Long, long ago, across the river from a land where bad things frequently happened and are still happening, I was working the dog watch—12:00 midnight until 8 AM—as the sole United States Customs Service inspector at a small port on the Texas-Mexico border and a strange thing happened during a la madrugada of my eight-hour shift—a la madrugada is Spanish for the wee small hours of the morning.
At that time the midnight shift at the port consisted of three people—one Immigration officer, one Customs inspector and one civilian toll collector for outbound vehicles and pedestrians. When I say a small port, I mean really small—it had a total of one inbound lane and one outbound lane—I don’t believe they get much smaller than that!
A bit of background first—the exportation of live animals to Mexico was legal and authorized provided that certain requirements were met, requirements established by Mexico and the United States. Live animals could be exported to Mexico only if veterinary facilities existed for the examination of such animals and quarantine facilities had to be present in the event that bovine diseases were suspected. Since there were no such facilities opposite my small port, the exportation of live animals was not permitted, a hard and fast rule with no exceptions permitted.
The Immigration officer on duty was manning the entry point for incoming traffic, both pedestrian and vehicles, the toll collector was manning the toll booth and I was in the Customs office studying our fascinating Customs regulations—hey, that was a long time ago and I refuse to say that I may have been snoozing—that wasn’t allowed while on duty, regardless of how sleepy one became and regardless of the absence of incoming traffic—I have a future posting in mind on that subject.
The toll collector sent an outbound citizen, one driving a stake–bed truck with high sideboards, loaded with a half-dozen head of live cattle—bovines if you will—to the Customs office with a question. The driver wanted to know why he could not export cattle to Mexico. He said he was taking the cattle to the slaughter-house at Rio Bravo, a city some fifteen kilometers—about nine miles—into the interior of Mexico and that he had already made the requisite payoff to the Mexican officials and would lose his mordida—his cash bribe—to the Mexican officials if he was not allowed to cross before morning.
I patiently explained the law, stressing the absence of inspection and quarantine facilities on the other side and the requirements established by Mexico’s importation laws and our exportation laws. I told him that no live animals could be exported. He briefly meditated on that information, then thanked me profusely, turned his truck around and headed back into the interior of the United States. A short time later, an hour or so after the driver’s departure, the toll collector called me to come to the toll booth, saying that my attention was warranted.
And so it was—I found a truck loaded with six dead cows, animals that had been alive earlier. The driver had gone to a remote location several miles away from the port of entry, parked the truck, sliced the throats of each animal, waited patiently until most of the blood had drained from the truck and then returned to the port to legally export a half-dozen dead cows—dead as opposed to live.
Yes, I authorized the exportation—there was nothing in the Customs regulations that prohibited the exportation of dead cattle. Those dead animals, regardless of their physical condition, could not possibly contaminate cattle herds in Mexico so they posed no threat to that sovereign nation’s food supply, and given the present circumstances of this particular exportation I felt sure that the Mexican officials would allow the importation of dead cattle into their country.
Hey, before you condemn the three of us that contributed to the demise of those six head of cattle—the driver, the toll collector and I—just remember that the toll collector and I had were unwittingly involved—we were simply the victims of circumstances. Had the cattle been exported alive and frisky they would have died a few hours later anyway because crews at the slaughter house in Rio Bravo were waiting for the load, and would have done the same thing to the cattle that the driver did, perhaps using a more humane way to slaughter them, but I seriously doubt it.
I know it’s a sad story, lamentable and gross, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!