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Sheep killed by loose dogs

by Linda Hiller

It’s hard to believe, but Bruce Davis didn’t hear a thing in the middle of the night Sunday, when more than one dozen of his lambs were being slaughtered by what both he and animal control experts believe were most likely two or more domestic dogs.

If he had heard something that night, the outcome might have been much different, he said.

“You know what I would have done,” Davis said. “I had it happen once before, years ago, in California, and I shot the two dogs as they were doing the killing. In all, they had killed nine ewes, and they were pregnant, too.”

Davis, a 30-year Nevada resident, awoke early Monday morning to a scene he said he’ll not soon forget.

“It looked like a slaughter house,” he said. “There were dead and dying sheep all over the pen, pools of blood in the culvert – it was a helluva mess – and they’re 100 feet from my house.”

Davis, 51, owns what he calls a “small time hobby ranch,” 10 acres south of Winhaven on Frieda Lane, and said he hadn’t seen any stray or wandering dogs in the area since building his house there last year. Most of the dead lambs had just been purchased from a rancher in Yerington for $100 a head.

By sundown, 15 lambs were dead, representing a loss of $1,500 to the house-building contractor.

– Investigation begins. Monday morning, Davis called Douglas County Animal Control to report the attack, and officer Val Nenzel came to investigate. There, she discovered many large dog tracks and the most likely point of entry for the predators in what Davis had previously considered a safe enclosure for his 40 lambs.

“There was no water in the irrigation ditch, and from tracks, I think the dogs came in through the culvert,” Nenzel said.

The sheep pen is completely enclosed, Davis pointed out, and there is usually water running through the ditch that bisects the night enclosure for the lambs, but now the culvert will have to be dealt with as a potential entry point. Davis said he’d be covering the opening with wire fencing.

Davis, Nenzel and other animal control specialists agreed that the way the lambs were attacked ruled out a coyote or other wild predator that kills to eat.

“This was not for food, this was for sport,” Davis said. “All the lambs were bit in the throat, and that’s not what coyotes do. These dogs didn’t kill to eat, they were having fun.”

“I agree,” Nenzel said. “This was purely for sport. A coyote would have taken one off to eat, but these were all just bit in the neck and left to die.”

Nenzel set a large live trap in case the killers decided to return Monday night or any other night. She baited it with dog food.

“What else?” she said. “They’re dogs.”

– Hard to convict. If a dog or dogs are caught in the trap on Davis’s property, it won’t be enough to convict the owners, according to Douglas County Animal Control Supervisor Rhonda Moore.

“If a dog is trapped, they’ll be cited for being at large, but we can’t cite them for Sunday’s killings. We can’t prove that. But if they’re in with the sheep a second time, we can cite them for that,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong. We would love to prosecute – we want to recoup the owner’s losses, too – but legally, we can’t prosecute without an eyewitness.”

Davis said he would not sleep well for the next several nights, even though- after blocking off the culvert entrance- he felt the sheep would be safe in the same pen that was a scene of mayhem the night before.

All his life, he said, he has raised lambs for food and for sale. Although he has killed lambs to eat many times, he said he doesn’t particularly like that act and still cares about the sheep he raises.

“I do like to eat them, but I don’t like to see them suffer,” he said. “This is such a waste. Even the ones that I’ll have to put down so they don’t suffer any more – you can’t eat them because they’re in shock and probably have fever. It just isn’t right.”

As he spoke, looking over five severely injured lambs he’d put in a separate pen with the hopes that they might recover, several other lambs, some with blood matted on their wooly necks, crowded together in a small pen as the afternoon heat caused them to pant.

“I’m keeping my eye on these guys,” Davis said. “They’re a little spooked. Some of them have bites, but look to be OK. The blood hasn’t gone into their lungs, so they might make it.”

– What can be done. Moore said her officers will step up patrols in the area of Davis’s ranch, but the odds of convicting the perpetrators of this slaughter, she said, are slim unless someone comes forward voluntarily.

“Even if someone’s dogs come home bloody, we can’t prove they did it – we can’t give them a lie detector test,” she said. “And there’s always the chance that the owners won’t even know what happened. Maybe there’s a hole in the fence and the dogs came home and cleaned themselves up. For people who think it’s a good idea to let their dogs run at night, they need to know that it is a violation of our at-large law to do that. People need to be responsible and keep their dogs in their yard.”

Douglas County does not have a leash law per se, she said. Instead, the “dogs at large” law states that it is unlawful for them to run loose unsupervised. Owners walking dogs off a leash must have complete verbal control over the animal to be within the law.

– Livestock owner’s rights. If Davis had witnessed the dogs in the act of attacking his sheep Sunday night, he would have been within legal rights to have shot them, Nenzel said.

“Nevada is a livestock state,” Moore said. “Even if a dog is worrying the livestock, standing at the fence and getting them worked up – some animals can drop dead of a heart attack – the livestock owner is within his rights to shoot. We don’t like to encourage any killing, but those ranchers and their livestock deserve protection.”

This also applies to any dog that is on your property and threatening people, she said.

“But just because a dog is on your property, you can’t just shoot it,” she said. “We get people who think that is the case in Douglas County, but it’s not.”

Moore said anyone who sees a stray dog in their neighborhood should call and report it to animal control. Even the most docile dog, when it gets with another dog or dogs, can trigger into a pack mood and do what its wild ancestors do – kill together, she cautioned.

“Call us, that’s what were here for,” she said. No similar incidents have occurred recently, she added.

“We’re really kind of surprised,” she said. “We haven’t had any calls in this area so we don’t have any suspects.”

– Getting ‘dumb’ with them. Davis said his experience raising lambs has been more than just raising food for his family.

“Sheep are sheep, and they’re not real smart, I know, but sometimes I like to come out here and ‘just get dumb with the lambs,'” he said. “A hot air balloon landed nearby recently, and I was out there with the lambs. People from Winhaven came over to see the balloon, but pretty soon they became more interested in the lambs and me and stopped looking at the balloon. It was pretty neat. Losing them like this just makes me sick.”

Southwest of Davis’s ranch, on Bruce Park’s ranch near the old Dangberg Home Ranch, foreman Danny Nalder said two lambs were also killed Sunday night. One had a bite mark in the neck and the other was partially eaten in a fashion that feline predators – cougar or bobcat – might have done, he speculated, but no tracks were found.

Anyone with information concerning either of the killings can call animal control at 782-9061.