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County hush-hush about seized herd

County offers diverse, often contradictory information about fate of seized cattle


by: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO Columbia County officials claim a herd they seized in July was emaciated and neglected. One wet October day, several still thin cows gathered near trees at the edge of the pasture where they were held in the county€sˇÃ„öˆsˇÑˆsˇ¥s custody from July 26 to mid-November.Columbia County officials are not commenting on contradictory statements they made regarding a herd of cattle seized in July.

The herd had been kept at a pasture outside of St. Helens, but was moved the weekend before Thanksgiving. The county will only say the cattle are being housed at a working ranch.

The cattle’s former owner, Scappoose rancher William Holdner, pleaded not guilty to 95 counts of animal neglect in October.

County Commissioner Henry Heimuller told The Spotlight early last week the Oregon Humane Society was still involved in the care of the roughly 168 animals, many of them cow and calf pairs.

But, according to OHS officials, the organization hasn’t been involved with the herd since the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Last week, Heimuller also said he had no knowledge of county plans to auction off the animals. However, a foreclosure notice of sale that would result in an auction appeared in the St. Helens-based newspaper The Chronicle on Nov. 14.

The legal notice stated the county had placed a lien against Holdner and his partner Jane Baum following the seizure of the herd July 26. The county charged the couple for expenses incurred after the county took custody. This amount, factoring in veterinarian care, transportation, pasturing and other care, came to $111,795, the legal notice said.

OHS, a donation-fueled organization, had been footing the bill, said county officials when the herd was seized.

Because Holdner and Baum had not paid the amount the county demanded, the county issued the legal notice to announce it was foreclosing on the couple. An auction was scheduled Dec. 3. This sale did not occur and is being rescheduled, according to legal counsel for the county commissioners.

On Nov. 20, Commissioner Tony Hyde initially told The Spotlight he believed the cattle had already been sold to Nevis Company, which operates a ranch in Eastern Oregon and had sought to buy some of the animals from Holdner before the seizure. The Nevis Company could not be reached for comment.

The next day, the county issued an official statement saying the herd had been moved to a working ranch, and Heimuller told The Spotlight he could not confirm or deny Hyde’s statement about the Nevis Company.

When asked to clarify these diverse statements, County Counsel Sarah Hanson wrote in an email to the Spotlight, “I have no comment on the subject of the Holdner cows at this time.”

This answer applied to other questions she was asked by The Spotlight, including reports that the county planned to auction the cows.

Bruce Anderson, who owns Eugene Livestock Auction, said he contacted Hanson about the auction. He was interested in seeing the animals and perhaps putting a bid on them. He was told he could not see the cows before bidding on them. The price for the herd was $111,000, he said.

Hanson called him later to tell him the auction had been rescheduled for next year and the price of the herd was going to be adjusted down, he said.

“For some reason they are not letting people see these animals and I can’t understand it,” Anderson said. “That maybe tells me (the cows) are not in very good shape.”

He said he has purchased animals from Holdner’s farms in the past.

He has also been involved in many auctions over the years, but never one where he was not allowed to see what he was bidding on.

“I really am hesitant to bid on these animals if I can’t see them,” he said. “It’s a very strange situation.”

Hanson had no comment about Anderson’s account.

She also had no comment on questions about the current health of the herd.

Sharon Harmon, director of the OHS, said it would be naive to think the animals would be restored to full health even after three months of consistent care and feeding.

Many of the cows came to the county emaciated and sick. A number of them required ongoing care, she added, and “some suffered permanent damage.”

OHS paid for the care of the herd from July 26 to approximately Nov. 17. This included feed, medications, pasture rental and other equipment.

Harmon estimates OHS spent roughly $100,000 on Holdner’s herd.

Cases of criminal livestock abuse or neglect are not uncommon, Harmon said, though it’s more typical for OHS to see neglected horses or goats.

OHS submitted a criminal case to the Columbia County District Attorney and is no longer actively involved with the Holdner herd, Harmon said.

Deputy District Attorney Denise Keppinger, who has been handling this case, did not return phone calls to confirm this and other information about the case.

Commissioner Heimuller did not return multiple calls or respond to other attempts to reach him for comment prior to press time.