Wednesday afternoon in Thurston County, Washington, the Thurston County Sheriff’s office made an emergency goat raid on Lattin’s Cider Mill to seize 17 (or maybe 18?) goats. Led by Thurston County Deputy Nastansky (a self-described “goat expert”) the sheriff’s office directed “volunteers” from Hoofed Animal Rescue (a local “non-profit” – a registered 501c3 which has been accused of financially rewarding itself and its volunteers by charging “storage” costs to hold onto seized animals) to take an undetermined number of goats from the farm. Perfect timing for a nasty article in the local paper and for the next fundraising letter. This was just the beginning of the great goat seizure fiasco.
The justification for this crisis emergency raid late in the day was a semi-anonymous tip that “animal cruelty” was occurring on this iconic farm visited by hundreds of families and children almost every day of the year. Deputy Nastansky refused to show the search warrant to the many people who demanded to see the document until after the invading goat herders captured and seized the goats, and she also failed to correctly count how many goats they seized – only realizing several days later that they grabbed an extra goat along the way. The “goat expert” Deputy Nastansky was unconcerned that the volunteers were removing nursing mothers from their babies. This creates a serious problem when the nursing babies won’t take a bottle and their lives are put at risk – not that Animal Hoofed Rescue or Thurston County Deputy Nastansky seemed to care. The original search warrant is posted at the bottom of this article – referencing a Thurston County Code that doesn’t exist in their published codes (no Title 7 to be found).
In interviews I conducted with staff and owners of the Lattin’s Cider Mill farm, it appeared the farm owners had been treating their goat herd for hoof rot, which is a common condition for most goats in Thurston County due in part to the wet soil and this year in particular because of the record rainfall. They rotate the goats between seven different pastures, and had been managing their goats following vet’s directions just like they had done for decades. This is not unusual, nor is it “cruel.” If someone believed it could be done better, perhaps something less drastic than seizing the animals as a first step could be considered.
Lattin’s Cider Mill – Thurston County Tourist attraction and icon
Long before “Agritourism” became a word, the Lattin family had opened their farm to swarms of local residents, school children, and others to pick pumpkins, offer Easter Egg hunts, throw apples to cows, feed farm animals, eat their homemade cider donuts, and pet the goats. I’ve brought my kids here for many years. It is considered one of the most popular, and iconic, rural farm businesses in Thurston County, and since 1976 hundreds of thousands of people have visited. Many adults who spent afternoons visiting this farm as kids, now take their children to visit as well.
Anyone who has ever raised farm animals knows that sometimes they get sick or they might need to be treated for various ailments. A responsibility that comes with owning animals is to keep those same animals healthy, fed, sheltered, and protected from predators. When something happens to them, an owner has a moral obligation to try to help them recover. A small, local farm operation like Lattin’s cider mill hires employees to do most of the day-to-day farm plan operations and many local vets have put their kids through college treating and visiting the animals on Lattin’s Cider Mill Farm. It defies common sense that “animal cruelty” was a legitimate justification for the emergency afternoon raid by the Thurston County Sheriff’s office.
Hoofed Animal Rescue – a nice facade with a nasty history
Washington State law (RCW 16.52.085) allows local law enforcement to seize animals that are abandoned or abused. There are many heartbreaking stories of animals in these terrible conditions seized from deplorable environments. Cat hoarders, puppy-mills, or people down on their luck – the stories strike a chord in all of us. However, this law is being abused in Washington State by organizations who seek to benefit from this statute. Specifically, the law (RCW 16.52.020) allows local law enforcement to designate monopolistic contracts with local “humane societies” who are empowered to collect money from government funded court judgements imposed on animal owners for caring for seized animals. Additionally, the law creates loopholes where these organizations can seize desired animals and profit from the sale of those animals, sometimes for slaughter. These organizations and their members can also claim immunity from prosecution for the abuses they inflict on people or animals (RCW 15.52.085(10)).
