Not everyone wants to help the horse that’s wandering along the side of the road. But a lot of folks will. And do. And you should probably know a little bit about the legal ramifications of what you’ve just decided to do, if that good Samaritan happens to be you.
3-1401. Definition of stray animal spells out how livestock (along with bison and ratites, aka buffalo, emus and ostriches) can wind up being called “stray” in a legal sense. It’s fairly straight-forward. But there are also a couple of aspects that most people that I visit with are not aware of.
…whose owner is unknown or cannot be located, or any such animal whose owner is known but permits the animal to roam at large on the streets, alleys, roads, range or premises of another without permission…
So from that excerpt you can see that there is the situation where the animal has wandered from its home. And there is the situation where the owner is unknown or cannot be located. A lot of folks use the term abandoned in this situation.
I don’t mean to be nit-picky, but these animals are actually stray, by the definition previously cited, and as such have to be handled in a fairly specific way which is defined in subsequent statutes. (There are a handful on the books that deal specifically with stray livestock.)
3-1402. Holding and sale of stray animals; repossession before and after sale; nonliability of state is very clear in its direction that if Joe or Jane Q. Public finds a stray, s/he may try to find the owner and let them know they need to get Bessie home. And it’s also very clear that if they don’t want to go to that trouble or can’t find the owner, then Jane or Joe is obligated to notify AZDA and we must deal with it, aka the Department of Agriculture becomes that animal’s custodian.
Next Step: We are then obligated to post 3 notices in the area describing the animal and where it was found; provide feed and care; and maintain that animal for 7 days (an additional 7 will be granted if anyone asks for such).
Last Step: At the end of this holding period, if no person has come forward to claim the animal (and present documentation supporting that claim) the animal is sold at public auction and the proceeds from the sale go into the Livestock Custody Fund (which is the method in which the care and feeding of these animals is funded.)
Now let me point out a couple of things along the way to the end of this process.
AZDA has no facilities for holding livestock. But in one of the stray statutes, the ability to contract for providing feed and care for these animals is spelled out. Traditionally these arrangements have been with the various livestock markets around the state because they were in the business of providing feed and care for short term to the clients whose livestock were being sold there. And because they were a venue for the required public auction. Most of the livestock markets in AZ no longer sell horses however.
Also statute mandates that the animals be sold at public auction so that any member of the public has an opportunity to bid; it doesn’t mandate they be sold at a livestock market.
We’ve conducted public auctions at the various places where these animals have been held and cared for. This can save a lot of effort, time and expense on the agency’s part. It can also reduce the stress on and risk to the animals. But sometimes finding those folks and places willing (and capable!) to provide feed and care, especially given the rising costs of feed, can be difficult.
My thoughts on this process are this was a reasonable and effective solution to the problem of how to allow an owner to find their livestock. I believe it worked particularly well when the community was primarily ranching and small. It was also predicated on the assumption the livestock had an underlying economic value that ensured the owner would attempt to recover his property. And It also worked well because historically there were triple-digits of livestock services personnel in the field.
Today and the last several years have presented a different situation. Many stray equine literally have a negative economic value, which I feel certain had a lot to do with how they became strays. And today our Livestock Officers number in the single digits.
There’s an awful lot to this topic, even more than I’ve covered. And I’ve probably already wandered over so much ground that you may have gotten lost. I hope not. But then I did grow up with a bunch of cows and they tend to like to wander around a lot too.
Enjoy the ride.