The situation in Northern Meadows seems strange enough to be part of one of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons.

Cows have shown up numerous times as unwanted dinner guests in the large subdivision west of the Unser/King intersection in Rio Rancho.

Mike Lizzi, president of the board of directors for Northern Meadows Property Owners Association, said dealing with the big animals has been an ongoing issue for homeowners in the area, which is near King Ranch, for more than a decade.

“I’ve woken up at 2 a.m. with seven cows in my front grass,” he said. “Once they get in the neighborhood, they just go wherever they want to. It’s a crazy sight to see.”

It’s the same group of roving cattle that come in to the neighborhood, Lizzi said, and the estimated property damage to the neighborhood is in the tens of thousands of dollars.

But Lizzi doesn’t blame the cows, he said.

With the lack of good forage and moisture from the drought, it’s little wonder they come to Northern Meadows for the smorgasbord of urban forage, he said.

“Cows are no dummies. They come into the neighborhood where they can eat grass,” he said. “If King Ranch could provide water, in addition to the watering hole, and better feed, it would keep them from coming.”

He also said the neighborhood has excellent perimeter fences, but the animals still find their way in somehow.

“Nobody knows quite where they come from,” he said.

It’s fences, really, that are the heart of the problem, though.

Jamid Shupe, who manages the cattle for King Ranch, suggested that he and his crew supply the labor to repair the fences around the land they lease to graze the cattle if the homeowners would pay for materials, according to Lizzi.

That’s not something the property owners’ association is interested in, though.

“We’re not going to be able to do that,” he said.

The suggestion was part of the conversation at an April 10 meeting of homeowners, ranch representatives and City of Rio Rancho employees to try to work through the issue.

They didn’t come to a resolution, Lizzi said.

Now Lizzi and others are calling on the New Mexico Livestock Board — which identifies the brands on the cattle — and Rio Rancho police to put pressure on King Ranch. Shupe has been cited by police several times for allowing livestock to roam in the city.

But it isn’t entirely clear that Shupe actually broke the law.

New Mexico is what’s known as a “fence out” state. That means it’s not the livestock owner’s responsibility to keep his or her fences in good repair. Instead, property owners who want to keep livestock off their land must put up and maintain their own fences.

Yet Shupe has been cited at least three times when cattle he is responsible for were found roaming the city streets.

Shupe declined to comment, other than to say it’s a legal matter and he plans to consult with a lawyer.

What is clear, according to Lydia Encinias, the community manager for Northern Meadows, is that the need for a solution is pressing.

“I never realized how destructive cows were,” she said. “Homeowners are diligent about making sure their grass looks good, but you can’t really control cows. You can’t reason with them.”