Animal cruelty officers to investigate whether 200 Sask. cattle died from neglect

Initial test results show more than 200 cattle died near Shamrock, Sask., due to dehydration and salt poisoning. Animal Protection Services is investigating whether those responsible for the animals neglected their duty or suffered bad luck.

Pasture company president defends care of animals

Glenn Straub, president of Shamrock Grazing Ltd., defends the placement of the animals in the pasture, their access to water and their supervision. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Animal protection officers have begun their investigation into whether 200 cattle died in southwestern Saskatchewan due to neglect.

An officer is visiting the pasture near Shamrock, Sask., on Tuesday, still littered with rotting carcasses, to interview anyone who was responsible for caring for the livestock.    

Did they fail in their duty to provide adequate food, water, shelter and care?- Kaley Pugh , Animal Protection Services

"The question we'll be trying to answer is: was there neglect on the part of the people that were caring for the animals?" said Kaley Pugh, executive director of Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan.

"Did they fail in their duty to provide adequate food, water, shelter and care? Or was this just an unfortunate circumstance that really couldn't have been prevented and really could have happened to anybody?"

More than 200 calves and cows were discovered dead on Friday in a government-owned pasture leased by the Shamrock Grazing company. More than 30 ranchers are shareholders in the company and pay a fee for it to manage their livestock's access to food and water over the summer.

Glenn Straub, president of Shamrock Grazing Ltd., is adamant there was no neglect of the cattle. He defends the placement of the animals in the pasture, their access to water, and their supervision.

The herd was moved to a new pasture on July 1, checked the following day, then discovered dead on July 7. 

Kaley Pugh, executive director of Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan, expects the investigation of 200 dead cattle will be complex. (CBC)

RCMP received the initial complaint and will assist Animal Protection Services in its investigation. The group is funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and is strictly focused on animal cruelty cases. 

On Monday, the province's chief veterinarian, Betty Althouse, said initial test results show the cattle died from dehydration and salt poisoning. Officials believe soaring temperatures last week led to evaporation in the cattle's groundwater supply, and that meant a higher concentration of salt in the water.

"An analogy would be somebody shipwrecked on the ocean," Althouse said. "We may be thirsty and craving the water, and we'll drink the ocean water, but it will kill you to drink salt water. It's the same thing with the animals."

Like losing family

Straub, the grazing company president, got choked up as he spoke to CBC News at the pasture site on Tuesday. He described how difficult it's been to see dead and suffering animals and smell the decomposing carcasses.

He said he's focused on caring for the surviving but weak animals and supporting the ranchers. 

The Agriculture Ministry estimates that farmers are collectively facing $300,000 in financial loss. 

"To these cattlemen, it's almost like losing their family," Straub said. 
Russ Coward, a rancher who had cattle die in the pasture, rejects any allegations of neglect against the pasture company. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Russ Coward, who had cattle die in the pasture, doesn't blame anyone for the deaths. He calls it a "tragedy" that has made the community band together.

"We're doing as well as we can. We're working with our friends and neighbours," Coward said. He added that he would place his cattle in the same pasture again next year.

Unprecedented case

Pugh expects this to be a complex case. Animal Protection Services is more familiar with cases that involve livestock owners who simply fail to provide water to their animals.

"I've never seen a case exactly like this ... where the actual quality of the water is in question, and the quality of water that was changing over time," Pugh said.

Animal Protection Services will refer to the National Farm Animal Care Council's code of practice to determine the appropriate standards of care, such as how often the person responsible should check their animals for distress.

Animal Protection Services will also co-ordinate with RCMP and prosecutors to determine whether charges should be laid under either the Animal Protection Act or the Criminal Code.

With files from Kendall Latimer