By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
A call placed to the sheriff’s office asking to help with a loose cow or horse may seem laughable when broadcast over the police scanner, but the amount of manpower dedicated to locating and securing livestock roaming the highways and county roads of Northeast Mississippi is no joke.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office responded to 42 calls of loose livestock near roadways from the beginning of this year until last Friday.
“There were 38 calls when I looked it up, but I had two last night and two this morning,” Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said last Friday morning. “We hear everything from horses in the road, horses in the wheat field, dead deer by the mailbox to bulls in the road or calves in the road.
“A lot of time, in the winter when the grass is short, it is a problem. It also has to do with poor fencing.”
On Feb. 14, a man driving down Highway 45 in Prentiss County collided with a horse, killing both the man and horse. While that was the first traffic fatality involving livestock in the area in recent years, it proves livestock can be dangerous when poorly detained.
Prentiss County Sheriff Randy Tolar said the horse that caused last week’s wreck had never escaped before but most of the livestock that get loose in his county belong to the same farmers. The Prentiss County Sheriff’s Office responds to an average of two livestock calls each week.
“Most instances involve repeat offenders or repeat instances,” Tolar said. “Some of it, probably the majority, is due to fencing not kept up properly.”
Johnson said his deputies average 45 minutes to an hour responding to each livestock call, which means the Lee County Sheriff’s Office has devoted almost an entire work week to handling loose livestock in the first two months of 2012.
Johnson estimated 99 percent of the time in Lee County, livestock get out due to poor or damaged fencing.
Tolar said loose livestock are also responsible for tying up his deputies, making their patrols less effective.
“We have two deputies on duty at a time so it’s very critical for me because of my manpower shortage,” Tolar said. “Our county is over 400 square miles, and when you have only two deputies, it could take over 30 minutes to get there, and then they have to deal with (the animal) until the owner can come and take care of the livestock. Sometimes it takes hours.”
It is so common the deputies see it falling into their regular duties, Tolar said, but he would rather be dealing with bigger issues.
Tim Oswalt of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office agreed that deputies in his department are accustomed to responding to livestock calls.
“They may have calls backed up, but an animal in the road could be life-threatening,” Tolar said.
Mississippi has two statutes that hold livestock owners responsible in most cases of escaped livestock.
It is a crime for livestock to be on state highways and fees can be collected from the animal’s owner for moving or impounding the wayward animals. The owner of any loose livestock also is responsible for any damage caused by that animal, such as to another person’s land or a car in the case of a crash.
Johnson and Tolar said they aren’t aware of any criminal or civil charges filed against any livestock owners when their animals have gotten loose or caused damage.
Tolar said when escaped livestock are spotted, 911 should be notified immediately so the correct agency can respond. He also said drivers need to use reasonable speed and caution on county roads and highways because livestock could get loose. Also, he recommended livestock owners regularly check their fences to make sure animals are secure.
State Farm Insurance Agent Rob Rice said vehicle accidents involving deer are quite common in Lee County and livestock accidents, while much less common, aren’t unheard of. Rice advises drivers to reduce their speed instead of swerving when encountering an animal in the road.
“It’s safer to just slow down and hit the animal at a lower speed than to leave the road or swerve,” Rice said. “You have to be vigilant and slow down. It can be life-threatening, and not just hitting the animal, but also overcorrecting at highway speed.”
What to Do
– Call 911 immediately upon encountering loose livestock.
– Be cautious of wildlife, deer and livestock when driving on highways and county roads.
– If you encounter deer or livestock in the road, slow down instead of swerving.
– Livestock owners should regularly check fences to make sure animals are secure.