Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Keith Harper, left, listens to defense attorney Jake Range ask questions of Richard Stroud, a veterinary forensic pathologist. Stroud testified for the defense Wednesday that a number of factors could have led to the emaciated state of the bison, including toxic plants and parasites called liver flukes. (Brian McLean/Peninsula Daily News)

Jefferson County Superior Court Judge Keith Harper, left, listens to defense attorney Jake Range ask questions of Richard Stroud, a veterinary forensic pathologist. Stroud testified for the defense Wednesday that a number of factors could have led to the emaciated state of the bison, including toxic plants and parasites called liver flukes. (Brian McLean/Peninsula Daily News)

Jury finds bison farmer guilty of animal cruelty

Defense witnesses point to plant toxins, parasites

PORT TOWNSEND — A jury has found a Chimacum bison farmer guilty of first-degree animal cruelty.

Denver Lee Shoop, 73, was found guilty on all eight counts Thursday following a four-day trial in Jefferson County Superior Court. He will be sentenced Nov. 1.

Each felony conviction could bring a maximum of five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

The verdict was read following two hours of jury deliberations and closing arguments earlier in the day.

It was the second jury trial on the same charges this year after the first was declared a hung jury in February.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Julie St. Marie presented the state’s case with six total witnesses between Tuesday and Wednesday, focusing on law enforcement response, the emaciated condition of the bison and a reported lack of hay for them to eat.

Testimony also covered how the bison were moved from Shoop’s property and how quickly the animals responded, averaging a weight gain of 20 pounds to 75 pounds in a week after they were treated with vitamins, minerals and nutritious feed.

For the rest of the day Wednesday, attorney Jack Range presented the case for the defense, which focused on other possible factors that could have led to the animals’ emaciated condition, including intestinal parasites.

Dr. Richard Stroud, who specializes in veterinary pathology, testified for about two hours Wednesday afternoon and said some of the possibilities the state didn’t exclude include parasites, environmental factors, plant toxins or genetics.

While Shoop did not testify on his own behalf, his son Andrew said his father has kept a bison herd as a hobby for about 30 years.

Charles Pace, who lives a quarter-mile south of Shoop’s farm in Beaver Valley, has traded labor with Shoop and was familiar with how much hay had been harvested during the summer and fall prior to the animals being seized in April 2018.

Dr. Robert Moody, a veterinarian whose Central Whidbey Veterinary Service is located in Coupeville, discussed the testing process for finding parasites in fecal samples.

Moody also said liver flukes were found in August 2018 from a fecal sample taken from the bull bison that remained on Shoop’s property four months after the rest of the herd had been relocated and rehabilitated.

Stroud questioned the state’s medical record-keeping process, suggesting the spray-painted numbers on the animals weren’t enough to keep them separate and that ear tags would have been more appropriate.

Stroud suggested environmental conditions not taken into account could have included any lead-based paint, petroleum products, old pesticides or antifreeze.

“It may not be valid unless you eliminate the other factors that may lead to emaciation,” he said.

The three most broad categories include the animal not getting enough food, the quality of the food being poor, or the animal’s digestive system could be compromised by parasites, Stroud said.

He also pointed to horsetail and ragwort weeds in photos at Shoop’s property and said both contain toxins. One could lead to liver failure and the other causes a vitamin deficiency that could affect the nervous system and lead to trembling, weakness and a lack of coordination, Stroud said.

“If hay is harvested from a field that has a lot of toxic weeds in it, that is incorporated into the hay,” he said.

Pace, a semi-retired former owner of a bicycle shop in Redmond, said he’s known Shoop for the past decade and helped him harvest between 800 and 1,000 bales of hay several months before the bison were seized.

He said the area in the barn where the bales were stored was 200 feet long and piled 12- to 15-feet high.

“It was plenty for his bison for the season,” Pace said.

Range had Pace use a laser pointer on a projection screen to show the jury the boundaries of Shoop’s property and how the animals moved from one location to another.

Earlier in the day, Andrew Shoop said he used to help his father with the bison, but he admitted under cross examination from St. Marie that he had not been able to help from October 2017 to April 2018, the time in question for the trial.

“I’d go there now and then and basically help vaccinate them,” said the younger Shoop, who opened his statement by saying he recently had open-heart bypass surgery.

He said his father didn’t have much money, and he used what he received from Social Security to take care of the bison.

He said the vaccination he referred to was a type of pour-on de-wormer that was administered from a cup at the end of a long pole.

Shoop withheld water from the bison for about 24 hours, his son said, and then the animals would gather at the trough the following day.

That made it easier to apply the medication, he said.

Pace viewed photos of the bison in their emaciated state and said it wasn’t much different than some other livestock.

“If you look at cows in the [Chimacum] valley, sometimes you can see bones,” he said. “Does that mean they’re underweight? No, that’s just how they are.”

He said their patchy coats can happen that way as well.

“It looks like he’s been out in the field and the rain,” Pace said as St. Marie showed him a different photo.

Pace also said he’s not an expert on bison, and he could not confirm what Shoop was feeding his animals on a daily basis during the time frame in question.

Moody said his practice deals with a mix of animals on Whidbey Island and he has the facilities to test blood and fecal samples at his clinic.

He discussed sedimentation and flotation methods, both meant to enable a trained professional to locate parasite eggs under a microscope.

Moody said the bull bison that tested positive for liver flukes last August likely got it by eating snails. The de-wormer would have been appropriate for about 90 percent of parasitic infestations, he said, but it wouldn’t have stopped the liver flukes.

St. Marie asked Moody to confirm that the test would only say with certainty that the liver flukes were present in August and not four months earlier, when the rest of the heard was confiscated.

Moody said that was correct.

“Being emaciated isn’t necessarily a signal that comes from liver flukes,” St. Marie suggested to him.

“It could be caused by more than one thing,” Moody answered.

He also confirmed parasites could cause emaciation but hesitated to call it “starvation,” saying the two were different.

“Could it lead to malnutrition, because the food isn’t being processed, even though it’s there? Yes,” Moody said.

Stroud was asked about how quickly the bison gained weight once they were removed from the property, and he attributed that to a “shotgun approach” for treatment and not any one factor.

“It was a broad spectrum and didn’t have anything to do with pointing a special finger at a specific cause,” Stroud said of the efforts of those at Center Valley Animal Rescue in Quilcene.

St. Marie asked Stroud if the defense team had showed him any photos of the rehabilitated bison, and he said no. When she showed him one, he placed it on a 1-9 body score index of five, where the healthy animals should be.

“It looks pretty normal,” he said.

But Stroud also pointed back to his questions about connecting the same bison that had numbers painted on their coats to the rehabilitated animals.

“I see no medical records now that could go back to their spray-painted numbers,” he said.


Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at