Wayfaring buffaloes in middle of bitter tug-of-war | TheUnion.com

Wayfaring buffaloes in middle of bitter tug-of-war

While an errant buffalo cow and calf have returned to their home in the Alta Sierra area, their fate remains murky.

The buffaloes had been missing for 10 days before wind and rain brought them back to owner Gary Dugger’s property on Dog Bar Road Oct. 13. The two buffalo had escaped from their enclosure a few weeks after the cow’s mate died.

During their 10-day walkabout, one woman made it her mission to bring them home safely. Kathy Labelle, who said she had been helping to care for the animals for the last 41⁄2 months, said she was not giving up on mama Napini and baby Minko.

Now, Labelle and Dugger are publicly feuding over the ownership of the bison.

On Saturday, Nevada County sheriff’s deputies were called to Dugger’s property to mediate a dispute between Dugger and Labelle.

Labelle, who has a document signed by Dugger giving the buffaloes to her, said she e-mailed him to tell him she was taking the animals Saturday afternoon.

Labelle had found a hobby buffalo ranch in Placer County with a herd of 27 buffaloes that had agreed to take the pair, she said. The 2,000-acre ranch is in a land conservation trust, and 345 acres of that is fenced for buffalo, she added.

But when Labelle and her husband, Robert, drove up to Dugger’s property to take the bison, they found a truck from the custom butchery Bear River Ranch on site, they said.

“Gary had hired a slaughterer,” said Robert Labelle, Kathy’s husband. “They were ready to shoot them.”

The man driving the slaughter truck told the Labelles they could have the buffaloes for $4,000, Labelle said.

Dugger could not be reached for comment.

Bill Gonzalez, who owns Bear River Ranch and said he was at the scene, had a different version of events.

“I’m not here to kill them,” Gonzalez said. “I’m here to support Gary.”

Dugger called Gonzalez after the Labelles showed up, Gonzalez said, adding, “I would only shoot (the buffaloes) if they were a threat to the public.”

Glenn Dugger, Gary’s brother, said he was planning on asking the advice of their tribe, the Choctaw Nation. The Duggers said the document giving the buffaloes to Labelle was no longer valid.

“She’s trying to take my brother’s buffalo from him,” Glenn Dugger said.

The sheriff’s deputies on the scene advised both parties it was a civil matter and warned them not to take any action.

Labelle had offered Dugger $1,100 for the buffaloes, but to no avail, and she was pursuing all possible legal avenues to claim ownership of the animals, she said. In addition, she was planning on pursuing animal neglect charges in the death of the male buffalo, she said.

Labelle was meeting with several lawyers and volunteers Tuesday night to outline a plan of action, and is working with Sammie’s Friends to start a fund to buy the buffaloes from Dugger.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail lkellar@theunion.com or call 477-4229.

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