Sunglasses. Car keys. A wallet. These are things people lose. But taking absentminded behavior to a new level, a “FOUND” item listed in last week’s Missoulian announced that a herd of 15 wandering sheep had been found off Cherry Orchard Loop, off of Highway 93 a few miles north of Hamilton. After about two and a half weeks of observing the herd in their neighborhood, Eileen and Ron Rule decided to run the listing.
“I’m standing looking at them right now, about 300 yards away,” said Ron Rule, looking out his dining room window last week. “They come up here and eat in the neighbor’s pastures, then go way back down to a place called Cow Creek to get water twice a day.”
Another area resident, Kathie English, said the herd was on her private road one morning. “They’re mean buggers,” she said, adding that when she tried to shoo them out her gate, “one big mama just took a few steps toward me with her ears down.”
English called Missoula brand inspector Boone Jones in the Montana Department of Livestock Brand Office to see if he could identify the herd’s owners. Jones says he called the sheriff’s office, the humane society, “and people who I knew had sheep around there, and nobody seemed to know whose they were.” So the neighbors continued their own speculative detective work. They had a hunch the herd might belong to homeowners way up at the top of Cherry Orchard Loop, on Queens Way toward Pinesdale, but that family was out of the country. Calls to the house reached an answering machine.
“Everybody is involved, but nobody really knows what they’re talking about,” Ron Rule said of the community’s grass-roots investigation last week. But on Wednesday, Nov. 17, English’s husband Dave proved everyone’s hunch correct. He saw the suspected homeowners, returned from their travels, herding the sheep back up to their property.
Boone says people often drive through fences or leave gates open; he gets calls about all kinds of traveling livestock. “Usually if you let things sit [until] the next day, you’ll find an owner for them,” he says. If, that is, the owner isn’t traveling, too.