In Thurston County – Hoofed Animal Rescue made waves and gained attention a few years ago for seizing animals for profit and for the personal benefit of some of it’s members. There were multiple stories of this organization targeting and selecting elderly rural residents who owned horses from whom they believed they could seize the animals (with a uniformed officer on site), sometimes without warrants or any tangible proof of harm. Frequently, they were seizing expensive livestock for personal profit. The victims of their abuse were terrified and threatened by “animal cruelty” accusations and nasty press releases accusing them of abusing their pets. In part, these abuses led to the formation of the Washington State Livestock Coalition in 2009 so that abusive organizations like Hoofed Animal Rescue could be confronted. Nick Cockrell, president explained the history to me, “The Coalition was formed in 2009 to address confiscation of animals, with the approval of the Prosecuting Attorney’s office, in what appeared to be bogus or unsubstantiated neglect. In one instance, a 10 year-old dachshund was confiscated for excess tartar on its teeth. At the same location, Hooved Animal volunteers pointed to a feed trough (with holes for drainage) as an example of not providing adequate water for the livestock. I don’t know if the folks didn’t understand the difference or were trying to intentionally mislead others, but I think it was a combination of the two.”
After the election of Sheriff John Snaza in 2010, and with the cooperation of the Thurston County Farm Bureau, negotiations occurred between all parties to develop a more rational and predictable process where these abuses could be prevented with checks and balances and procedures to ensure that real veterinarians were involved in the process which would avoid most of this confusion. Hopefully, this would ensure that only genuine cases of abuse and neglect would be addressed. This seemed to restore sanity and balance. I’m concerned the bad old days of Hoofed Animal Rescue are back and Thurston County Deputy Nastansky could be throwing fuel on the fire with abrasive tactics. Maybe she was misled. Maybe it was a misunderstanding. Nobody doubts this isn’t an easy job. Whatever the reason, there are some real problems that need to be addressed here.
Kathy Bailey, president of Hooved Animal Services, serves as staff in the Joint Animal Services (Thurston County, Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater). In 2016, she was paid $44,908 as assistant director. Is her status as president of Hooved Animal Rescue considered a conflict of interest since Hooved Animal Rescue receives support from Thurston County?
When I spoke to Nick Cockrell, President of the Washington State Livestock Coalition, he explained, “In the past, the Livestock Coalition has worked cooperatively with the Sheriff’s Office in providing assistance in lieu of animals being seized or removed. In one particular case, Coalition volunteers monitored equine feeding protocol and care issues over a several month period. Reports were sent periodically to document care provided by the owner, as proscribed by the deputy. However, following disposition of that case, the deputy was reassigned and the Sheriff’s Office no longer requested our assistance.” It seems that Thurston County has decided that rather than working with animal owners to find solutions – if there even are any problems – they prefer to seize property, rather than solve problems.
Restoring Common Sense to the Thurston County Sheriff’s office and this process for the future
Several aspects of Wednesday’s goat seizures from Lattin’s Cider Mill should be addressed. They are as follows:
- The emergency “telephonic” search warrant issued by Thurston County Judge Carol Murphy might be legal, but the policy behind it is certainly questionable in cases like this. This type of search warrant was intended for emergency situations like a felony vehicle stop where the officers believed a body might be in the trunk of a parked car. Under what possible justification would a search warrant need to be rushed out like a 5-alarm fire emergency for some goats actively being cared for by paid staff and seen by hundreds of people every day? It is likely the judges in Thurston County as well as the Thurston County sheriff’s office need to review processes and procedures for exactly what counts as an “emergency” for these types of warrants. Was Judge Murphy provided true information or was she deceived in order to issue the “emergency” warrant? It seems likely that we can come up with more rational policy here.
- Thurston County Deputy Nastansky should remember
why she became a law enforcement officer in the first place. Theoretically, it was to help people. The recent abuse she directed at Lattin’s Cider Mill Farm appears to have harmed the very animals she claims to protect. Had the people from Hoofed Animal Rescue or Deputy Nastansky actually known what they were doing – they would not have removed nursing mothers from their babies. THAT action is the only clear animal cruelty that was inflicted on these goats this week. The search warrant fiasco appears botched, and her refusal to show it to anybody until she left was unprofessional. Claims of being a “goat expert” are overblown and probably less than honest. A more effective strategy should include approaching the Lattin’s Farm folk and see if the “anonymous” complaint was justified, and find out what they are doing. It isn’t like this is a meth head who forgot to feed the horse on the back 40 while he was on a bender. This is a thriving business with paid staff and many customers who view these goats each day. Abusing a thriving, local farm is probably not the best approach.
