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Rowan County aims to recoup costs of caring for cruelty case cows

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — After moooving a herd of cows to various pastures in the area, Rowan County Animal Services plans to hoof the livestock to auction and milk them for all they’re worth.

In connection with an animal cruelty case, the Animal Services Division has spent $11,149.20 to care for 17 beef cattle seized last year. Now, the county hopes to sell the cows as soon as possible and get enough money to cover the cost of care.

The county commissioners on Monday gave Animal Services the authority to sell the 17 cows at an auction next week. The county estimates the cows will fetch $12,740 at auction, which reflects a price of $1 per pound.

The herd includes three bulls, five calves and nine cows.

When the cattle were seized from Rowan County resident Robert Ward Richards in July 2016, they were “thin to very thin” because of a lack of adequate food, according to court documents. County commissioners Vice Chairman Jim Greene said the cows have gained roughly 200 pounds each since being seized.

The county plans to auction the cows next week. Animal Services Director Bob Pendergrass said a livestock auction on Monday in the Turnersburg area — near Statesville — is a likely option.

“Every day that we keep these animals means we spent more money,” Pendergrass said.

Since September, the cattle have been housed at Long Meadow Farm in southern Davidson County. Before that, they were housed on a family farm in Rowan County. For a short period, they were kept at the Rowan County Fairgrounds.

The cattle moved from the fairgrounds after less than a month, in part because the County Fair was approaching.

“The best thing we could do, according to the vet, was to get them out on grass to improve their condition because they were in very poor condition,” Pendergrass said.

In court documents, an animal control officer wrote that the cattle frequently broke out of their enclosure to find food before being seized. Pendergrass said that animal control staff received a number of calls about the cattle and tried unsuccessfully to work with the owner to resolve the problem.

When officers visited Richards’ property in July 2016, they found the cows in poor physical condition, Pendergrass said. He said officers immediately seized the animals.

“There was basically no grass in the pasture,” he said. “It was just a dust bowl at that time.”

Pendergrass said Richards arrived while animal control officers were seizing the cows.

Richards, 56, was charged with 17 counts of animal cruelty. He was found guilty in District Court, then appealed the ruling. In May, he pleaded guilty in Superior Court to the charges.

As part of a plea agreement, Richards agreed to forfeit the 17 cows and allow Rowan County to sell them at an auction to recoup costs. If the sale doesn’t fully reimburse the county for its costs, Richards must pay the difference, according to court documents.

Richards’ sentence included 30 months of supervised probation.

Pendergrass said the county took legal possession of the cattle after Richards pleaded guilty last month. He said the county could have auctioned the animals sooner if it had gained possession of them earlier.

On Monday, the commissioners discussed the case only briefly before voting unanimously to sell the cattle.

Greene said the county picked an auction instead of the upset bid process because that could last for an undetermined amount of time.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

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