After conducting an extensive investigation, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office has concluded that a sheep owner in Heritage Ranch suspected of animal neglect wasn’t criminally negligent in caring for his herd.
The Sheriff's Office’s investigation included a necropsy of two deceased sheep of the 25 in the herd that died.
They also conducted a flyover of the property to look for concealed animals, interviewed recent buyers of his sheep and consulted with independent experts.
“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,” sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said in a written statement.
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The investigation began Feb. 28 after authorities were alerted to animals that were suspected of being malnourished and neglected.
Adam and Jennifer Weissmuller of Heritage Ranch were outraged after discovering a flock of dead or dying sheep on a hillside while hiking on Bluegill Drive in the River View Estates area of Heritage Ranch near Nacimiento Lake.
Adam Weissmuller said the image was haunting, and the couple returned to post YouTube and Facebook videos of the sheep, and confronted three men as they loaded animals into a livestock trailer.
The Weissmullers notified the Sheriff’s Office and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, as well as the media, which widely covered the story.
“The Sheriff’s Office recognizes that any loss of an animal is tragic,” Cipolla wrote. “The Sheriff’s Office further recognizes that such a loss can be very emotional to all involved. 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.”
After exhuming two dead animals for the necropsy — which is an autopsy performed on an animal — the findings showed the animals appeared underweight but had recently been fed.
Cipolla noted that buyers said the owner had a good reputation in the sheep industry and produced high-quality sheep.
Independent evaluators also determined that the health of the overall herd was considered good to very good with some weaker, malnourished animals in the group that represented the minority.
“The owner is a longtime 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,” Cipolla said.
The Weismullers and a PETA representative could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Cipolla said the sheep owner fully cooperated with the investigation and said he has sheared his flock in the second week of February for 53 years. The animals were found sheared.
The Sheriff's Office also took into consideration mortality rates of sheep raised in commercial agriculture operations, requesting information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture.