Despite the code of honour in the cow business, there s no shortage of rustlers and fraudsters or cases for corporals David Heaslip and Chris Reister to investigate.
The two Mounties have a unique job in the RCMP s Alberta operations: They re full-time members of Livestock Inspection Services (LIS). Both love the cattle business but wish they weren t quite so busy.
I quite enjoy working for LIS and its livestock inspectors, said Reister, who covers the southern part of the province.
It s very busy, it s very demanding, especially with the increase in the price of cattle comes with thefts and frauds and all sorts of other things. We investigate several million dollars-worth of theft and frauds every year, and we provide support not only to LIS and the brand inspectors, we also act as a liaison and support for the local RCMP members as it relates to livestock.
Just because the two Mounties cowboy up for the job, trading in their regular uniform for Wranglers and boots, doesn t make the police work any less complex or demanding.
In addition to criminal code work, the pair deals with stray animal identification, and the Livestock Identification and Commerce Act. They also work with Alberta Rural Development and deal with other provincial statutes such as the Line Fence Act, Animal Keepers Act, Health of Animals Act, Stray Animals Act and the Animal Welfare Act.
We kind of all work together in the industry and support each other, Reister said. The biggest portion of our job would be the criminal code stuff within the livestock industry, the frauds and the thefts.
Both men demonstrate a deep caring for the work they do.
I was born and raised on a mixed farm in eastern Alberta and participated in 4-H and rodeo and all that other stuff, said Reister, who covers the southern part of the province.
Neglect cases difficult
Heaslip, who covers the northern part of the province, has served with the RCMP for 40 years, mostly in Alberta, and has eight under his belt as a livestock inspector. He says the animal-neglect cases are among the hardest.
It is heartbreaking, said Heaslip. I look at it and it s not a question of whether I have to feed mine or not, but gee whiz, I feed mine and stuff, why don t you feed yours? You look at people who do that and we ve discussed this before with regard to people but is it laziness? Is it a lack of understanding? Or do they have a mental problem like hoarders on TV, like those people who have 100 cats in a house? Each situation is different.
The duo sometimes works together on larger cases, even bringing their horses with them to round up cattle and horses that have been seized because of neglect, or mistreatment. Some investigations can take years to conclude.
When you leave at the end of the day your job is never really finished, said Heaslip. Our investigations, a lot of people watch TV and they figure they ve got to be done in 48 minutes with four commercial breaks. But they take time.
Spikes and dips in cattle prices can spell busier times for Heaslip and Reister. When prices rise, so does the temptation for rustlers. When they fall, fraud increases as desperate producers make rash judgment calls in an effort to hang on.
Sometimes they overstep their financial obligations and they can t meet those obligations and they get in over their head and they start doing things a little bit sideways and that s where we come in, Heaslip said.
Fraud often involves theft by conversion.
For example, if an individual has financed cattle, the lending institution will usually have a security interest in the cattle so they would technically and legally own the cattle until they re paid for, said Reister. Then that person would turn around and sell the cattle that don t belong to them, so that would be essentially a theft or a fraud.
LIS brand inspectors, who number nearly 100, catch many of those situations before they happen, he noted.
They do redirect a lot of funds. I don t think people or the industry itself recognizes how much they do.
The investigators and LIS as a whole are very involved in the livestock identification industry, and attend the annual convention of the International Livestock Identification Association, and are also members of the Western States Livestock Investigators Association. Brand inspectors in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan all work closely with their counterparts in the U.S., an inevitable and interesting part of the job as a result of the international cattle trade.
We work with a large number of the cattle-producing states and we encounter the same problems, said Heaslip, adding there are 34 Texas Rangers who work as livestock investigators in that state alone.
We have our frauds and our thefts, and we have our animals in distress and it s kind of nice to tell it how it is to your comrade over the border.