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Sheep savaged, killed by dogs

Andrew “Huck” Murdoch’s pasture was left strewn with tufts of wool, torn from the backs of his sheep by a marauding dog. One of the sheep was so badly mauled that it had to be put down; four sheep have been lost in a series of attacks over the past two weeks. - RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo
Andrew “Huck” Murdoch’s pasture was left strewn with tufts of wool, torn from the backs of his sheep by a marauding dog. One of the sheep was so badly mauled that it had to be put down; four sheep have been lost in a series of attacks over the past two weeks.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

Where there should have been two pairs of eyes shining in the beam of his flashlight, Andrew “Huck” Murdoch saw four.

Roused from his sleep by wild barking, Murdoch had tramped into the pasture outside his Sunrise Drive home to check the welfare of his livestock.

There he surprised a large dog with its teeth bared, savaging two of his sheep as a second dog bounded outside the fence trying to get in.

The dogs fled into the night, leaving Murdoch to tend to his injured animals – one with a torn ear, the other so badly mauled that tendon and bone were exposed – and to rue his lack of armament.

“If I hadn’t gotten rid of my shotgun a couple of years ago and had it with me the other night, I probably wouldn’t have questioned (using) it,” Murdoch said.

“The way I was feeling when I caught that dog in my pasture, I probably wouldn’t have been very considerate of the law.”

Murdoch is one of several island sheep farmers upset by recent attacks on their livestock, incidents blamed on marauding dogs.

Three of the attacks were within a mile radius in the Sunrise/North Madison area, although they were preceded by a week by an identical incident at the Ferncliff farm owned by former mayor Dwight Sutton.

Sometime during Feb. 3-4, three of four sheep Sutton was keeping for another owner were killed.

All of the carcasses showed the characteristics of an attack by dogs – gashes about the head, throat and hindquarters, with tufts of wool strewn about the grounds. One of the sheep had been disemboweled.

“The survivor escaped by running into a barn,” Sutton said. “He wouldn’t come out for two days afterward.”

A week later came the attack on Murdoch’s sheep, and a similar incident on the Colin Nash property on North Madison Avenue.

There, something so frightened Nash’s Romney sheep that they knocked down a temporary fence and fled to an upper paddock. The attacker was not seen, but evidence suggested the handiwork of one or more dogs.

“There were clumps of wool everywhere, where it had been pulled off their backs,” Nash said.

The most recent attack was last Wednesday, at the D.A.M. Ranch on Torvanger Road, a spread dubbed for the initials of owners David and Ann Morse.

The circumstances followed a familiar pattern – Ann Morse went out in the morning to find her back pasture strewn with tufts of wool.

One of her Suffolk sheep was cowering in a corner of the field, its head lodged in the wire fence where it had been caught up trying to escape its tormentor.

The sheep had bites and gashes all over its body, and a wound to its hindquarters so severe that it took a veterinarian two hours to close with stitches and staples.

The animal is likely to lose the use of one leg, and has yet to move from a corner of the barn where it is recuperating.

The Morse farm is one of a number of similar family operations in north-end neighborhoods, and includes chickens, ducks and peacocks as well as two steers.

A 350-pound ram named Quigley has dominion over the 12 sheep, but is kept in a separate pen.

The entire 10 acres is fenced, with four feet of mesh topped by strands of barbed wire. That, for Morse, makes the attack even more irksome.

“I try to keep my animals in,” she said, “and I wish (others) would try a little harder to keep theirs out.”

Sheep census

There appears to be no accurate census of island sheep owners or their flocks, but those who keep the animals tend to be close acquaintances by virtue of their shared avocation.

Word of the attacks spread quickly among the shepherding community, and several called the newspaper as well as police and animal control authorities.

“There are a lot of people with sheep, there really are,” said Annette Stollman, who keeps almost 40 sheep at Tell-A-Tale Farm on Dolphin Drive.

Some keep the animals as pets, others for meat or to sell lambs to other households. Murdoch said he and his wife kept theirs for “ambiance.”

Stollman’s Shetlands are raised primarily for their wool, although last year she sent several dozen young ones to the butcher to be made into lambchops. (A great number of lambs came along unexpectedly, when a ram thought to be neutered surprised everyone.)

The attacks represent at least a small monetary loss to owners; sheep can be had for about $50 on the island, one owner said, although it can be more depending on breed and quality.

But some owners find the timing of the attacks particularly distressing, as lambing season is at hand and fright or trauma to a ewe can cause miscarriages.

Nash said that last year on his farm, two sets of lamb triplets were lost to premature birth when the sheep were chased around the pasture by a dog that breached the fence.

Yet identifying the dog, or dogs, responsible for the most recent attacks is problematic. Of the four farmers to report incidents, only Murdoch was an eyewitness.

The dog Murdoch saw in his pasture had a collar and tag, suggesting it was household pet allowed to roam free. He believes it was a Rhodesian ridgeback – a large, short-haired breed distinctive for a stripe of upturned fur along the spine, as though someone had petted them the wrong way.

The breed was developed in South Africa, and is described in AKC literature as “a hunting dog with a strong prey drive” that will leap fences up to 6 feet high to reach quarry.

Whatever breed is responsible, Bainbridge city code clearly prohibits owners from letting their dogs run at large, in part because of the potential for attacks on people, livestock and other pets.

Roaming dogs are considered a nuisance and can be impounded; those that kill livestock or other domestic animals can be declared potentially dangerous and destroyed, and owners subject to civil penalties.

Rance McEntyre, animal control supervisor for the of the Kitsap Humane Society, said his agency is investigating the complaints.

But identifying the dog responsible can be difficult unless it is seen at large again.

“It all starts with the owners being responsible and keeping their dogs (controlled) at all times,” McEntyre said.

Sheep owners, meanwhile, remain concerned about the safety of their flocks and the sanctity of their properties.

The death toll so far is four; Murdoch’s mauled sheep was put down by a veterinarian, and he has placed his remaining animals on a property off-island for safety.

Morse now locks her animals in a barn each night, and may turn the ram loose to patrol her fields.

Quigley, she said, “will destroy anything” that gets in.

And if the dog returns to the property, Morse said she wouldn’t mind seeing it destroyed. But she’s less interested in being paid for the injured sheep than in seeing someone take responsibility for the dog’s actions, and guaranteeing it will no longer be allowed to roam free.

“I just want to know that it won’t come back,” she said.

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