A New York animal sanctuary owner is facing a felony charge after officials say cows from a nearby beef farm strayed onto her property and she refused to return them to their owner.

Tracy Murphy, president and founder of Asha’s Farm Sanctuary in Newfane, a small town 38 miles north of Buffalo near Lake Ontario, was arrested Tuesday and charged with third-degree grand larceny, the New York State Police reported. 

McKee Farm owner Scott Gregson told USA TODAY that last month, two of his beef cows mysteriously escaped his pasture, which is enclosed by an electric barb-wire fence.

“I still to this day don’t know how they got out,” Gregson, 43, said Wednesday. “The fence is in good shape and the gates were all locked.”

Gregson, whose property is about a half mile from Murphy’s animal sanctuary, said he learned his livestock were on the lam after receiving a phone call from the SPCA, who told him his cows were at the sanctuary and had been there for about five days.

So Gregson, who said he did not know Murphy at the time, visited her home early last week to get his cows.

“She asked if I had proof I was the owner, then told me to get off her property because I was trespassing,” he said.

Two cows who wondered onto an upstate New York animal sanctuary were returned to farm owner Scott Gregson on August 2, 2022 after the sanctuary owner refused to return them. The owner has been charged with felony grand larceny.

A refusal, a warrant and an arrest

On July 25, Lockport troopers, the SPCA and Gregson responded to Murphy’s property to retrieve the animals, troopers wrote in a news release.

But Murphy, troopers said, refused to give them back.

A warrant was then executed for Murphy’s arrest and the cows were returned to their owner.

After she was taken into custody, troopers said, Murphy was booked into the Niagara County Jail. During a court arraignment later Tuesday, she pleaded not guilty to the felony charge.  

As of Wednesday, she remained free on bond, officials reported. If convicted of the crime, Murphy faces prison time.

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Gregson said that after the cows were returned to the farm where he lives with his wife and children, they were taken to a secure location “for their and my family’s safety.”