Archive for: June 2013

Cash Cow: Texas Cattle Theft on the Rise

By Emily Alleman, Alsha Khan, Mary Ellen Knewtson and Meleena Loseke

 

If drought conditions were not enough for Texas cattle ranchers to be fretting about, they can now add “increased cattle theft” to the list.

The year 2012 saw 10,000 cows stolen statewide, up more than 7,000 from five years earlier. This increase is part of an upward trend in thefts observed by Special Ranger Doug Hutchison, who works on cattle cases with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

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“It doesn’t take very many cattle on a trailer to get a handful of money,” Hutchison said.

The thefts have been easy to notice as overall cattle numbers decline. The economy and the drought of 2009 thinned herd counts by about 70 percent, and Hutchison said this drove the price of each remaining cow higher, making each theft even more lucrative. The current average price of an adult cow is now approximately $1,500, he said.

A rustler could be anyone looking to supplement an income, but common culprits include ranch hands stealing internally as well as drug users, Hutchison said.

“More times than not it seems like it is a drug related kind of thing. Sometimes crack cocaine,” Hutchison said. “Meth was usually the underlying drug of choice.”

A specific case that Hutchison worked involved a brother and a sister who stole an estimated 14 cows from the woman’s ex-brother-in-law while he was in Afghanistan serving as a helicopter pilot for the Army.

“That to me, just kind of brings out a whole new low to it,” Hutchison said, “when you’ve got somebody out there fighting for the country, and they’re over there ripping the guy off.”

The ranger said that an informant brought the case to the authorities eight months after the theft, and following an investigative period, the criminals were brought to justice. The sister, who was already in jail on a meth charge, received one more year in prison for the cattle theft, and the brother received probation.

Cows waiting for auction at the Lexington Livestock Commission sale barn.

University of Texas Substance Abuse Expert Jane Maxwell expressed skepticism that methamphetamine users were likely to attempt cattle theft, due to the high visibility of the crime as well as potential penalties, including a jail sentence ranging from two to 20 years and fine of $10,000.

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“If I were high on drugs, I don’t think I’d be rustling cows,” Maxwell said.

She said that after 40 years of studying drug trends nothing surprises her, but she also knows the drug scene is rampant with myth and misinformation. In her recent survey of Texas meth users at treatment centers, Maxwell found 56 percent of users had been arrested in the past year. Of these arrests, 18 percent involved theft.

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“When meth users engage in theft it’s an acquisitive crime to get money to buy Sudafed and supplies or food,” Maxwell said. “The cattle could be a big payoff — or more dangerous than shoplifting.

Meth users or otherwise, stolen cattle usually turn up sooner or later at public cattle auctions, such as the Lexington Cattle Commission. At their weekly Saturday auction, it’s market inspector Mark Nygard’s job to keep a record of all sales.

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“Our job is to inspect all of cattle that are ahead of auction,” Nygard said. “We keep a permanent record of every head of livestock sold in the state of Texas and Oklahoma.”

If something comes up missing, cattle owners can call the area supervisors to track down any recorded sales sold them and hopefully catch the thief, Nygard said. Meticulous records make cattle rustling difficult to get away with, but if the cow is not branded, tracking and returning becomes more challenging. Nygard, who also works for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said calves and yearlings are not branded as often, making them easy to successfully steal, and can still be worth around $600.

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In 2009, Texas lawmakers cracked down on cattle thefts, raising penalties to possibly include a maximum 10 years in prison for anyone who gets caught stealing. So far, the law hasn’t seemed to deter thieves, but the Texas Cattle Raisers Association will continue enforcing it until the cows come home.

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Online dating reaches college students

by Batli Joselevitz, Joshua Fechter and Katey Psencik


video by Katey Psencik

Hopepetersonblurred Imagine you’re out with friends one night and you see someone across the room that catches your eye. Do you walk up to them and strike a conversation? The fear of rejection is a natural instinct humans have and for some, online dating diminishes that fear. “There’s a silent understanding because on OkCupid you list what you want like casual dating or casual sex,” said Hope Peterson, a senior at The University of Texas at Austin. Peterson registered for OkCupid last December after some of her friends started using it. “I thought why don’t I give this a shot?” she said. “I’ve never been good at meeting people randomly. I’m a commuter student. I live in Georgetown with my parents so it’s hard to go out.” OkCupid is one of 2,500 online dating websites in the country and 5,000 in the world, according to online dating magazine. eHarmony is another internet dating site that boasts one of the highest success rates. Bily Estrada, a culinary student at The Art Institute of Austin, uses this service.Bilyestrada “eHarmony helps you start a conversation,” Estrada said. “The lack of my social life, with work and school it’s hard to maintain… I can do [online dating] on my own time. I think I’ve done enough of the fling stuff. I want to find something meaningful.” Clinical psychologist Dr. Neil Clark Warren launched eHarmony as an online tool to match men and women for long-term relationships according to the eHarmony website. “Based on data on 19,131 marriages from 2005 to 2012 by Harris Interactive, couples that met on eHarmony had significantly fewer breakups than couples who met via all other methods combined,” according to an eHarmony press release. Estrada signed up with eHarmony in early August. “I was skeptical at first because you’re paying for this [service] and not guaranteed anything, it’s like a gamble,” Estrada said. Estrada said even though results are unknown, online dating makes talking to people easier. “Going to a bar there’s girls everywhere…you don’t want to go up there and be let down,” Estrada said. He said that after being in a serious relationship for four years, he “felt like the awkward guy, I didn’t know how to act socially.”. OkCupid is a free online dating service that was acquired by Match.com in 2011. Peterson said when she registered with the service, she was skeptical because she’d heard paid services were better. “People are actually serious about it,” Peterson said. “I was kind of skeptical because I heard that with online dating sites you just get messaged by weirdos.” Estrada said he’s been on two dates that were “misses –they made it seem like an interview on the date. There was a lack of interaction. A person I went on a date with, their ex called and she was on the phone with him for 10 minutes. I was like ‘this is really weird’,” Estrada recalled. 71 percent of people who use online dating believe in love at first sight, according to statisticbrain.com. “I’m just trying to find a spark,” Estrada said. “I think there’s someone out there to make you better. That’s where that person comes in.” ijgseiorstory and graphic by Batli Joselevitz dangersofonlinedating title= by Katey Psencik easel.ly [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1r2FvzzQqQ&w=420&h=315]Video by Joshua Fechter

