Utah County teenager loses 26 lambs in dog attack

Published: Friday, Jan. 13 2012 7:51 p.m. MST

Kelly Olsen talks about losing 26 sheep after roaming dogs attacked them. Some drowned in the nearby creek.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

BENJAMIN, Utah County — Kelly Olsen, a senior at Spanish Fork High School, has spent three to four hours every day of the past four years tending to her prize-winning lambs.

But on Tuesday, the girl who raised the Grand Champion lamb at the 2011 Utah State Fair saw her animals, and all the work that had gone into them, destroyed.

"Every single day when I get home from school I'll go down to the farm," she said. "I went to take bales of hay to the field where (the sheep) were at, and I pulled up to the gate and found three dead sheep and one barely alive and a dog was laying with it."

She described seeing the bodies of her lambs that were "ripped to pieces." Other ewes, pregnant with lambs, panicked and ran into a ditch where they drowned. Her family estimates that between 21 and 26 animals died or were killed.

In 2010, the last year that data was available, 23,300 of Utah's sheep were killed by predators. Coyotes accounted for 12,800 of those deaths, but dogs were responsible for 800. The attacks are not uncommon, but those affected by them say the impact is devastating.

"When I saw all the dead animals, I got really upset and depressed because I put all this hard work into them and to see it all go away just that quick, you can't really replace the ones that we lost because those were really different genetics," she said.

The lambs were part of a project for Future Farmers of America that the teenager hoped would provide lambs during the seven to eight years she expects to spend in veterinary school.

Utah County sheriff's officials estimated Friday that the lambs were worth between $20,000 and $30,000, among the registered sheep that make up the state's population of 300,000 commercial and registered sheep, according to the Utah Woolgrower's Association.

The teenager said the dog that killed her sheep appeared to be a domesticated animal, because when it saw her, it ran and hid like a puppy that realized it had done something wrong.

"It looked like (a dog) that's been kept," she said. "It was not a stray. It acted friendly almost."

Kip Olsen, Kelly's father, said three dogs were spotted among the remaining carcasses Friday morning. His father shot and killed one, but the other two ran away. Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said officials are using the description of the animals to try and track them down and find their owners.

"If we are able to determine which dogs did the killing of the sheep, then there would be criminal charges and reimbursement to the owner of the sheep," Cannon said.

He said any charges would most likely be misdemeanors and may come with restitution requirements.

Kip Olsen said his daughter had a small insurance policy on the animals, but echoed his daughter's sentiments that there was no way to replicate the lambs.

"Insurance just does not take care of the magnitude of it," he said. "It's the genetics that are the baseline of the herd that has made things so successful for her for the last couple of years."

Clark Caras, executive director of the Utah State Fair, said attacks happen almost every year, but this one was especially disappointing considering Kelly's young age and successes.

"I know this family and this is their livelihood," he said. "It's like somebody burglarized their homes. They have been robbed of something that was incredibly precious to them."

To Caras, a native of Benjamin and a veteran of the sheep farming business, the incident typifies the "clash between urban and rural Utah" and he had a strong word to describe what he thinks of the result.

"It's an act of terrorism — people who let their dog run loose," he said.

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