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Loose dogs cause trouble for West Slope ranchers

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox/Post IndependentThis yearling ewe was attacked by at least one dog on a recent morning. The ewe sustained serious injury to its muzzle and belly.
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SILT MESA, Colorado ” Third-generation rancher John Jewell accepts that not all of his 300 head of sheep will survive the night. He knows he will lose some sheep each year to coyotes, maybe one or two to a mountain lion. It’s a fact of ranching.

“This year I’ve lost four to coyotes,” he said with not so much as a blink of his eye.

He’s taken down 15 coyotes between the two ridges that bookend the northern section of his 20-acre ranch on Silt Mesa. Killing coyotes is something else he’s become accustom to as a rancher. But through the years, domestic dogs have become his greatest nuisance.

“It used to be coyotes and mountain lions,” John said. “But, now they are pretty far down the list.”

Silt Mesa is every puppy’s dream. The population of neighborhood dogs running the rural streets carefree has grown significantly in the last decade. People moving to the rural area let the dogs out to run wild, an advantage to living in a rural area.

“We understand that they aren’t out to do harm,” John said. “But they don’t know what their dogs can do to these sheep.”

In the past five months the Jewells say they have lost 12 sheep to neighborhood dogs. They can tell when it’s a dog because a coyote goes straight for the neck.

“There is only four puncture wounds on the throat when it’s a coyote,” John said.

Dogs aren’t as efficient at killing prey as wildlife and tend to do more damage.

It usually happens under the shroud of night. Georg Ann Jewell, John’s wife, went out to water the sheep Tuesday morning as the sun thawed the mesa. She found a ewe in the corner of the pen with part of it’s snout missing.

“I felt sick,” she said. “I’ve seen this kind of thing before, but this was pretty bad.”

The yearling ewe had most of it’s snout chewed from it’s face. Most times in these attacks, either the sheep are killed by the dogs or John has to put them down because they are so badly injured.

“We had one that had one of its hind legs ripped off,” Georg Ann said. “The dog ripped the whole muscle off the bone. It was awful.”

The lucky ones, like this particular ewe, are given the opportunity to recover if the Jewells think it has a chance.

“Do we put them down or try to save them? That’s the biggest decision we get to make,” John said.

Other than that, there really isn’t much the ranchers can do for their injured sheep.

They said it’s getting hard to find a large animal veterinarian in the area anymore. The Jewells administered penicillin shots to the injured sheep and put it in a closed pen in the barn to recover.

Two days after the attack the ewe was still doing “pretty good,” Georg Ann said. She gave the ewe another penicillin shot and let her out to run with the other pregnant ewes she referred to as “droppers.”

“She has a better chance of healing being around the other droppers,” Georg Ann said. “It’s a less stressful environment for the sheep. We’re just going to keep her out there and watch her to see how she’s doing.”

When asked how many dogs he’s shot through the years, John shakes his head.

“I would hate to guess,” he said.

Early January was the last time John’s had to kill a dog threatening his sheep. It was a large black lab. He doesn’t like to shoot dogs. As a matter of fact, he downright hates having to do it.

“I know what it means to shoot someone’s dog,” he said. “I don’t want to kill dogs. I don’t want to shoot them, but what am I supposed to do when they are attacking my livestock?”

Georg Ann and John blame the influx of people inhabiting the once rural area and not being familiar with the conflicts between dogs and livestock as one major cause.

“We’ve dealt with dogs killing our sheep ever since we’ve been in the sheep business,” John said. “There used to be only two houses and two dogs where now it’s more like 35 homes and 60 dogs.”

The increasing number of incidents has them considering leaving the area, altogether, for a more rural life they once knew on the Silt Mesa.

“I’d be gone already if I could,” John admitted.

But it’s hard to leave the land that has known his family since his grandfather Julius Grant homesteaded in 1883.

“It’s sad to see,” Georg Ann said. “People say that we are mad that they are moving here, but it’s that they don’t respect our property.”

The Jewells do have sheep dogs ” Akbashs and Anatolians ” in the fields to guard the flock. They did prove useful in protecting sheep from coyotes and mountain lions, but not so much with other dogs, John said.

And there’s not much the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office can do to alleviate the situation, either. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Tanny McGinnis said the law allows ranchers to shoot dogs if livestock is being threatened. But there is no law that will keep the dogs off the Jewells’ property.

“All my sheep were where they were supposed to be. It wasn’t my sheep that was trespassing,” John said. “If my sheep were the one in the neighbor’s garden, tearing up their flowers or something, I would understand if they killed it. But that’s not the situation.”

Too many loose dogs are the problem for the Jewells.

“People need to watch their animals,” Georg Ann said. “They are not going to stay home when you are gone.”


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