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Dispute over cattle ownership heats up between farmer & animal ‘sanctuary’

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Despite a location far from the Wild West, a town in New York has gotten a little Western as an animal sanctuary is accused of playing “finders keepers” with two head of neighboring beef calves. In the alleged cattle rustling case, local farmers have taken to the streets crying “Release the Beef,” while the animal-rights activist organization Asha’s Farm Sanctuary is demanding proof of ownership and refusing to turn the cattle over.

On July 16, Newfane, New York, farmer Scott Gregson said that when he and his two kids went out to feed, they saw that their steer and heifer were missing despite fences being up and gates closed.

According to Union Sun & Journal, Tracy Murphy of Asha’s Farm Sanctuary, located less than a mile from Gregson’s property, reported the stray animals to the local Niagara County SPCA the same day. In a video she posted, Murphy states, “We are a sanctuary, we don’t want to hand over animals that are going to go to slaughter.”

Simply put: The sanctuary wants to keep the cattle. Scott Gregson says the cattle belong to his family.

This isn’t the first time that youth agriculture has brought out the worst in animal-rights activists. In fact, Asha’s Farm Sanctuary has now taken to fundraising for “Willow,” one of the sanctuary’s newly named calves that Gregson says are his. Asha’s says that Willow has fallen ill and requires transportation for vet care.

On July 24, the sanctuary also posted to its Facebook that its had received $40,000 of the $50,000 its needs to keep the doors open after medical bills incurred from March to May.

Murphy claims that she captured the cattle in one of her videos because, “I was worried about them, I didn’t want them to run into the woods, become wild, get shot, get injured, die. So, by using my knowledge that I’ve gained over many many years, I was able to get them into the confines of the fencing. To get them safe.”

After an SPCA investigator told Gregson that his cattle were at a local animal sanctuary, KIRO7 news reported that Gregson spoke with Murphy, who told him that he needed to show proof of ownership. Three days later, Gregson visited the sanctuary with state troopers and family members in tow to ask for his cattle back.

Some of the video footage can be seen here:

Spectrum News reported that two former sanctuary employees said there was at least one identifying ear tag in a calf’s ear that disappeared. Murphy, however, claims that there were never any ear tags.

In a photo from Asha’s sanctuary, you can see what appears to be a tag hole in the left ear of the black heifer.

Ed Petitt Sr., a neighbor to Gregson, posted on Facebook, “These are the steers ASHA is trying to steal from my neighbor. They are nice, healthy, good stock not because of the few days she fed them while hiding them but because of the excellent care given them by the farmer that raised them to this stage. It takes time, money, hard work, and care to raise animals that look like this.  And now she’s trying to keep them.”

“I’m very willing to work with the alleged owner, if they show ID. We always want to work with people, that’s what we’ve always wanted — that’s how we’ve established such a wonderful sanctuary,” said Murphy in a video she posted to Facebook. A staunch vegan, Murphy says, “I’m hoping that the law will prevail … and I’m hoping that these animals don’t have to go to slaughter.”

Aside from arguing for the welfare of the cattle, Murphy is demanding board and damage payments for each animal she’s housed — the demand is $100 per day in board, that is, despite a feeding cost that likely is closer to $5 per day based on Murphy’s description of $14 per bale straw fed to the cattle.

New York Law, Chapter 62, Article 18, Section 311 states, “§ 311. Notice of lien to town clerk. If such beasts are not redeemed within five days after coming upon such lands, the person entitled to such lien shall deliver to the town clerk of the town, within which such lands or some part thereof shall be, a written notice subscribed by him, containing his residence, and a description of the beasts so strayed or coming upon his lands, as near as may be, and that he claims a lien on such beasts for such damages, charges, fees and costs. The town clerk shall record the notice in a book to be kept by him for that purpose, for which he shall receive ten cents for each beast, to be paid by the person delivering the notice. Such books shall always be kept open for inspection, and no fees shall be taken by the clerk therefor.”

Both parties have turned to legal representation to battle it out over the two head of cattle. And while, they don’t belong to Asha’s Farm Sanctuary, the activists are not willing to give them up without a fight. 

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