EUREKA (KPIX) — With a constant stream of strays, the Humboldt County Animal Shelter is loud, busy and almost always near capacity. Like most things in this part of California, you can trace it right back to the region’s green rush.
“The people that come to our community — even just the traveling ‘trimmers’ — almost all of them bring dogs with them,” says shelter manager Andrea Hale.
The problem, however, is hardly confined to the pound.
Wes Moore looks out over land he’s been working his entire life. “It’s actually been in the family since 1865,” he says.
While there has always been marijuana in these hills, the explosion of growers coming from outside the county has born a new pack of problems.
“Probably 75 percent of them take their dogs when they leave for the season,” Moore says, “but some of them turn the dog loose and it has to fend for itself.”
They are dogs turned loose by the seasonal flood of so-called “trimmigrants” or dogs that simply wandered away from their guard duties at pot farms. Either way, those dogs are taking a lethal toll on the region’s livestock.
“They chew their ears off, blind ’em by eating their face, they’ll chew their udders off, tear their stomachs open,” says Moore, who has lost several cows to the roaming dogs.
It’s not just the livestock that must be killed or put down because of injury. The surviving cattle are often traumatized or underweight. That means ranchers take a hit at the auction and struggle to manage cows that become terrified of their herd dogs. As Moore explains, “it’s a bad situation and we don’t have a lot of choices.”
The problem is now just part of the seasons in the Emerald Triangle. The sunny months give way to winter and ranchers find themselves chasing the ghosts of last year’s grow, the countless dogs are left to roam the hills, tearing apart livestock across a range that makes them almost impossible to catch.
“They’ll operate in packs, and that’s one of the issues we have, when they operate in packs they can do more damage,” says Sheriff Mike Downey, who has one livestock deputy for some four thousand square miles of county. “Not only do we have livestock issues, we have wildlife being run down as well.”
Once the next growing season arrives, so will a new wave of dogs.
The pound, which works around the clock to find homes for abandoned dogs, is mostly stocked with pit bulls and pit mixes, some of which weigh as much as 150 pounds. A pit adoption network and the continual demand for pits as guard dogs helps keep the shelter’s kill rate low considering the number of dogs that come though.
The dogs, however, are really just one piece of the collateral damage. Land, water, livestock, and wildlife have all suffered from the marijuana growers who don’t play by the rules and don’t care who has to pay for the consequences.
“It’s people that come up here to make a lot of money,” says Wes Moore, “and the people that live here are left with the aftermath.”