The Bay View farm found this week littered with dead cows has a history of allowing the animals to die and failing to dispose of them properly.
Skagit County officials and neighbors of the farm said it appears animal neglect has gone on at the property for years.
“There seems to be complete disregard for the animals’ well being,” said Emily Diaz, animal control officer with the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office. “This is definitely the worst cattle case I’ve ever seen, and it would definitely be up there as far as the worst (animal welfare case) I’ve seen in my job.”
Diaz said she remembers the last time dead cows were found scattered across the about 140-acre property owned by Roger and Marsha Pederson in 2005.
“This time is way worse,” she said. “The animals there are in various stages of neglect. Some of them are skin and bones.”
Some of the remaining animals, she said, are having difficulty walking.
“Just walking these cows, they are collapsing,” Diaz said. “It’s sad. It’s really sad.”
She said six animals have had to be euthanized since Tuesday.
Most if not all breeders treat their animals in a respectful humane manner … That is what makes this incident so shocking.
Highland Cattle Association president Bob Swalander
Diaz’s documentation this week of 54 decaying cow carcasses and dozens more unhealthy cows at the Pedersons’ farm has “shocked and appalled” other farmers who raise livestock.
“Most if not all breeders treat their animals in a respectful humane manner,” Northwest Highland Cattle Association president Bob Swalander said. “I believe this is true of all highland breeders that I know … That is what makes this incident so shocking.”
The Pedersons are not members of the Northwest Highland Cattle Association, but the cows seized from their property this week are Scottish highland cattle and the couple previously held a business license for “Highlands Northwest.”
Scottish highland cattle, which have red fur and large horns, are beautiful when healthy, Swalander said.
He said the cows are often raised for beef.
The Skagit Valley Herald has been unable to confirm for what purpose the Pedersons raised the cows. Their voicemail box was full Wednesday and they did not return a message left Thursday.
A misdemeanor conviction for animal cruelty would result in a person not being able to have animals for two years. A felony conviction would prohibit owning animals for life.
Skagit County Health Officer Howard Liebrand said a notice of violation issued Wednesday gives the Pedersons until 4 p.m. Monday to properly dispose of the dead cows on their property.
If they don’t comply, they could face fines or other repercussions.
In 2005, the couple was fined about $2,000 by Skagit County Public Health following the discovery of 172 dead cows on the property.
The 54 dead cows found on the property this week are in varying stages of decay, with all of them believed to have died within the past six months, Diaz said.
Similarly to how the situation unfolded in 2005, the latest investigation was prompted by complaints from neighbors.
“The process is complaint-driven almost always with code violations. We can’t just wander around looking for violations of county code,” Liebrand said. “Anything that can be seen from the road or the neighbors’ (property) can be reported and that’s when we can act.”
County code requires dead animals to be buried, incinerated at a licensed facility or hauled away by a professional within 24 hours.
While state law allows for natural decomposition, it requires the animal be on grazing land and a certain distance from public view and water.
“We do not have designated grazing land in Skagit County. We do not have the distances that are allowed for natural decomposition, so any livestock animal that dies has to be properly disposed of, whether it’s a chicken or 172 cows,” Liebrand said.
The fine Liebrand issued in 2005 was an effort to recognize the problem of failing to properly dispose of the dead cows – considered solid waste regulated by the health department under county code – without being too harsh.
“Our intent with fining is to stop a behavior, it’s not to bankrupt an individual,” he said.
It’s up to law enforcement and the justice system to handle animal cruelty issues and pursue any related criminal charges.
“I have very limited authority and involvement … Other than cry about it, I can’t do anything about animal cruelty,” Liebrand said.
Skagit County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Patrol Chad Clark said the agency is considering criminal charges.
A misdemeanor conviction for animal cruelty would result in a person not being able to have animals for two years, Diaz said. A felony conviction would prohibit owning animals for life.