Sheriff's Office runs menagerie

Video: Animals in distress find comfort, care in one-of-a-kind ranch

By Sheila G. Miller / The Bulletin

It's a full house at the Deschutes County Sheriff's animal rescue right now.

While the Sheriff's Office often has an array of animals in its care, — some seized for neglect or abuse, others found wandering — last month the rescue got an influx that is keeping their keeper very, very busy.

Les Hamilton manages the ranch on the outskirts of Bend for the Sheriff's Office.

“Sometimes it's a chore, but it's always a pleasure,” Hamilton said.

In total, the Sheriff's Office has in its possession 89 sheep, three overweight donkeys (one miniature), five horses, two goats, one pig, three roosters and a hen. The pig was a stray, found wandering in Deschutes River Woods.

The hen and roosters were abandoned in La Pine. All of the horses were seized for neglect and are up for adoption.

But the bulk of the animals — the 89 sheep and three donkeys — were seized by the Sheriff's Office on Sept. 22 at a ranch in Terrebonne.

The owner, 60-year-old Tim Williams, faces 17 counts of first-degree animal neglect and 92 counts of second-degree animal neglect, after Sheriff's Office employees went to his property on Odem Avenue on a report of a foul odor and dead sheep. Deputies found more than 20 decomposing sheep carcasses, some buried in shallow pits and others lying above ground. The 89 sheep and three donkeys were determined not to be adequately cared for, and seized.

After the sheep were taken, most were sheared, given medicines and their hooves trimmed. Hamilton said some had leg injuries, others had maggots, and all were covered with ticks. Cpl. Neil Mackey, who oversees the rescue, hauled off more than 940 pounds of wool. Hamilton said some of the sheep hadn't been sheared in five to seven years and could hardly fit through the chutes.

Hamilton expects that, if Williams either relinquishes his rights to the animals or is found guilty of animal neglect, the donkeys will be adopted out and the sheep will likely be sold to a stock handler. The Sheriff's Office charges no adoption fee.

On Thursday, it was time to tend to the donkeys' hooves, which were so overgrown they were curling.

Cole, a veterinarian, and her husband, farrier Ed Barnes, arrived Thursday morning to work on the hooves. Cole expects the sheep to be in great shape now that they've been treated.

But the donkeys were, she said, “quite bad. Their feet are horrible. It's been years since they were tended to. This is not just missing a trim or two.”

After Barnes got his hands on them, she said, they'd be back to normal in one sitting.

First up for hoof-trimming was Dominica, before Lil Sebastian and Nestor took their turns (Full disclosure: This reporter was given the honor of naming the donkeys).

Cole is pleased with the work the Sheriff's Office has done to deal with neglected animals.

“The county has done an excellent job of putting teeth in the law,” she said.

Barnes said that when he deals with such overgrown hooves, he usually takes a grinder or a Milwaukee Sawz-all to grind down and cut off the excess.

“When they're on wet irrigation pastures, there's nothing to wear their feet down,” he said.

The donkeys were sedated before Barnes went to work, holding the hooves between his knees, shaving off more than 4 inches of overgrown hoof and cleaning out thrush, a bacterial infection.

When the rescue is filled with dozens of animals, like it is now, Hamilton estimated it can go through up to a ton of hay each day.

On Thursday, Mackey drove a tractor into the sheep's pens with 450 pounds of baled hay. The sheep approached, then ran away, and eventually returned to get their breakfast.

The Sheriff's Office has operated the ranch for about 31⁄2 years, in part because of a case in 2002, when Sheriff's Office employees discovered 128 neglected horses, half of them pregnant mares, on a ranch in Brothers.

Mackey said his department struggled to deal with that many injured, sick and hungry horses east of town. Law enforcement moved the horses to the Redmond Fair & Expo Center, but decided they needed a better plan, and eventually opened the ranch.

Mackey believes the county facility is the only one like it in 10 Western states.

He's proud of his team's work. For example, Mackey pointed to Marlin, a horse so skinny when it was seized its ribs and hips were visible. In 60 days, the horse had gained 150 pounds. But though there are often happy endings — healthy animals getting adopted out to responsible owners — there is also the know-ledge that the ranch is unlikely to ever be completely empty. Mackey said it sometimes gets worse in the fall. Some owners who have relied on green pasture to feed their animals in summer will abandon their animals, or simply don't feed them enough hay.

The donkeys and sheep are just the latest tenants. Mackey knows there will be more.

“It's not a question of if,” he said, “but a question of when we get more animals.”