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N.H. couple have beef with police for Tasering cow

Say animal was returning home

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By Martine Powers
Globe Correspondent / June 11, 2011

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PELHAM, N.H. — Just when the cow thought things couldn’t get any worse, the police showed up.

Things started out badly last Saturday morning for the 1-year-old heifer when she was wrangled away from her herd at a Dracut, Mass., farm and loaded onto a trailer to make the trip to her new owner. When she arrived at the residential Pelham backyard that was to be her new home, she saw her chance.

She pushed through a gap in the barbed-wire fence, darting in front of vehicles and across the busy street into nearby woods. Residents saw the brown-and-white cow run past their windows and tried to corral her back to a pen in her owner’s backyard. After a couple hours of failed attempts, they called police.

When Pelham police officers arrived on the scene, they did the only thing they could think of: They fired their Taser guns.

Her owner was not pleased.

“It was almost like [the police] wanted to punish the cow for ruining their afternoon,’’ said Doug Hirsch. The shots were unnecessary, said Hirsch, as the cow was already headed back to her pen when the guns were fired.

Hirsch’s girlfriend, Wendy Bordeleau, filed a complaint with the Pelham Police Department, arguing that officers used unnecessary means in their effort to keep the animal under control.

“Because our cow was subjected to repeated and prolonged shock, I seriously question the competence of the Pelham Police Department and their indiscriminate and brutal use of their weapons,’’ Bordeleau wrote in a letter to the Pelham Police Department, which she also sent to the Pelham-Windham News. “It is morally reprehensible that these officers would abuse an animal this way that is not causing any immediate harm to anyone.’’

The Tasers were fired three times, Sergeant Michael Pickles said. The first two shots were ineffective, but the last shot sent a jolt of electricity into her body. The heifer, who Hirsch said weighs about 500 pounds, barely flinched, however, and kept walking, eventually making its way into a temporary pen, where residents were able to lasso her.

“We told them to stop to Tasering the cow, because it wasn’t doing any good. They were just scaring the thing,’’ Hirsch said.

He said he and Bordeleau had purchased the cow to help keep the grass trimmed in their backyard.

Police maintain that the heifer — now known as Houdini because of her dramatic escape — was galloping from one field to another, plowing through fences and crossing the street multiple times. Officers set up a barricade to prevent vehicles from entering the area. The cow nearly injured herself and nearby motorists, said Pickles, and the officers decided that the Taser was the best way to get the animal under control quickly.

“I’m a little bit surprised that people are upset,’’ said Pickles, “On the outside, it may look as if we were overusing force, but that wasn’t our goal.’’

Pickles, who said he received Bordeleau’s letter yesterday, explained that the officers were not trying to make the animal lose consciousness or cause her pain. They just wanted to immobilize her long enough for them to get a couple of ropes around her neck. They felt they had had no other options, Pickles said.

Police are trained to use Tasers on animals, he said.

“I did the best I could with the tools that I had on hand,’’ Pickles said. “We don’t have tranquilizers.’’

Though Houdini’s encounter with Taser guns left her relatively unscathed, another cow was not so lucky. In April 2006, police in Spokane County, Wash., killed a cow with a Taser after it wandered onto a freeway ramp, according to the Associated Press.

Rob Halpin, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the jolts would have surely caused the animal some pain, and that the group generally opposes Tasing. But in these circumstances, with the cow posing a threat to itself and others, the group believes police were justified in subduing the animal by force, Halpin said.

“The officers had to make a judgment call, and it seems like it was the right one,’’ he said.

But Hirsch said the cow was not posing a serious enough threat to warrant such a dangerous weapon.

Yesterday, he pointed at the heifer dozing underneath a tree and asked, “Does this cow look vicious to you?’’

Peter Schworm of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com.