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PETA 'disappointed' that Heritage Ranch sheep owner won't face charges

A herd of sheep graze on the top of a hill at Heritage Ranch's River View Estates on March 3.
A herd of sheep graze on the top of a hill at Heritage Ranch's River View Estates on March 3. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is “quite disappointed” that criminal charges won’t be filed against a Heritage Ranch sheep owner.

The San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office announced last week it won’t be arresting the veteran rancher after a lengthy investigation that began Feb. 28.

Twenty-five sheep died after a storm, which sparked the investigation into the owner’s suspected neglect of the animals and whether they were malnourished.

“The California penal code is quite clear,” said Stephanie Bell, casework director for PETA’s Cruelty Investigations Department. “If an animal is subjected to needless suffering, that constitutes cruelty, and these animals clearly suffered unnecessarily.”

In a written statement released last week, sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said that “the combination of high winds and excessive rain” led to the death of what were “most likely the weaker animals in the herd.”

But Bell said that it’s not acceptable that weaker animals weren’t protected but were left outdoors in cold, windy and wet conditions after shearing.

Sheriff’s officials said the rancher typically sheared his sheep each year around the time some were found dead. His flock totaled about 6,500 sheep.

Bell believes the shearing — which she said is “stressful for animals under normal weather conditions” — could have been delayed based on inclement weather forecasts.

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