Fifth Amendment takings disguised as animal cruelty

Mar 2, 2012

A recent Park County, CO, court case has some area ranchers concerned that the animal cruelty laws can easily be abused in a political battle, ending in a Fifth Amendment takings.

On Dec. 15, 2011, a Park County judge barred Vernon E. Wagner of Park County from owning, managing, controlling, or otherwise possessing cattle in Park County, according to a Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) press release. The ruling stemmed from a joint investigation by CDA and Park County Sheriff’s Office alleging animal cruelty charges.

But according to Wagner, the case is not about animal cruelty, but instead about politics, more of an old fashioned Hollywoodwestern fight over the land.

Wagner is a third-generation rancher, which Colorado State Rep. Wes McKinley believes should shed reasonable doubt on the animal cruelty case. McKinley says any rancher would have a hard time staying in business that long if he was abusing his animals.

This case, a rather long one with several twists, spans over two years, with the first hearings and seizing of Wagner’s cattle taking place in the spring of 2010. But according to Kate Anderson, veterinarian with CDA, they have a history with Wagner that dates back to 2001.

Dr. Amy Mason, a local veterinarian from Guffy, CO, testified in the Wagner case, sharing dozens of pictures and information she had gathered over a period of 18 months. The pictures, videos and collected information paint a different picture than the court documents describe, but according to Mason, the pictures, along with her body conditioning score research that included an average using three different state body conditioning score tests, were disregarded in court.

Mason’s photos, taken on several different dates, show a variety of different scenes, some with groups of healthy cattle in pastures, others with cattle in pens appearing a little more on the neglected side.

There are a series of pictures of overcrowded pens of cows and calves, calves that look unhealthy or ill lying in manure, scours, heavily molded hay, empty water troughs, 4-wheelers running cows, and a bull tangled in twine around his neck and legs. There are also videos of some of the above, including a video of a calf trying to get water out of the trough and another licking drops of water from a dripping water spigot with several cows crowded around, a calf appearing to have respiratory problems and cows that looked as if they may have aborted calves, with blood and afterbirth hanging from them.

While these photos would probably be damaging to any rancher, the irony of these pictures is that they were actually taken after Wagner’s cattle were confiscated by CDA and Wagner had been served with a restraining order, ordering him to stay away from the cattle. And according to Mason, several of the calves died while under CDA’s care.

Other photos Mason took included some taken in April, just before the first group was taken, when the alleged animal cruelty took place. Several of the cows had big healthy calves at their sides. There was also a photo of a pile of hay that she said the county had taken to the starving cattle. There were no cattle in sight eating it. Mason said it was because they were not starving, but instead grazing the pastures. There were also a few pictures of heifers that looked thin, showing what she said were simply signs of a long winter.

McKinnley pointed out that some thin cows in April, after a long winter, is not uncommon. “I went and looked at those cattle in April before they were seized, and some looked thin, but every rancher has some thin cows in April,” he said.