A New York animal sanctuary owner is facing a felony charge after officials say cows from a nearby beef farm strayed onto her property and she refused to return them to their owner.
Tracy Murphy, president and founder of Asha’s Farm Sanctuary in Newfane, a small town 38 miles north of Buffalo near Lake Ontario, was arrested Tuesday and charged with third-degree grand larceny, the New York State Police reported.
McKee Farm owner Scott Gregson told USA TODAY that last month, two of his beef cows mysteriously escaped his pasture, which is enclosed by an electric barb-wire fence.
“I still to this day don’t know how they got out,” Gregson, 43, said Wednesday. “The fence is in good shape and the gates were all locked.”
Gregson, whose property is about a half mile from Murphy’s animal sanctuary, said he was alerted his cows were at the sanctuary after receiving a phone call from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Upstate New York. He said his livestock had been there for about five days.
So Gregson, who said he did not know Murphy at the time, visited her home early last week to get his cows.
“She asked if I had proof I was the owner, then told me to get off her property because I was trespassing,” he said.
A refusal, a warrant and an arrest
On July 25, Lockport troopers, the SPCA and Gregson responded to Murphy’s property to retrieve the animals, troopers wrote in a news release.
But Murphy, troopers said, refused to give them back.
A warrant was then executed for Murphy’s arrest and the cows were returned to their owner.
After she was taken into custody, troopers said, Murphy was booked into the Niagara County Jail. During a court arraignment later Tuesday, she pleaded not guilty to the felony charge.
As of Wednesday, she remained free on bond, officials reported. If convicted of the crime, Murphy faces prison time.
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Gregson said that after the cows were returned to the farm where he lives with his wife and children, they were taken to a secure location “for their and my family’s safety.”
“We are happy to have our cattle back,” he said. “We wish this would never have happened. We are a farm community and cattle get out … people tend to help one another when that happens.”
“I just want to thank everyone that is supporting our family through this difficult time.” Gregson said. “It is hard trying to explain to our young children what is happening.”
‘Malicious and obscene’
Murphy’s attorney Matt Albert, who specializes in animal welfare law, said his client should not have been charged criminally.
“When these sorts of cases come my way, 99 percent of the time police say they are civil in nature,” Albert told USA TODAY.
“But here we have a trooper and beef farmer (Gregson) who basically incorporates the New York State Police Department into this,” he said. “It’s malicious and obscene and blatant.”
Since the cows wandered onto Murphy’s property, Albert said his client has had dead raccoons thrown onto her lawn and had protestors grilling meat in front of her property.
“My client is a woman who has dedicated her entire life to protecting and serving creatures including cows that she houses at her sanctuary,” Albert said. “The amount of vitriol and even threats of violence directed towards her for her act of kindness doesn’t reflect well towards the New York State Police or humanity as a whole.”
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.