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Cattle in felony case endured inhumane care

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - A cow seized from William Holdner's property approaches a water trough at a site in Columbia City. Reports indicate several of the animals taken from Holdner, at the recommendation of the Oregon Humane Society, were placed in sites without proper food, water or veterinary care.

More than two years after Oregon Humane Society and Columbia County teamed up to seize a herd of nearly 170 cattle from a Scappoose rancher, the condition of the animals remains in question.

On July 26, 2012, following an OHS investigation into felony animal neglect by longtime cattle farmer William Holdner, the county confiscated 169 animals from properties owned by Holdner and his partner, Jane Baum. While Holdner, 86, was charged with failing to provide adequate water, food and veterinary care to his cattle, records indicate several cows and calves were subjected to similar conditions after they became custody of Columbia County.

Three different reports taken since August 2012 document substandard living conditions and care of the cattle while they were in the county’s custody.

On Aug. 15, 2012, at the request of Holdner and Baum, veterinarians Patrick Paradis and Richard Veeman checked on the cattle after they had been transported by the county to an empty lot in Columbia City. The doctors found they lacked proper feed, shelter, veterinary care, and adequate salt and trace mineral supplements.

After their visit, Paradis and Veeman wrote to Baum and Holdner’s attorney, Jacob Wieselman, stating the cattle lacked the minimum level of care required by state law.

“The pasture that is presumably intended to provide for the cattle’s nutritional needs is mature and grossly inadequate,” the letter states. “It consists of dry mature grass that lacks nutritional value. That cattle are not grazing it.”

The doctors also noted no mineral supplements were being provided to the cattle and the Columbia City lot did not provide shade or shelter in 100-degree heat.

Paradis and Veeman also noted two of the cattle had advanced pink eye and the entire herd was exposed to a creek contaminated with feces.

The veterinarians urged Wieselman to help Holdner sell the cattle, warning they could die unless they received new housing and better care.

“We asked them to come out and inspect the cattle because we were concerned about how they were being kept in an open field with no shelter,” Wieselman recalled Wednesday.

Since the cattle were seized, several of them have been moved to different locations. Earlier this month, Commissioner Henry Heimuller said some of the cattle were taken to a ranch in Condon, while others went to Sauvie Island. Documents obtained by the Spotlight indicated that prior to the cattle being taken from Holdner, Holdner had planned to sell them to The Nevis Company. The sale was pending at the time they were seized, according to court documents.

After the county took possession, commissioners attempted to sell the cattle to Nevis in November 2012, apparently without legal authority to do so.

Wieselman intervened.

“The county tried to sell the cattle and we filed a federal injunction, which we got, preventing them from foreclosing,” Wieselman said. “We won that and they stopped the sale.”

In court, Heimuller testified that the county accepted $73,000 from Nevis for the cattle. The county still has that money, according to Heimuller.

Laurie Wilson, a longtime farmer who has raised cattle, said she responded to a foreclosure ad for the cattle in a newspaper. Prior to that, she said she approached Heimuller about fostering the cattle, but her offers were not pursued.

“I called Henry [Heimuller] and offered to take them and care for them at no expense to the taxpayers,” Wilson said. “I would’ve complied with any vet requests and care plans they asked me to.”

Wilson said she continued to follow the progress of the cattle after they were seized, and has been concerned for their care ever since.

The county had the cattle moved to a ranch in Condon and placed in a foster agreement, but even under foster care, problems arose.

An OHS report taken on March 19, 2013, indicates 19 cows turned up at the Madras Auction Yard. To date, the cattle are still considered evidence in a criminal investigation, meaning they cannot be sold.

OHS investigator Austin Wallace noted he, along with OHS executive director Sharon Harmon, Heimuller and one of Heimuller’s relatives, responded to the yard.

“Upon learning of the movement of these very old and fragile animals, I among others, responded to the auction yard to evaluate the situation, and make alternate plans for their care, which is ongoing to date,” Heimuller stated via email earlier this week.

Wallace noted that identification tags placed in the cows’ ears had been removed. One photo shows a cow whose ears were sliced to remove identification.

According to Wallace’s report, the designated caretaker of the cattle said the cows were accidentally brought to auction by a ranch hand from the Condon location.

During a follow-up visit by OHS investigators in April 2013, cattle were observed at a property in Sauvie Island, where 24 of them had been transported.

“Overall, the condition of the cattle has deteriorated further than the last time I saw them in person, which was in October 2012,” a staff veterinarian report by Dr. Kris Otteman reads in part. “Several were suffering from lice infestation and wounds to their hide, including one individual with such severe wounds that the skin was missing from both hips.”

Photo Credit: OREGON HUMANE SOCIETY - A thin cow displays visible wounds in 2013, nine months after being taken from a rancher in 2012 who failed to meet state standards for care.

The report goes on to note eye injuries, disease and emaciation of the animals on Sauvie Island.

According to court testimony from Heimuller, the OHS agreed to fund the operation to seize and house the cattle, with the county’s help. It is not clear how much Columbia County has spent in legal fees or cattle care to date, but an October 2012 petition for forfeiture filed by the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office indicates the county spent $51,334 on the operation from July 26, 2012, to Oct. 3, 2012, and estimated the continuing care for the cattle would cost $975 per day.

Heimuller stated earlier this week that he has not seen the cattle since 2013. It is unclear how many of them are still alive.

When asked about violations of the foster agreement and mistreatment by the designated caretaker, both OHS and Heimuller declined to comment, citing a pending investigation.

As reported in the Spotlight earlier this month, Holdner was convicted of 16 counts of felony animal neglect in the first degree and 79 counts of animal neglect in the second degree. Baum was convicted of one count in the first degree and 26 counts in the second degree. Both are scheduled to be sentenced in December.

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