PORT TOWNSEND — Four witnesses testified for the state in an animal cruelty case that is being tried before a jury for the second time this year.
A former Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputy told of his efforts Tuesday to get Denver Lee Shoop, 73, to increase the food supply for the eight bison on Shoop’s Chimacum farm in April 2018.
A veterinarian testified about the animals’ emaciated condition at the farm.
Two others who have since worked to rehabilitate the bison spoke in court about how much the animals have changed in the year and a half since they were seized.
Shoop is facing eight counts of first-degree animal cruelty in Jefferson County Superior Court, allegations of starvation with knowledge of his actions. He has pleaded not guilty on all of the Class C felony charges, each punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
The first trial ended in February with a hung jury.
The prosecution began presenting its case this week. The defense will then present its case.
Terry Taylor, the former deputy who served as an animal control officer, told the court Shoop gave him an emotional response when he asked what was happening with the bison.
Taylor had responded to a call for an animal complaint in April 2018 and found the bison to be in poor condition.
At the time, there were 12 to 15 bales of hay stacked in Shoop’s barn, and each was light enough that Taylor said he could pick it up with one hand. He estimated they weighed about 25 to 30 pounds each.
“That was all the baled hay that was there,” Taylor said.
The eight bison were getting a total of about two bales per day, much less than the suggested 3 percent of their body mass per day, a figure Taylor cited from the National Bison Range, a wildlife refuge in western Montana.
That standard would have had the bison eating closer to six bales or more per day, Taylor said.
When Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Julie St. Marie asked about Shoop’s response, Taylor said he believed Shoop cried.
“He told me he couldn’t financially afford it,” Taylor testified. “He knew about parasites. He knew in their current condition they were dying.”
Taylor said he attempted to connect Shoop with community resources that had access to free or low-cost hay bales.
“It’s a grassroots community, no pun intended,” Taylor said. “There are resources that are almost readily available.”
Taylor said he asked Shoop to give the bison two additional bales on top of what they already had been fed that day, and he continued to monitor the farm for the next several days.
Defense Attorney Jack Range focused on Taylor’s job, which he left for a position outside of the sheriff’s department, and why Taylor didn’t have statements he claimed Shoop made to him written verbatim in his incident reports or taken in an audio recording.
Taylor said he took “several hundred photographs” and that his reports were intended for general reference and didn’t include every quote from throughout the day.
He added it wouldn’t have been practical to make an audio recording outside with grass and weeds up to waist high.
“An audio recording in the field is very rarely taken,” Taylor said. “We do it in a controlled environment, usually in a quiet room where we’re not going to hear any background noise.
“In this type of a case, it would be very uncommon.”
Taylor told Shoop he believed he had enough evidence for an animal cruelty-type of a case, but he also said his goal was to get Shoop to comply with feeding the animals.
“I didn’t feel the defendant was taking me seriously,” he said.
Taylor also testified Shoop withheld water from the bison, sometimes between “several days to a week,” so they would become weak and allow him to attempt to put medication on their backs that would treat the parasitic infestation.
“He described it as a very difficult thing to do,” Taylor said.
A search warrant that included the seizure of the animals was signed and executed at Shoop’s farm at the end of April 2018, about two weeks after initial contact.
Dr. Jan Richards, a veterinarian since 1991, testified Tuesday afternoon that she was called to observe the animals.
“If you looked at them straight-on, they were very thin,” she said. “Their hair coats weren’t lustrous, and hair was missing.”
One appeared to be wobbly on its feet like it was about to fall over, Richards said.
The condition of the animals had been repeated earlier in the day in testimony from Sara Penhallegon, the director of Center Valley Animal Rescue (CVAR) in Quilcene, as well as Megan Titus, a horse and cattle farmer who lives near CVAR.
Richards used a body score, which evaluates how healthy an animal appears to be based on hands-on examinations that seek fat and muscle tissue.
On a one to five scale, with three being healthy and five being obese, Richards classified all but one bison a one. The other, the dominant bull, scored a two, she said.
“Ribs were protruding, there was no fat along the spine, and you could see the hips,” Richards said. “The hump, there was no roundness to it. It was very sharp.”
Richards said the animals were suffering from starvation and needed vitamins and minerals as well as food. She gave intravenous fluids to some of the bison and worked to de-worm all of them.
She also said it was possible for parasites to be the cause of starvation.
“Internal parasites tend to feed off the blood and the nutrients of the animal and, therefore, the nutrients don’t make it to the animal,” Richards said.
The pastures where the bison were kept were not adequate, she said, and the hay was of poor quality.
“The area was swampy,” Richards said. “There were lots of places where parasites could be harbored and infect the animals.”
Range asked Richards about weight fluctuation, particularly during the winter time, to see if that would provide an explanation.
Richards answered that healthy bison who typically rate as a three may drop to a two during the winter months, but that wasn’t the case with these animals.
“These were ones,” she said.
Penhallegon said several of the bison were stumbling, and if they tried to turn, “they would almost collapse.”
“These were just pathetic animals,” she said.
Penhallegon and Titus worked for two days to load the animals from Shoop’s farm and transport them to an area on Titus’ ranch, where they remained for several weeks as they regained strength, Penhallegon said.
Richards worked to document each bison the day after they arrived at Titus’ property, and she also took blood and fecal samples from each animal.
Photos of the bison were entered into evidence and passed around to jury members. Penhallegon often referred to the animals by the number that was painted on them when they were first seized.
Penhallegon said they started with a bland diet of grass hay and Timothy hay and worked up to a more rich diet that included an alfalfa mix and grain.
“After three days at Megan’s ranch, they all gained between 20 and 75 pounds,” Penhallegon said.
She added the rehabilitation process has taken more than a year, and the bison were just relocated last weekend to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, a sanctuary where they will spend the rest of their lives.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].