Sheriff,’ and you’d say OK and you’d shake on it … Well, it’s obviously a lot better if you have some sort of formal agreement for when things come up.”

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