It took the Rouses, a 4-H family in rural north Spokane County, four years to cultivate a solid miniherd of six show sheep.
It took a poacher with a gun, sharp knife and appetite for lamb chops to wipe them out in two or three days.
Not only are three lambs and a ewe dead, but at least two of the pastured animals appeared to have been butchered on site. Their heads, legs and skin were left to rot in the sun for coyotes and magpies.
The first killing was discovered in mid-July, the other three within the last few days.
The killings were not ritualistic.
Bad luck even befell the family’s two remaining sheep after they were moved for safety reasons. Tuesday, after their transfer from a pasture 5 miles away to a pen next to the Rouse home near Milan, a ewe and lamb were nearly killed.
A neighbor’s mixed-breed dog crawled under or through the fence Tuesday night and left gaping holes in their bodies. They will recover.
The family’s anger and horror won’t.
“They wiped us out,” said Pat Rouse, whose four children were raised in the tradition of head, hands, health and heart - 4-H. “My kids worked really hard to get to this point. I’m really angry that people can go out and do these things.”
For the last several years, Kelly Rouse, a 17-year-old senior at Gonzaga Prep, and her 15-year-old brother, David, nurtured the newborn sheep.
They brushed drab coats into snowy cotton balls, paraded their sheep around show rings and then sold them at auction. They not only learned economics - how to recoup expenses and maybe even turn a little profit - but how to separate child-like attachment to their animals from the realities of adulthood.
In addition to losing twin lambs she considered pets, Kelly Rouse lost about $300 she would have made through the sale of the animals. To make matters worse, Kelly and David Rouse are in Montana to work the ranch of a grandfather recently diagnosed with cancer.
They got the news by telephone.
“I just started crying,” Kelly Rouse said from Hamilton, Mont. “These were my two twins. My first set. I’m really mad. It’s sick they did that.”
Marvin Dehle, a Spokane sheepman whose daughter and son-in-law own the pasture where the recent deaths occurred, said the lone carcass he examined was definitely butchered.
“An animal that tears up a sheep doesn’t make a straight line up and down the belly,” he said. “This was a clean cut. It’s really odd. I just don’t understand.”
And animals don’t leave bullet wounds.
The Spokane County Sheriff’s Department is investigating but has not told the family of any leads.
Summer is the perfect time to pasture sheep and let them flex and tone their muscles for the fall Spokane Interstate Fair.
Instead of helping her children prepare for the September show, Pat Rouse now rubs the injured ewe and lamb twice a day with an antibiotic cream the color of fluorescent yellow tennis balls. She injects them with penicillin morning and night.
After the dog attack Tuesday nearly finished off the Rouses’ two remaining sheep, one family friend wondered if fate intended for them to continue raising the animals.
“I don’t think we’ll start again,” Pat Rouse said.
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