Editorial

The seizure of 138 head of cattle owned by a Goliad County family in late May shocked ranchers and community members throughout the Crossroads for a number of reasons.

There was the sheer number of cattle taken. There was the uncertainty over the herd’s fate after it was transported to an undisclosed location hours away. There was the fact that the cattle’s caretakers, Jorge and San Juanita Padilla, seemingly had little recourse to prevent the seizure from happening and had to post a nearly $72,500 bond to appeal the decision — money they raised in part due to the generosity of local residents who contributed to their legal fund.

But perhaps most shocking of all was the allegations of animal cruelty faced by the Padillas.

Animal cruelty is a wide-ranging offense, but it implies that the animal’s owner is neglectful at best and malicious at worst. To ranchers who spend hours working cattle daily and depend on their herd’s welfare for their family’s livelihood, the idea that a ranching family would intentionally inflict harm upon its herd was almost unthinkable.

Like many other ranchers dealing with the aftereffects of a lengthy drought followed by an unprecedented freeze, the Padillas faced their fair share of challenges in caring for their herd. But anyone questioning the family’s devotion to their cattle should look to the actions of the couple’s 16-year-old son, Jorge Jr., who spent weeks bottle feeding two calves left behind after the seizure to ensure they remained properly nourished.

The community’s response to the seizure was admirable, from the monetary donations, hay and supplies the family received to the way residents rallied around the Padillas during their initial courtroom defeat and successful appeal. On the day the Padillas’ cattle were returned, dozens of ranchers showed up to tag and dehorn them and treat them for pests.

Not only did the community’s response help the Padillas endure this ordeal, it demonstrated why seizing the family’s cattle was a misguided response to an unfortunate set of circumstances. This was not a situation that called for punitive measures — and especially not an illegal, warrantless drone search of private property. It was a situation that called for compassion.

Judge Walden Shelton’s decision to return the family’s cattle was a relief for many, but it would be a mistake to forget this incident. Ranchers are already discussing measures to prevent future seizures from taking place and empower Goliad County residents to care for animals within the county. That is an admirable response.

Legal changes should also be considered to prevent law enforcement agencies from overstepping their bounds and intervening in agricultural affairs when doing so is not warranted. State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst sent a representative to the Padillas’ appeal hearing. It is good to see state officials taking notice.

Preventing unwarranted seizures may not have made it onto Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda for the now-postponed special session. But let’s hope it’s on the Legislature’s radar in 2023.

For now, the Padillas’ cattle are back in Goliad County. And that is worth celebrating.

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This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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