- The Thurston County Sheriff’s office needs to systematically review their relationship with organizations like Hoofed Animal Rescue. A monopolistic relationship with this organization is not healthy and is ripe for abuse. This organization has a history of abusing people in Thurston County and many animals do not flourish or improve under their care. This is particularly troubling when a possible profit motive is introduced which encourages targeted abuse of other citizens in Thurston County so they can sell or take their animals, or to draft a new fundraiser based on a newspaper article. These types of organizations can serve a valuable role in our community, but it human nature to take advantage of self-serving opportunities. Common sense should dictate that some checks and balances be introduced to the process of seizing animals. Groups that don’t profit from animal rescue operations like the Farm Bureau or the Livestock Coalition should assist the county in drafting up the proper procedures and rules – put them in writing as county policy. Then the boundaries will be clear and the opportunity for confusion, self-enrichment, and corruption will be reduced. Similar legal processes are already in place for other types of terrible situations like eviction, eminent domain, etc. Clear policies should be enacted here as well.
- The Thurston County Sheriff’s office needs to review their priorities. Real crimes are
being committed. Real problems exist. Law enforcement is not an easy job. I have several friends who work for the Thurston County Sheriff’s office. I have been on ride-alongs – something I recommend to everyone who doubts the challenge this critical job represents on a daily basis. However, people lose faith in law enforcement when law enforcement goes after healthy goats and ignores serious crimes. There is no need to “make work.” First do no harm to the citizens who live here. Perhaps the Sheriff’s Office could follow a protocol to investigate complaints and involve a veterinarian in determining the appropriate plan of care for any questions regarding disease, condition or injury. The seizure or removal of animals should only be done in an emergency situation where the animal’s life is in jeopardy, following the stipulations outlined in the animal cruelty statute. The conditions required by the animal cruelty statute did not apply to the Lattin’s Cider Mill goat seizure on Wednesday.
About those goats
The biggest claim of abuse regarding the Lattin’s Cider Mill Farms goats was the fact they had hoof rot. Very few people actually have hands-on experience with livestock. This is just a modern fact. Goats develop hoof rot as a common condition particularly in Western Washington because of the damp soil conditions that predominate here. It is considered a contagious disease found in the soil. It is particularly challenging in Western Washington where the wet soil and near constant rainfall most of the year make hoof rot such a common condition. It is not a condition that can be cured as much as it is managed. There are a variety of treatments that must be used to to treat the goat hooves. Hand-trimming and cleaning their hooves is very important, of course. Giving them vaccinations is part of the treatment process as well. In conditions like Lattin’s Cider Mill Farms, based on past veterinarian examinations and recommendations, it appears that the farm was following the basic protocols of treatment. The farm owners appear to have the documentation to support the fact they were following the right protocols.
It is unlikely that anyone at Hoofed Animal Rescue would institute anything different than the treatment being administered at Lattin’s Cider Mill. However, due to the need to justify their existence, it is possible the goats may be harmed while under the Animal Rescue’s “care.” This is always the greatest fear by those who lose their animals to strangers. Again, Lattin’s Cider Mill Farms are hardly unknown people or a secretive operation behind compound walls. The animal cruelty statute was created to help protect animals, not to be a bludgeon to abuse people or organizations who are clearly trying to do the right thing. If there is a better way to do things or to improve animal care, perhaps some step short of seizing the animals would be appropriate.
Misuse of the animal cruelty statute wastes resources, angers citizens, destroys the credibility of law enforcement, and harms the very animals it purports to protect. Despite past history of incompetence, Thurston County staff can improve by restoring common sense to local government. The Thurston County sheriff’s office has a good reputation in the community. Stories like this don’t help.
Oh, and please give the Lattins back their goats before their goats are hurt by the “rescuers”…
(note: This article has been modified since it was first published)
OUR CONSTITUTION BEGINS WITH THE PHRASE “WE THE PEOPLE.” IT WAS THE FOUNDER’S INTENT THAT GOVERNMENT BE CREATED BY THE PEOPLE, TO SERVE THE PEOPLE. IT WASN’T THEIR INTENTION FOR THE PEOPLE TO SERVE THE GOVERNMENT. IT WAS ALWAYS INTENDED THAT GOVERNMENT WHICH FAILED TO SERVE THE PEOPLE SHOULD BE “ALTERED OR ABOLISHED.” UNTIL WE RETURN TO THE FOUNDER’S INTENT, WE REMAIN WE THE GOVERNED…
Background articles, links and source documents:
Everett Herald – “Pasado’s Safe Haven: Charity is a force for animals, but critics question tactics, finances” (more stories about “animal rescue” scams)