by SUSAN MANN
Provincial police in Northumberland County are investigating the theft of 31 quarrantined sheep from a farm east of Trent Hills that disappeared just hours before they were scheduled to be destroyed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The sheep, a rare breed called Shropshire, made national headlines after their owner, Montana Jones, protested the federal government agency’s plan to destroy them. The agency quarantined the herd in January 2010 after the discovery of scrapie in a sheep born on Jones' farm and sold to an Alberta farm. Scrapie is a federally reportable disease that affects productivity and longevity of sheep but is not transmissible to humans. It is also a World Organisation for Animal Health listed disease, meaning that Canada has international trade obligations to respond to suspected cases.
Jones, and her lawyer, Karen Selick, litigation director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, had encouraged people to come to the farm on Monday morning to protest the sheep’s removal to a pet food and dead stock facility near Ottawa Monday where they were to be euthanized.
Instead, after she arrived at the rally about 7:45 a.m., she found “the pen where the sheep had been was empty,” Selick says. “The sheep were gone.” Jones told her she found a note in the barn.
The printed note bearing the name Farmers’ Peace Corps, says they took the animals into protective custody until “an alternative has been found, or conclusive independent proof or clear evidence of disease has been proven. This has been done without the knowledge or participation of the owner.”
Asked if they have any suspects, Phil Clarke, Northumberland County OPP community services and media relations officer, says “as it’s an ongoing investigation I won’t be speaking to specifics of the case at this time.”
Andrew Gordanier, chairman of the Canadian Sheep Federation, he’s never heard of the Farmers’ Peace Corps. “If you Google them there’s not really much.”
Jennifer MacTavish, federation executive director, says they’ve been asking around and “no one’s actually heard of them. We’ve even asked some of the people that we know who work with some animal welfare groups and nobody has heard of this group.”
Gordanier says he’s not sure if these people understand the severity of the consequences of what they’ve done, including putting the rest of the national flock at risk. Moving them to another site where there’s other sheep could cause possible contamination of that site from “these animals lambing there,” he notes.
He hopes there can be a quick resolution to the situation. “I’m not sure what possible good these people think they could be doing.”
In an email statement, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says “while animal disease situations are always unfortunate it is vital that government and industry can work together on the basis of sound science to protect the long term sustainability of the sheep industry.”
Asked if they had any idea who took the sheep, Selick says “Not me and not Montana. She didn’t arrange it. She was expecting the sheep to be taken yesterday (Monday) by the CFIA not by somebody else.”
Selick says Jones will be looked at with some suspicion, noting she “obviously” had some motivation to save the sheep. “We’re aware of that.”
Jones reported the theft to the police. Selick says Jones is concerned that whoever took the sheep has the necessary skills to care for them, particularly the pregnant ewes. One ram is elderly “and she was concerned that if he fights with the other rams he’ll get beaten up,” Selick notes, explaining Jones usually keeps that ram separate.
On Facebook, Jones also said a few of the pregnant ewes need extra attention. She advised having an experienced shepherd look after them.
But “she said quite publicly yesterday that she’s certainly glad they’re still alive,” Selick says. The alternative was dead and she didn’t want them dead.”
Jones and the foundation, maintain Jones’ sheep don’t pose a risk to other animals. In a recent press release, the foundation claims results from CFIA live biopsy tests of all of the condemned sheep were negative for scrapie and none have shown clinical symptoms of the disease.
Jones, who voluntarily culled some of the animals last week, and Selick have been negotiating with the CFIA to try and save at least some of the sheep because they possess genetics dating back to breeding stock imported from the United Kingdom in the late 1880s. Shropshires are an endangered breed.
The CFIA has been tight-lipped about the sheep theft saying by email that questions about the investigation must go to the provincial police.
In an April 2 press release, the CFIA says quarantines are necessary to control the spread of the disease and breaches may put the livestock industry and the economy at risk.
Any person who breaches the quarantine may be subject to criminal prosecution under the Health of Animals Act. Premises that receive Jones’ sheep may be subject to a quarantine and further regulatory action.
During Monday’s rally, protestors tweeted descriptions of what CFIA officials were doing and noted that some sheep were missing. “So I guess for the time being, the feds have been fleeced,” said one tweet, while another said the sheep were stolen and asked “Little Bo-Peep any advice?” BF