Local News

Apex Residence Only Recently Overrun With Sheep

Posted March 27, 2007 12:28 p.m. EDT
Updated March 27, 2007 7:11 p.m. EDT

— Dozens of neglected sheep seized Monday from an Apex home weren't there until recently, authorities said Tuesday.

Wake County animal control officers removed 77 sheep from the property on West Moore Street after responding to a complaint about sheep running loose in a nearby cemetery. Thirty of the animals were so neglected that they had to be euthanized, officials said.

David Watts, the owner of the sheep, could face animal cruelty and other charges, Apex Police Chief Jack Lewis said.

Watts couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

Lewis and Michael Williams, director of Wake County Animal Care, Control and Adoption, said Watts usually had about 20 sheep on his property and that they were in decent health.

"The volume of animals that were there (Monday) was shocking to us," Lewis said. "The number of animals that were there was far more than anyone had seen (before)."

Numerous sheep carcasses were found on the property Monday, as were skeletal remains of other animals, said Dr. Kelli Ferris, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

The surviving animals suffered from severely infected legs and abcesses on their abdomens, which came from dragging themselves on the ground to avoid putting weight on their legs, Ferris said.

"We see this with people who profess to love their animals very much but keep them in squalid conditions," she said, calling such people "collectors, not pet owners."

Animal control officers had responded to five sheep-related complaints at the residence since June 2005 and found no problems, Williams said. The most recent visit was in December.

"Until this last visit, the gentleman was taking care of them," Williams said, defending his officers' decisions not to take any action before Monday.

"We try our best to work with the owners of animals to improve their care," he said. "We can't take someone's property unless we feel (an animal's) death is imminent."

Chatham County animal control officers on Tuesday afternoon checked a farm that Watts owns near Moncure and found about 60 sheep there, as well as some llamas and cows. All of the animals had food and water and appeared to be well cared for, authorities said, but a veterinarian was going to inspect the animals.

Watts told Wake County authorities that some of the sheep lived inside his house and on his porch. Authorities said they had never looked inside the house when responding to an animal complaint.

One neighbor said Mondaythat the smell around the residence “was so bad you couldn't sit out there most of the time, and the flies were pretty bad."

Lewis said recent warm temperatures and the sudden jump in the number of sheep probably aggravated the odor problem.

Thirty-five sheep were taken to a local farm, where there will be nursed back to health. Fifteen sheep are being watched by a rescue group. After the sheep are healthy, they may be put up for adoption.

Ferris warned against inexperienced people adopting the sheep.

"These are not pet animals. They are livestock," she said.