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North Bend couple mourn loss of sheep

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NORTH BEND - Shari and Michael Garske feel as though they have lost three of their children.

Three sheep the couple had for the past two years were killed last month by what animal control officials believe were two dogs. The Garskes, who have no children and think of their array of animals as members of the family, are hoping whatever killed their sheep can be stopped before it attacks something else.

On the morning of Oct. 17, a man came to the Garskes' door. He had found one of their pet sheep, Louise, near Bad Girls Antiques, which is right down the road from the couple's North Bend Way home. Louise was badly injured and looked as though she had been attacked. The man was going up North Bend Way asking about the sheep he had found when he came across the Garskes' house. After finding that Louise had been attacked, the Garskes checked on the other three sheep that they kept on their property.

At different places on their land they found two of their sheep, BettySue and Thelma, dead, and a third, Bill, just hanging on for life. All of the sheep had been mauled by some animal, with their skin torn off and ears missing. Bill was later euthanized. The Garskes were stunned and devastated.

"We were both crying," Michael said.

After investigating the area, they found that some animal had entered the property by going over the simple horse fence with chicken wire the couple had to keep their sheep in. Although the fence was low enough in one area that some animals could easily hop over it, part of the fence was also pounded in, which led the Garskes to believe the animal that attacked their sheep was not only determined to get in but big and strong as well.

Adding to the shock was the fact the couple had heard nothing the previous night. They had come home late and heard nothing while sleeping, although the sheep were not that far from where the Garskes slept.

At first, the couple thought a mountain lion had attacked their sheep. Deer visit their land often and the Garskes thought one may have led a mountain lion into their yard while being chased. A wildlife official who came out, however, noticed paw prints in the mud around the barn where the sheep slept and said they definitely did not belong to a cougar, or even a coyote, but that a dog had attacked the sheep. He also said it looked like the sheep were attacked by two dogs, one large one and one smaller one.

The couple fortified the barn their one remaining sheep was staying in but were surprised to find a hole had been dug beneath the barn two days later. Michael put tile over the hole and King County Animal Control brought out a dog trap, but no dog was ever caught.

The Garskes have their eye out for two dogs that have been seen roaming around their neighborhood and Cedar Falls Way, which runs behind their property. They suspect the larger dog may be a bull mastiff, and the smaller dog a medium-sized Labrador-German shepherd mix. Friends have seen large dogs in the area, and the Garskes later found the remains of a baby deer that had been attacked behind their home.

Sgt. David Morris of King County Animal Control said the Garskes' case falls into a kind of gray area regarding what officials can do about dog attacks. Washington law says that any animal that attacks another person's animal can be put down or ordered to be put down. If a person sees a dog come onto their property and attack an animal, the person can shoot the dog. The owner of a dog can be held liable for any damage their dog incurs on someone else's property, as well.

Since no one saw what dog or dogs attacked the Garskes' animals, however, the case may be a littler fuzzier. Morris said dogs will return to where they have attacked before, which was why a dog trap was set. Without a definite identification, however, it would be hard to punish a suspect dog.

Morris said that if people have information about which dog may have attacked the Garskes' sheep, they should contact animal control. While people have the right to protect their animals and property, he also warned that people should be careful of what they shoot at.

"People are responsible where their bullets go," Morris said.

In the meantime, the Garskes still feel like they have lost members of their family. They spent $4,000 on a new fence to protect Louise and their pot-bellied pig Hamilton, who both share the barn. The couple said both of the animals are a little more jumpy after the attacks, a feeling that is shared by others on the property.

"Every time I hear a bark at night, I jump," Shari said.

* If you have any information regarding the attack on the Garskes' sheep or have seen any roaming dogs fitting the previous description, call King County Animal Control at (206) 296-7387.

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