Cows on the loose gunned down


From the fairways of Columbia's Hobbit's Glen Golf Course to the pastureland of Howard County farms, the talk of the day is still the great cow hunt that culminated in two blasts from police riot shotguns.

The objects of the hunt were four heifers. They had bolted a farm and enjoyed six weeks of freedom roaming the woods and a golf course near Columbia.

Two of the heifers paid for their jaunt Thursday when police gunned them down in the woods.

But before that the cows eluded a police tactical response team, animal control officers, state livestock experts, and two Maryland Department of Natural Resources' helicopters for most of the day.

The four heifers -- all crossbreds -- had been on the loose for six weeks after escaping from a farm owned by J. Thomas Scrivener, a Howard County-based developer.

He is not pleased about the way authorities dealt with his livestock.

"It was a fiasco," says Mr. Scrivener.

But officials are concerned that the two cows that eluded police by disappearing into the thickly wooded nature preserve pose a danger to motorists. Officials worry that when it grows colder and food is short, the 500-pound animals will emerge, maybe suddenly on a heavily traveled road near Columbia.

"It's a very, very dangerous situation. If a motorist strikes one of these animals, someone could be killed," said Thomas Moreland, research manager at the University of Maryland Dairy Research Farm in Clarksville. He serves as a consultant to police statewide on escaped livestock cases, and is assisting on this one.

"The police absolutely did the right thing. These animals had become wild. People couldn't get near them. You couldn't get close enough to shoot them with a tranquilizer gun. The only choice was to shoot them down."

Police believe they may have wounded one of the heifers that got away, but animal control officers were unable to find any signs of injury, such as a blood trail.

Mr. Scrivener, who said he had offered the animal control department $100 for every heifer returned, believes both animals may have been injured since neither has been spotted since last Thursday. Others, such as Mr. Moreland, think the heifers were so frightened by all the fuss that they moved deeper into the woods.

One thing is certain, no one has ever seen the likes of Thursday's hunt.

"I've been in the [animal control] field 15 years and I've never seen a capture effort this big," said Brenda Purvis, chief administrator for the county's animal control department. "The cost, of course, was extensive."

The hunt has been called off by police -- for now anyway.

Mr. Scrivener says he has told the animal control officials that if they receive sightings of the missing heifers to notify him at once. He doesn't want the Howard County police or the animal control department involved in a second hunt.

"I don't think they had anything but the best intentions. They were just inexperienced in this field," he said.

Should the other animals turn up, he plans to seek the assistance of the Carroll County Animal Control Department, which Mr. Scrivener says is equipped with tranquilizer guns for handling escaped livestock.

While Mr. Scrivener gave the county written approval to destroy the animals, he says he doesn't think officials exhausted all the options before turning to guns.

"They were just teen-agers, wild and frisky. They weren't domesticated yet, but they didn't need to be shot," he said.

But Mr. Moreland, and police, argue that Mr. Scrivener is wrong.

"The time for capturing them is gone," Mr. Moreland said. "You only have two or three days after a heifer gets away to have success catching them alive. He waited too long to do that. They have become wild, just like deer."

The county's animal control department had been getting complaints for about a month about the heifers gnawing up the back nine holes of the golf course.

But it was reports from motorists of the animals bolting back and forth across Route 108, one of the county's heavily traveled roads, which alarmed police.

"It really came down to a safety issue," said Sgt. Gary Gardner, a county police department spokesman. "We began to fear a motorist might run into one of the cows," said Sgt. Gardner.

William Neus, manager of the golf course, said he and his crew had been trying to capture the escaped cows for the past month.

"At first it was sort of fun trying to catch them and to listen to the golfers joke about the cows on the golf course. But the novelty wore off. I was getting distressed about a car accident," Mr. Neus said.

By day, the calves stayed in the woods. In the evenings and at night they would roam onto the golf course, dining on the well tended turf, and carving divots with their hoofs.

"We had pretty much figured out where they lived. But you couldn't get very close to them. They had become like deer. As soon as you within 40 or 50 yards of them, they would take off. They were incredibly fast," said Mr. Neus.

All the commotion, including the helicopters equipped with heat-sensing devices, unnerved more traditional wildlife in the 1,100-acre environmental area.

"The helicopters buzzing around the woods spooked the deer pretty bad, so we had deer racing across the greens and tennis courts all day," said Mr. Neus.

Although the remaining two cows haven't visited the golf course in a week, Mr. Moreland believes the animals will be spotted again soon, particularly if it snows or the weather turns very cold.

"I just hope nobody tries to tackle or rope them. They are powerful and will kill you. They are wild as can be."

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