|Paws to Consider — The silence of the lambs|
|Friday, August 16, 2013 12:00 AM|
I still can’t believe they were silent. With over 160 lambs, rarely is there a shortage of “baaahs” on our farm. Often a lamb will lose sight of its mother, or become separated from friends. I even had one lamb get his head stuck in a feeder they’re not supposed to be able to get their heads stuck in. He was quite vocal, and extremely happy to be freed.
But on the morning they were murdered, the lambs were silent. So were their mothers, the dogs that killed them, even our own dogs in the house less than 50 yards away.
If this silence is supposed to be some kind of defense mechanism it’s not a very good one. One sustained “baa” or strange bark and I might have been able to save them. For me, that’s been the hardest thing to deal with.
I didn’t realize there was a problem until I headed out to do the chores. A dead ewe lying in the lot next to the barn was my first clue. I wondered if she was old Daisy. The day before was spent deworming the whole bunch of ewes and lambs, and I thought, perhaps, the stress of this was too much for her.
As I got closer, though, I saw blood on the ground, and a lamb draped across the ewe’s neck. Then I noticed two more wounded lambs in the corner by the gate. My heart began to race and my legs weaken, as I sensed what I was about to find.
Rounding the edge of the barn, I was met by another dead ewe and more dead and wounded lambs. Three dead lambs were on the concrete apron. Then I came upon what I can only describe as a shepherd’s worst nightmare- two hundred ewes and lambs trapped and piled in a corner. At that point, all I could see was ten years of hard work and hope, smothering, bloody and dead.
The two dogs, eyes wild, faces red from my sheep and panting so hard they appeared to be grinning, seemed proud of what they had done. But there was nothing to be proud of, I can assure you. Sixteen sheep died that day, eight more within the next few weeks.
Many times people have asked if I’ve ever had a problem with coyotes or dogs getting into my sheep. Until that April morning, the answer was “no”, except for one minor occurrence several years ago.
A lone Rottweiler was spotted wandering in our East pasture, which at the time was empty of sheep. Although I had her in the sights of my pellet gun, I couldn’t squeeze the trigger. She didn’t seem menacing but looked lost, like she had taken a wrong turn. So I got a leash, called who I thought was her owner, and got her home.
Experience has taught me that dog ownership is a responsibility and a privilege, not a right. As a veterinarian, I’ve often thought but rarely uttered: “If a person cannot afford to care for a dog properly, to feed it nutritious food, to take it to a veterinarian for vaccinations, heartworm testing and preventives, and to have it spayed or neutered, then please don’t have one.”
Since this incident, however, that thinking has been modified and simplified: “If you cannot keep your dog in your own yard, then please don’t have one.”
I and every other sheep farmer beg you.
Even though the dogs that killed my sheep may have escaped their yard through a hole in a fence, I happen to know that a certain percentage of owners feel their dogs can’t fully be dogs unless they are allowed to run free. I meet them every day.
If you are one of these dog owners, I wish you could have visited the night after the attack. The sheep were silent no more. Lambs cried for mothers they no longer had, and ewes for babies that ceased to exist. It was pretty sad. The damage done was substantial, not just financially, but emotionally as well.
As for the two dogs, I don’t just have a pellet gun anymore. And this time I squeezed the trigger. There was no other option.
On the four week anniversary of the massacre another stray dog made his way to our yard. “Ford” was reunited with his owners the next morning via our Facebook page. I have to tell you, a family reunion was not my first inclination when I found him. Fortunately for both of us, he proved to be a nice, friendly, harmless dog, and this behavior saved his life. After the tragedy of the month before, I’m grateful he allowed me that choice.