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Mo. lawmaker convicted in escape of cattle

Chris Blank, Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A western Missouri lawmaker was found guilty by a judge of a misdemeanor animal abuse charge after his cattle escaped last year.

Sentencing is scheduled for next month, and state Rep. Warren Love could face up to one year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Love, a Republican from Osceola, runs an operation of about 50 animals. He said animals look for gaps in fences even when the grass is good and Missouri had been facing drought at the time his cows escaped. He said he is "disappointed but really not surprised."

St. Clair County Prosecuting Attorney Joleene Simmons wrote in court documents that on or around Aug. 19, 2012, Love "had cattle in his custody and knowingly failed to provide adequate control of the animal(s)."

Love, 63, said calves got past an electric fence into a nearby field. The following morning, he discovered several cows and calves crossed into the field because a tree had fallen over the fence. The herd was moved to another pasture, and Love said he let the animals access another piece of land with good pond water. Love said the animals walked a quarter-mile through brush and got into the neighbor's field.

At that point, Love said he moved the cattle about a mile to a leased pasture where they stayed for about a week until Aug. 19, 2012. He said the animals were out briefly and that he then put them into a closed-in pasture for the summer.

Love was elected to the Missouri House in November 2012. His district covers St. Clair and Hickory counties and part of Cedar and Benton counties.

In September, he joined fellow lawmakers in overriding Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of an agriculture bill that included changes to Missouri's animal abuse and neglect law. There were enough votes to override the veto without Love's vote, and the Missouri Cattlemen's Association supported the override effort.

Previously, animal owners could be charged with abuse for knowingly failing to provide adequate care or control. Under the legislation, animal abuse now will be limited to instances of failing to provide adequate care resulting in substantial harm to the animal. Owners who lose control of animals for at least 12 hours can be charged with the new offense of animal trespass. The first violation is an infraction.

Love has said he did not prompt the legislation and that he never would have considered trying to change the law on his own. He says other ranchers have faced similar situations.

Because Love was charged before the new law took effect, the changes made by the Legislature do not apply in his case.