Veterinarian seeks 2 cows taken away in cruelty case Harriet and Lady Jers are in foster care

August 13, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

All Dr. Richard John Burroughs wants is to regain custody of Harriet Hereford and Lady Jers.

The Mount Airy veterinarian is asking the Howard County Board of Appeals to overturn a decision to remove his two cows and place them in protective custody.

"If I wanted to make cows weigh twice what they ought to, I could do it," said Dr. Burroughs, referring to the fact that the cows look much beefier now than they did when authorities took them two winters ago. "The issue is: Were those animals malnourished at the time they were seized?"

Dr. Burroughs, 51, was convicted of two counts of animal cruelty in May. He was sentenced to probation, community service and fined $500 last month.

The cows are being kept in foster care at a private farm in Montgomery County by the county Animal Control Division. They were longtime pets of the Burroughs family. Lady Jers is a Jersey cow that Dr. Burroughs gave his wife as an anniversary present in 1983, and Harriet Hereford is one of Lady Jers' cross-bred offspring.

"She had her picture on Eating Well magazine," Dr. Burroughs said of Lady Jers, who is now approaching 14. "So she was probably the most famous cow in Howard County, although now she's the most notorious."

The magazine article was about Dr. Burroughs' role as a $H whistle-blower in his job in the Food and Drug Administration, and the cow was just part of the picture.

The cow custody fight began in January 1992 when a county animal control officer observed the cows, then 11 and 8 years old, at Dr. Burroughs' farm.

The veterinarian was accused of failing to provide the cows with nutritious food, care, water, air, space, shelter and protection from the weather, according to court documents.

According to Dr. Burroughs, the dispute had its origins in September 1991.

"One of the cows [Harriet] had been in heat and jumped the fence to go over and visit some of the neighboring cows, as cows in heat will do," he said.

An animal-control warden went to investigate, and cited Dr. Burroughs for having inadequate fencing to contain the cows, but, Dr. Burroughs said, ignored his use of movable fences.

Warden Tim Grove said Dr. Burroughs was cited for having a broken electric fence.

Mr. Grove also said the younger cow, Harriet Hereford, "was a fairly robust cow -- it moved fairly agilely and seemed to be of very sound health."

Mr. Grove said that when he went back for a follow-up inspection of the fences Jan. 21, 1992, the Hereford cross was "emaciated" and Lady Jers was poorly fed.

He returned two days later with a veterinarian who confirmed his conclusion, and removed the animals the next day.

Dr. Burroughs acknowledges that the younger animal was not healthy, but he attributed that to a medical condition.

Harriet was being treated for "hardware disease" -- metallic object lodged in the digestive system, such as a piece of fencing -- which appeared to have caused an abscess or peritonitis, Dr. Burroughs said.

"She was basically skin and bones," he said.

Lady Jers was "no different than she'd been in other years for a cow that age," Dr. Burroughs said. "She was ancient by most standards."

In his petition to the county Board of Appeals, filed July 30, Dr. Burroughs charges that he was "deprived of his property without due process of law. Moreover, the underlying criminal action is being appealed." Dr. Burroughs said he plans to also file an appeal in Circuit Court, primarily on the grounds that he had been denied a jury trial.

The petition also lists a "possible motive of retaliation" by the Animal Matters Board because of previous run-ins with Dr. Burroughs.

Dr. Burroughs had been highly critical of county animal-control authorities and the board when the veterinarian worked for the Docktor Pet Center at The Mall in Columbia. Authorities charged that some of the animals were unhealthy, and Dr. Burroughs questioned their diagnosis and alleged that they were telling shoppers that the animals were sick.

Brenda S. Purvis, county animal-control administrator, said that her agency would not answer the charges because the allegations were directed at a previous administrator. The administrator at the time, Tahira S. Williams, left that post in September 1992 to take the same job in Anne Arundel County.

The Board of Appeals has tentatively scheduled a hearing on the custody case for Oct. 26.

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