Crime

Ferndale dairy farmer avoids animal cruelty conviction, gets cows back

Whatcom County dairy farmer pleads not guilty in animal cruelty case

Seth Snook plead not guilty at his first appearance in Whatcom County Superior Court on Friday, May 12, in Bellingham. Snook is charged with five counts of first-degree animal cruelty after investigators found more than 20 emaciated cows and pigs
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Seth Snook plead not guilty at his first appearance in Whatcom County Superior Court on Friday, May 12, in Bellingham. Snook is charged with five counts of first-degree animal cruelty after investigators found more than 20 emaciated cows and pigs

A Whatcom County dairy farmer will have his surviving cows returned to him, about 2 ½ months after he was charged with starving his livestock to death.

Seth Daniel Snook, 35, owner of Snook Brook Farms, entered into an agreement – technically not a plea – Tuesday that dismisses three counts of felony animal cruelty, and reduces two other counts to misdemeanors that will be dismissed if he keeps a clean record.

Prosecutors charged Snook in April with starving livestock at the family farm at 6804 Kickerville Road, northwest of Ferndale. He told an animal control officer from the Whatcom Humane Society that he didn’t have the money to feed his cows. His family had fallen on hard times when Snook’s wife underwent a craniotomy in 2016, according to the defense.

At least 28 animals were starved or starving to death at Snook’s farm, according to the reports from animal control. One officer noted carcasses of cows littered the farm, and she saw “shallow mass graves everywhere she walked.” One pig died on the farm, too, and when a warrant was carried out “much later,” the carcass was found still in the same stall on the farm, wrote the deputy prosecutor, Eric Richey, in a court filing.

Snook was charged with felony animal cruelty toward the pig and four specific cows. The cows were described as skeletal and sickly, emaciated and lethargic, with dull eyes. A veterinarian examined the five animals and graded each as the worst possible condition on a 1 to 5 scale: It appeared they had been neglected for about six months.

Snook’s defense has countered that the humane society’s reports were highly misleading; that the pig and one cow didn’t belong to him; and the cows were not being starved, but were at a point in the so-called “drying” period when dairy cows look slimmest. Snook’s attorney has filed a claim of damages against Whatcom County and the humane society for defamation, among other alleged injustices.

Charging papers say other farmers offered to help Snook sell the cows, and he accepted, but did not follow through. However, text messages reprinted in court filings by the defense show Snook made a deal with animal control on April 17 to take his “girls,” as he called the cows, to the dairy auction in two days, not to the beef auction where they would become “fast food.” A warrant to remove the cows was carried out at Snook’s farm April 18. Two cows were euthanized by gunshot at the farm that night at the humane society’s direction, according to a defense motion filed in court last week.

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Evan Abell eabell@bhamherald.com

Snook, whose family makes artisan cheese under the brand Pleasant Valley Dairy, was booked into jail May 12. He was released minutes later with no bail required, jail records show. As he awaited trial many of the cows were euthanized. Snook’s attorney, Emily Beschen, reviewed the available medical records and argued there was “no medical necessity” to kill 13 of those cows. Six more cows held in King County were reported by the humane society to be dead – an error that was later passed on by the prosecutor in court. As it turned out the six cows were alive. Snook will get those cows back, in the deal he entered into Tuesday afternoon.

Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis approved a plan where Snook’s farm must be inspected each month by a licensed veterinarian. Snook has to pay fees for carcass removal, veterinary bills, and feed for the living cows from the past two months. He’s scheduled to go in front of a judge next year for a progress review.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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