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New Times / News

The following article was posted on March 5th, 2014, in the New Times - Volume 28, Issue 32 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [] - Volume 28, Issue 32

Dead sheep found during Storm Titan spur an unfolding controversy



Adam Weissmuller, seen here, recently found numerous sick sheep on the ground near the Heritage Ranch community west of Paso Robles. The animals were part of a herd in the area that went into a canyon during the storm on Feb. 28. There, 25 died.

Watch the cell phone videos of the Weissmullers' discovery.

On Feb. 28, after the first night of heavy rainfall brought by Storm Titan, Adam Weissmuller and his old dog Max went for a walk. What they saw—and later captured on cell phone video and posted online—has created a new storm of controversy on the web.

Adam Weissmuller and his wife, Jennifer, who live in Heritage Ranch—a sprawling gated community between Paso Robles and Nacimiento Lake, surrounded by 5,100 acres of open space—found a group of sheep that had been separated from their flock and fell ill, with some already dead. The sheep were part of a 700-head herd there as part of an agreement between a local shepherd, who used the land to graze, and the Heritage Ranch Home Owners Association (HOA), who used the sheep for fire suppression.

Upon seeing the sick and dying sheep, Jennifer began taking cell phone video. She captured individual animals and pairs huddled against shrubbery, some lying down in the mud. Adam can be seen taking off his jacket and placing it on a sheep lying on the ground.

“That will save that one’s life,” he says, choking back tears.

The couple continued sloshing through the mud, and the clip runs for another minute or so.

“It was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Adam later told New Times.

He notified the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The next morning, the Weissmullers took another video as the shepherd and a few other men came to load the sheep into a livestock trailer. The couple posted the videos on YouTube, where they began to spread.

Since then, the sheriff’s office has launched an investigation to determine whether criminal neglect had a part in the sheep’s condition. While unable to comment on the case because the investigation is ongoing, Commander Jim Taylor told New Times that in a case like this, investigators will typically go out and assess the health of other animals kept by the rancher, and possibly consult livestock experts if necessary. The case is being investigated by the county’s Rural Crimes Taskforce, which specializes in agricultural-related crimes. And, because of how the situation progressed in the days after the incident, it’s been bumped up the chain of command for high-ranking supervision.

According to the department, 25 sheep were found dead in a canyon that’s part of a green belt surrounding the community. The shepherd, a well-known member of the livestock industry in North County, has 8,500 sheep, which graze in various locations. It’s common for shepherds to lease land and hold agreements with landowners to graze. Details about the sheep who fell ill and died are still vague—New Times spoke with a few people in the industry, and got mixed reviews based on the online videos. Whether the sheep were already vulnerable from neglect, or whether the storm just got the best of them will be questions pursued during the investigation.

The shepherd who owned the sheep couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Heritage Ranch HOA declined to comment.

Once the Sheriff’s Department concludes its investigation, the District Attorney’s office will review the case and determine whether or not to press charges.


CHILLING DISCOVERY: Adam and Jennifer Weissmuller posted this cell phone video on YouTube after the Feb 28 discovery of a group of ill and dead sheep in a canyon in the Heritage Ranch community west of Paso Robles. The Sheriff’s Department is investigating circumstances surrounding the death of the sheep, which were owned by a local shepherd.


This video, taken March 1, shows sick and dead sheep being picked up after the deaths were reported to local authorities. (Warning: This video contains graphic content and may be inappropriate for some users.)