NEWFANE, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office is putting farmers on alert of a group of people allegedly going around and doing surveillance of local farms and animals.

Niagara County legislator Shawn Foti says this is an example of “vegan extremism,” with animal activists taking it too far and looking to possibly steal animals from local farms.

The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office sent out an alert Tuesday to farmers on this.

Law enforcement says people associated with these movements usually drive up to local farms and try to conduct surveillance to get information about the livestock, and possibly take the animals.

On Saturday, a ‘Right to Rescue Summit’ was held in the City of Tonawanda. Information about the meeting was posted on social media to encourage people to rescue animals, and the Sheriff’s Office says the group who ran the meeting is recruiting people to do this.

Over the weekend, deputies say two farms in the Newfane area reported suspicious activity.

Legislator Shawn Foti, a Republican, represents Newfane and says there’s more to the story.

“I don’t think it was these specific farms in general that they were targeting, this all stems back from the issue that happened last year in Newfane with the alleged theft of the cows,” Foti said.

Foti is referring to the criminal case against the owner of an animal sanctuary who was charged last summer with grand larceny and is accused of stealing another farm’s cows.

Tracy Murphy of Asha’s Farm Sanctuary initially refused to give the cows back, but they were eventually returned to the owner. That case has led to protests on both sides, as her court case continues to play out. Murphy’s felony has been reduced to a misdemeanor and there’s a gag order in the case.

“I believe vegan extremism is when these folks with their ideology of being vegan or animal rights takes it to the next level of committing crimes and harassing our farmers,” Foti said, “People are allowed to have their First Amendment right to free speech and to advocate for these animals but some are taking it too far and they admit to actually taking it into the illegal realm.”

The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office says it will stay on top of this issue and any suspicious activity along these lines should be reported to police.

Additionally, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office says it is investigating a report of a stolen horse in West Falls. The ECSO provided no additional information.

Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.