Day rider Pat Criss said he fixed the fence where bicyclists had been going through by laying two posts across the opening. Criss believes this was the hole that allowed cattle to get onto Dr. Joel Rice’s property where they were shot. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
Riders say they were looking for loose cattle for days before they were shot
Day riders and owners of the cattle shot in August say they were doing all they could to get the trespass cows home. Riders and ranchers say they were out five days prior to finding the dead cows looking for groups of them and taking them back to their home ranges.
Joel Rice, a 57-year-old psychiatrist, was arrested last Thursday and charged with seven counts each of aggravated animal abuse and first-degree criminal mischief in the shooting of the animals. He is out on a pre-trial release agreement.
Police said last week that they believed Rice became frustrated with the trespass cattle blocking his driveway and shot seven cows. Six of the cows died as a result.
Police said cattle owners involved are Jay “Ted” Mudd, Irwin Smutz and Mark Gomes.
Gomes, who had several cows shot, said the cattle were able to Rice’s property because of a hole in fencing.
“There had been bikes going up there. They had a triathlon through there without my permission,” Gomes said.
Gomes said he had received a couple calls from Rice after the triathlon in July telling Gomes there were cows on his property.
“And I went up there and got them in,” he said. “The ones he ended up shooting were ones we missed.”
Day rider Pat Criss said he works the fences up off Glass Hill Road and that he and a crew always go out when they get a call that cows are out.
After the first call from Rice, Criss said, he and Gomes put 30 head of cattle up. After the second call, they put another 25 up.
Criss said when he is out looking for cows, he usually does not cross Glass Hill Road into Rice’s property near his personal residence unless he sees tracks leading that way or unless he has been told cows are there.
“I didn’t see any tracks in his front yard” prior to finding the shot cattle Aug. 15, Criss said.
Criss said a search party of three or four people was out on horseback for five days prior to finding the shot cows. He said they were searching an area of about 1,500 to 2,000 acres.
Criss said they were somewhat limited because bringing cattle in can take up to five hours. By then, the horse has to rest.
The cows they did find led them back to the hole used by bicyclists up the hill.
“Open trails — the cows hit them, they follow them,” Criss said, adding that “They’ll go right to where they got out 90 percent of the time.”
Still, Criss is not sure why the cows were so far down the hill. They could have been looking for water or spooked by something.
Whatever the reason, Criss said he thinks they crossed the road toward Rice’s personal residence and rain washed away their tracks.
“They could hide down in there real easy,” he said.
The area off Glass Hill Road near the Rice residence is thick with brush and difficult terrain for some horses, Criss said. Most of the dead cows were found by Criss near a creek bottom on Rice’s property.
“I missed these,” he said of the dead cows. “You can see why.”
Criss said they were a few hundred yards from the Rice house.
Three calves are still unaccounted for and Criss believes three blood spots found on the side of Glass Hill Road belong to them.
Criss and Gomes said they know the cattle were trespassing.
“They shouldn’t have been there, but they also shouldn’t have been shot,” Gomes said.
Criss said most upsetting to him was that many of the cows were shot in the gut and probably suffered for up to 15 minutes before dying.
“If you’re going to wound something, finish it off,” he said.
Gomes said despite the situation, he thinks people can come to an understanding.
“I want to set a precedent that ranchers and environmentalists can work together and work out these issues,” he said. “I’m thankful that (Rice) came forward and admitted his mistake and wants to make it right.”