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Red Bud Isle Dog Park – A Heaven for Dogs in Austin

Among the fitness and nature enthusiasts along Town Lake lies a peninsula that is managed by packs of dogs who run the island as if it were their own. Red Bud Isle Park, a land-mass of some 13 acres, gives Austinites and their dogs the feel of the wild and the seclusion from the lights and noises of downtown.

Red Bud Isle is 1 of 11 off-leash parks offered to Austin’s approximately 215,000 dogs according to the City of Austin’s Park and Recreation Department. Dogs such as Skip-Bo, a Cocker Spaniel from South Austin, and Hazard, a Belgian Malinois Mix from Northwest Austin, enjoy many days at the park swimming and chasing wildlife. From a survey of 40 dogs, there were only four pairs of dogs from the same breed. The rest were a variety of different breeds represented by one dog or a mixture of breeds.Dog Area

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Shelly Satterfield, a volunteer from Friends of Red Bud Isle, an organization that maintains the park, said off-leash dog parks are necessary in urban societies because there are no acres of open land for dogs to roam nor are they able to socialize with other dogs in a natural environment. “Dogs were certainly not meant to breed on leashes. They need exercise a whole lot more than you can give them.”

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Dog GenderAccording to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) website, many dogs are lacking physical and mental activity: “Dogs’ wild relatives lead busy lives, too. Their days were full of hunting, scavenging, avoiding predators and complex social interaction. [Today] many become bored, lonely and overweight. They have excess energy and no way to expend it.”

Even though the park offers a natural escape from the lights and noises of downtown, the peninsula was created from a fatal, man-made disaster. According Dr. Bruce Hunt, a history professor at the University of Texas, the city of Austin built the Austin Dam in 1893, one of the largest dams in the world standing at 60 feet high and 1200 feet across.

The dam was meant to generate power and to supply water to the city, but seven years later, the dam broke from flood waters killing eight people. Today, pieces of the Austin Dam are still scattered in the Colorado Riverbed. “Chunks of granite and limestone from the broken dam formed the nuclei around which sediment collected just downstream of the rebuilt dam, called Tom Miller Dam, which was not built until 1940,” said Hunt.

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Although humans are outnumbered by dogs, Red Bud Isle is frequented by trail walkers, kayakers and pic-nic goers. The park, however, is not a place for commercial interests such as solicitors, professional dog training, food trailers whether for people or dogs. It is remote as remote can be in a city – there are no bathrooms either.

When visiting the park, there are city codes to abide by, but there is an unwritten code of behavior expected of all dog owners said Satterfield. “It is to control and clean up after your pet or other dogs owners will ask you to leash your dog or leave…they are the enforcers.”To no surprise of any local Austinite, parking is limited. There are only 24 parking spots within the park and maybe four possible ones along the road (Red Bud Trail) at the entrance. There are also no places further up the road on either side to park and safely walk down to the peninsula. According to Satterfied, there are no plans to add parking: “We have tried multiple times to improve the parking situation with no positive results. I believe the city is happy with limited parking for two reasons – fewer people reduces erosion and also the police can give out many more tickets.”

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But, scooping the poop is a concern to more than just the fellow visitors and walkers. According to the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department, Austin’s dogs generate over 100,000 pounds of waste per day. When not disposed of properly, the waste can cause Giardia, Roundworms, Samonella, algae, aquatic weeds and reduced oxygen for fish.

In 2011, Bull Creek Park in Northwest Austin, a former off-leash dog park, was ordered by the city to leash their dogs due to high levels of bacteria in the water caused by fecal matter. The Friends of Red Bud Isle, besides raising money for mulch and plants, promote proper waste disposal in order for the park to remain off-leash, clean and natural. “I sought out all the dog parks, then I found out about Red Bud, and it is one of the most scenic places in Austin,” said Satterfield.

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