Last year was an active one for the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office concerning livestock investigations.
In addition to being home to one of the state’s largest cattle theft cases in recent memory, Moffat County was also the site of the first confirmed case of Equine Piroplasmosis in state history.
Equine Piroplasmosis is a parasitic disease that affects horses, mules, donkeys and zebras. It’s most prevalent in South and Central America, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, and causes fever,
anemia, jaundice, swollen abdomens and labored breathing in infected animals.
Equine Piroplasmosis is most commonly transmitted by ticks, but has been widely spread of late through contaminated hypodermic needles used on racehorses.
When the disease appeared in Moffat County last year, the burden of learning more fell to Gary Nichols, the sole livestock investigator with the sheriff’s office.
Nichols, 56, is a 28-year veteran with the sheriff’s office and has held the position of livestock investigator since 1999.
During his investigation, Nichols discovered Equine Piroplasmosis was introduced to the county by a trainer who had transported infected racehorses from Mexico into the U.S. without proper documentation.
Five horses were found to be carriers of the disease, but it was unclear if it had been transmitted to animals in the area.
To control the spread, Nichols told the owner he had three options: return the horses to Mexico, quarantine them for life, or euthanize.
Euthanasia was the most cost-effective option for the owner, who was facing steep fines, and the horses were put down in the spring.
“For six months we tested any horses that had come in contact with the infected animals,” Nichols said. “I am happy to say we have eradicated the disease from Moffat County.”
Later in the year, Nichols led a joint probe with the Department of Agriculture’s Brand Inspection Division of Monty Luke Pilgrim, a Little Snake River rancher charged with possessing 67 head of cattle belonging to nine area ranchers.
As a result of Nichols’ investigation, Pilgrim faces felony charges in Moffat County District Court of theft, wrongful branding and concealing strays.
Because the Pilgrim case is going through the court process, Nichols was reluctant to comment on the investigation.
“The Monty Pilgrim case took a lot of man hours,” Nichols said. “I have to give a lot of credit to Brad Ocker of the Colorado Brand Inspection Division and to the department.
“I really appreciate those guys stepping up to help me while I was working on the Pilgrim case and a big thanks goes out to the department.”
In addition to the Pilgrim and Equine Piroplasmosis investigations, Nichols said his daily routine involves cases of abuse or neglect against livestock.
In 2011, Nichols had a 100-percent conviction rate in those cases.
In recognition of his service to the cattle industry, not just in Moffat County but also around the state, Nichols received Jan. 12 the 2011 Officer of the Year Award from the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association during CCA’s Mid-Winter Conference and Banquet in Denver.
It was the second time Nichols received the annual award in the last 10 years.
He was recognized by the CCA in 2001 for his work on investigating livestock infected with foot and mouth disease.
Nichols said the award isn’t a reflection of his work alone.
“It’s a team effort all the way around,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with the current and past administrations that allows us (deputies) to follow our dreams and pursue our interests. I think that makes the office unique and very strong.”
But, his boss, Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz, disagrees with his deputy’s modesty.
“Gary has been here a long time and is very thorough in his investigative techniques and I really appreciate that quality,” Jantz said. “Livestock cases can be very obscure, but it is serious big business. People have the tendency to forget that, but Gary takes agriculture cases very seriously.
“We are very honored as an agency that one of our officers was picked.”
Nichols has an extensive livestock background that extends far beyond the 13 years he has served as a livestock investigator.
He was born in Salem, Mo., a small town in Dent County, to a family steeped in the cattle tradition.
His father, Kenny, 82, operates a small cattle business and continues to run calves and heifers.
His great uncle, Glenn Krewson, founded the first cattle auction barn in Dent County and made his living buying and selling cows raised all around the country.
When Nichols was attending high school in Salem, he became involved with the Future Farmers of America and participated in a state livestock competition in Columbia.
Nichols moved to Craig when he was 19 to work construction and helped build Craig Station.
Later, he would split his time between the construction business and working at the Seely family cattle ranch in White River National Forest.
But, Nichols knew his life’s calling was in law enforcement and decided to pursue that interest by joining the sheriff’s office in March 1984 at the age of 28.
His philosophy of the job is simple: treat people with respect and reserve opinion until all the facts are in.
“I like working with people, talking to people and helping people,” Nichols said. “I go into every case as a fact gatherer, with an open mind and to do a thorough investigation because that’s the fair thing to do for both the accused and the victim.”
His most recent recognition is a testament to those values.
“These two awards from the CCA mean more to me than any others I’ve received in my career because it comes from the people in the community that I serve,” Nichols said. “It was an honor to be recognized by the industry, my peers and the community the first time. I never imagined I would receive this award a second time.”
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