Shepherd cleared of animal neglect accusations
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office released on Friday the results of its investigation into accusations of animal neglect regarding a flock of sheep in the Heritage Ranch area. After an extensive investigation and conferring with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office issued a statement saying there was no criminal intent or criminal negligence in this case.
On Feb. 28, the Sheriff’s Office began an initial investigation into the deaths of 25 sheep after residents had posted videos of alleged neglect. See original story here: Sheriff investigates report of animal neglect at Heritage Ranch.
Sheriff’s investigators reported the following steps were taken to determine the facts in this case:
- One of the important issues in this case is regarding the time of year that the sheep were sheared. Investigators interviewed the person who was hired by the owner to shear the sheep. He says this is a common practice to shear sheep during February and that he always performs his services in San Luis Obispo County during that time.
- Notified the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to inform them of this case and to request statistical data regarding the mortality rates of sheep raised in commercial agriculture operations.
- Exhumed two of the deceased sheep for a necropsy at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab operated by the University of California, Davis. Their findings indicate the two specimens appeared to be underweight, however they showed signs that food had been provided to them recently.
- Videotaped the flock and forwarded the recordings for analysis to an independent veterinarian with expertise in livestock. According to his expert opinion, the sheep owner ran a very good operation.
- Conducted an overflight of the general area using a CHP helicopter to ensure no sheep were concealed from our investigation.
- Interviewed recent buyers of sheep from the owner and they reported the sheep to be in good condition. The buyers indicated the owner had a good reputation in the sheep industry and produced high quality sheep.
- Independent experts interviewed in this investigation concur that the overall health of the herd was considered good to very good, with a few weak or undernourished animals present. Their conclusion is that the combination of high winds and excessive rain caused the unfortunate loss of a small percentage of the overall herd, of which those were most likely the weaker animals in the herd.
- Interviewed the owner of the sheep to determine his involvement. The owner is a long time member of the community with more than 50 years of experience in the sheep industry and currently maintains a flock of 6,500 sheep of which this circumstance led to the loss of 25 sheep. The owner indicated he has been shearing his sheep the second week of February for the past 53 years. The owner has fully cooperated with this investigation.
“The Sheriff’s Office recognizes that any loss of an animal is tragic,” writes Tony Cipolla, public information officer with the Sheriff’s Office. “The Sheriff’s Office further recognizes that such a loss can be very emotional to all involved,” he writes. “But our role is to be an independent finder of facts and to determine whether a crime has been committed. We can’t base our investigation on emotion.”
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