It was a late afternoon in January when Wooly the sheep arrived at Poplar Spring. Peering into the trailer, I gasped at his appearance. His wool was severely matted and tangled, and hung like long dirty dreadlocks sweeping the floor; his hooves were cracked and overgrown. He turned to look at me, and I wondered how anyone could let such a beautiful animal get in this condition. His head was magnificent; he had large thick horns, which curled around his ears and a wonderful face with big, intelligent eyes.
Wooly was rescued by the Humane Society of the U.S. after being discovered at a Pennsylvania horse farm. He had originally come from a petting zoo, but was given away because he was not friendly enough with children. The farm owner turned him out with her horses, basically ignoring him for several years. She had not ever had him sheared, and because of this his wool grew long and matted, and was crawling with lice. He was very thin, and appeared terrified of people. The owner admitted that she would shock Wooly with an electric shocker whenever he tried to come into the barn with the horses. She said she was hoping he would “just die” over the summer, and was more than willing to give him to a Sanctuary.
We led Wooly to an area separated from the other animals, where he would stay until he was vaccinated and free from parasites. After a few weeks of proper feed and veterinary treatment, he appeared to feel much better. He definitely seemed lonely, though, and I was anxious for him to have the company of other animals. We still had a few more weeks of quarantine, though, before he could go with the other sheep.
We had a thought — why not let Wooly stay with the horses? Whenever he saw the horses he would call to them, and we guessed that he must have bonded with them at his previous residence. We let him out of his yard and he sprinted over to Darcy, the largest horse, and stood under his legs. He looked as though he were in heaven. From then on, Wooly became one of the herd, never letting the horses out of his sight. It was a comical scene, especially viewed from a distance — three large horses grazing out in the fields, and one very small, very funny looking animal, resembling Cousin It (from the Addams Family) with horns. Wherever the horses wandered on the 400-acre property, little Wooly with his short stumpy legs trotted behind. This frequently meant passing through the woods, and he would often return from these excursions with a large tree branch or part of a bush stuck in his wool and dragging behind.
When spring came, we decided Wooly would be better off with his own kind. He always seemed so exhausted, trying to keep up with animals with much longer legs. But one look at the sheep, and he ran the opposite way. At first he cried and paced the fence line, calling out to the horses. We had to “wean” him by leaving a horse with him for several hours a day and in his stall at night. Gradually, over a two week period, he came to realize that maybe he was not a horse, after all. He became calmer and more relaxed, and took a special interest in Greta, one of the female sheep, even though he was neutered long ago. All the sheep were sheared, and when Wooly’s matted coat finally came off, his beauty was striking. His skin and wool were white with brown spots, resembling an Appaloosa horse. He had gained weight, and was now very healthy and handsome.
Wooly now spends his days with Greta and the other rescued sheep laying in the sun, grazing on the grass, and munching on timothy hay in their pasture. He is much more trusting of people, and enjoys eating carrot and apple pieces out of our hands. I know that he is grateful to finally have a home where he is appreciated and loved.
Unfortunately, most unwanted petting zoo animals do not have the happy ending to their story that Wooly did. Many end up at auctions to be slaughtered for meat, or are sold to other roadside zoos. These places continuously breed their animals, creating a large surplus, because the public likes to see cute little babies. Our wish is that someday these petting zoos will cease to exist, and people can come to know wonderful animals like Wooly only at a loving home or sanctuary.