By Russell Hixson
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Payne County deputies make traffic stops, do drug stings and investigate sex crimes, but what they often find themselves doing instead is herding cattle.
In the past 30 days, the Payne County Sheriff’s Department responded to more than 45 calls of cows escaping their fencing, often onto roads. Several resulted in car wrecks. This is common.
“It certainly ties up deputy time,” Sheriff’s Capt. Kevin Woodward said.
It’s time deputies could spend patrolling neighborhoods, checking for intoxicated drivers or doing traffic stops, he said. But those hours are used chasing cows that have escaped due to damaged fences. Woodward said this could be due to poor fence maintenance, vandalism or damage from a vehicle. Whatever the case, it poses a threat all year.
On May 2, approximately 20 head of cattle escaped onto State Highway 51 west of Redlands Road. This caused four car wrecks that killed several of the cows over a stretch of four miles of highway. Deputies and Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers were tied up for nearly 10 hours rounding up the cattle, contacting the owner and dealing with the accident scenes.
While there were no serious injuries in that incident, others haven’t been as lucky.
This also opens up cattle owners to litigation. In May 2012, a driver and passenger were ejected from an SUV after it hit a cow, a utility pole, a fence and then a tree while driving south on State Highway 108 just north of Richmond Road. Both were transported to hospitals for their injuries. The car’s insurance provider has sued the cattle owner for $26,000 in damages, alleging he allowed his cattle to wander onto the highway.
But are cattle ranchers or vandals really to blame? In most cases, Payne County Extension Educator Nathan Anderson says no. While there are some chronic offenders who fail to maintain property security, the root of the problem is far more bizzare.
Anderson said because Payne County is home to a populated city like Stillwater, there is a large dog population. Some abandon their dogs in rural areas. Some let them run wild as they please. The result is roaming packs of dogs that by instinct chase and bother cattle. The startled cattle jump through fences, getting into the roadway.
But large groups of cattle aren’t as easily startled. In the May 2 case, the 20 or so head of cattle trampled through fence and barbed wire.
“Something more substantial had to alarm them,” he said.
His best guess is a big cat like a bobcat or a mountain lion. In recent years, there have been sightings, paw prints and scat found in the Payne County area, Anderson said. And vets have treated animal injuries too severe to be caused by dogs or coyotes.
Woodward said the sheriff’s department keeps a log of who owns cattle and where they are pastured. If deputies see a pattern of cows getting out, they begin to cite owners for not maintaining fencing.