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Dogs Left Behind by Illegal Marijuana Farmers Terrorize Rural Town in Riverside County

Marijuana plants found by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department at an illegal marijuana farm in Anza.
Madison Aument
Marijuana plants found by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department at an illegal marijuana farm in Anza.

HOST:  In a small rural town in Riverside County… there’s an unexpected predator…packs of stray dogs. In recent months, the dogs have killed dozens of livestock and terrorized many people. Authorities say illegal marijuana farms are to blame. KVCR’s Madison Aument reports.

MADISON AUMENT: Just off the one winding highway that leads to Anza…is Sage Mountain Farms.

(SOUNDBITE OF COWS MOOING)

PHIL NOBLE: People call it God's country. It's beautiful up here.

AUMENT: Phil Noble owns the farm. He's tall and burly. His face is red from working in the heat.

NOBLE: We grow tomatoes, potatoes, beets, carrots… and then we run cattle, we raise pigs, chickens and lambs.

AUMENT: Noble also built a business breeding calves to sell for beef. It was going well until about two years ago. Then dogs started hopping his pasture fences. The first time, neighbors scared off the pack with a warning shot. After that, Noble and his calves weren’t so lucky.

NOBLE: They were mutilated and it was horrific. The dogs just tore them up and left them alive to die.

AUMENT: Noble says in the last two years, the dogs have killed 15 calves. What happened to Noble is not an isolated incident. In fact, the wild packs of dogs are the talk of Anza. At the feed store, the gas station, the coffee shop…it seems like everyone has a story to tell.

ADRIENNE HOCHEE: We heard the llamas screaming and saw the dogs attacking llamas.

MIKE JORDAN: They were bloodthirsty. That was seven sheep I lost in just a short period of time to these dogs.

AUMENT: That’s Adrienne Hochee and Mike Jordan, who both used to raise animals as a hobby before the dogs got them. The prevailing theory is the packs of dogs come from illegal marijuana farms in Anza.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIKING)

AUMENT: Hiking up a steep rocky hill, James Roy, who’s with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, points out pot plants growing under the brush.

JAMES ROY: You can see these plants are not budding yet.

AUMENT: This is an illegal pot farm and Roy says there are hundreds more in the area. Roy says the growers are tied to Asian and South American cartels and sell the pot on the east coast. He says they bring in big dogs, like German and Belgian Shepherds, to protect the farms. The big swaths of land often bump up against horse and hiking trails.

ROY: We've had people you know, bitten, chased. So there's a lot of things that come with illegal grows, that goes far beyond just the illegal marijuana.

AUMENT: Roy says another problem is the dogs have puppies…

ROY: And then we get an overpopulation of wild dogs.

AUMENT: And he says farmers often abandon the dogs after the growing season ends. Roy estimates he and his officers called riverside county animal services to pick up more than a hundred dogs just last year. But he says Animal Services doesn’t have the capacity…

ROY: It's definitely a challenge because there's so many of them.

AUMENT: Riverside County Animal Services would not answer questions. They emailed a statement saying they have one full-time officer assigned to Anza. A local non-profit animal rescue group has tried to fill in…and takes many of the puppies. To the point that some pot farmers now call them when they have new litters. Some shelters in northern california’s so-called emerald triangle…are also inundated with hundreds of dogs from illegal pot farms there.

(SOUNDBITE OF COWS BEING FED)

AUMENT: It’s lunch time for the cows, the ones that are left, at Sage Mountain Farm. Noble throws out handfuls of barley. He still runs beef cattle but has given up breeding calves because they’re too vulnerable. He says it’s a shame to lose the tens of thousands of dollars he’s invested in it.

NOBLE: All those years of planning and, you know, getting the right mama cows, the right bull.

AUMENT: Attacks on livestock in Anza have gone down recently. The town’s facebook page still buzzes with dog pack sightings. People say they’ve become more vigilant. They've built higher fences and shut their farm animals inside at night. Noble says as much as it pains him, if the dogs come back, he’ll shoot them.

NOBLE: An old rancher rule is if you ever put a dog down don't tell nobody cause people don’t understand.

AUMENT: Though, many people in Anza may because they say they have the same plan. For KVCR News, I’m Madison Aument in Anza.