Paso Robles sheep rancher investigated for possible animal neglect

dsneed@thetribunenews.comMarch 3, 2014 

The county Sheriff’s Office is investigating a possible animal cruelty case in which 25 sheep were found dead and dying near Nacimiento Lake.

Adam and Jennifer Weissmuller of Heritage Ranch were hiking Friday on Bluegill Drive in the River View Estates area of Heritage Ranch when they noticed a flock of dead and dying sheep on a hillside.

“What I saw still haunts me,” Adam Weissmuller said. “It was the single most horrible thing I’ve ever seen.”

The pair returned Saturday and took video of the sheep, confronting three men as they were loading the animals into a livestock trailer. They posted the video on YouTube and Facebook.

The Weissmullers notified the Sheriff’s Office and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). A deputy investigated the incident Saturday.

According to a Sheriff’s Office news release, the owner was grazing a flock of about 700 sheep on 3,000 acres as part of a fire-suppression program. The sheep had just been sheared before the weekend’s major rainstorm hit. Twenty-five of the sheep became ill and died, possibly from hypothermia.

The Sheriff’s Office has not publicly identified the owner of the sheep because he has not been charged with a crime, said spokesman Tony Cipolla. Once the investigation is complete, the findings will be turned over to the county District Attorney’s Office to determine whether there are any grounds for criminal neglect charges.

The owner was described as a 53-year veteran of raising sheep. He is cooperating with the investigation, Cipolla said.

“The Sheriff’s Office and the owner recognize that any loss of an animal is a tragic one,” he said.

Stephanie Bell, a caseworker with PETA’s cruelty investigations department, said the group will be pressing for criminal charges “if the details remain the same as they are now.” She called the case alarming.

“We certainly get a number of calls about animals in the cold or wet or without food, but typically, even on large farms, we are only dealing with a small number of animals,” she said. “To have this number of animals dying is very egregious.”

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To see graphic videos shot by Jennifer Weismuller of dead and dying sheep found on the River View Estates area of Heritage Ranch, click here: http://youtu.be/KpOqLPCaY2A

And here: http://youtu.be/uatSvhizOkY

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