When Abigail arrived at the Baldwin Park Animal Control shelter, she was in terrible health. This desperately skinny ewe was found behind a Los Angeles-area Walmart with gnarled and overgrown hooves, a parasite infestation, and a nasal infection. The auction sticker on her coat and the tag in her ear suggested that Abigail had been headed to a nearby stockyard when she got loose, perhaps by falling out of the transport truck. If she had reached her destination, she would have faced certain death — either from her ailments or slaughter.
Abigail clearly had been exploited and neglected. Although we can’t know for sure, we suspect she was used for breeding by a lamb-meat producer. In meat production, breeding ewes are forced to endure a constant cycle of pregnancy and birth that begins at about six months old. Every lamb they bear is taken from them in infancy and slaughtered. It is a bleak, painful life that only gets worse as the physical stresses of pregnancy take their toll. The life of a breeding ewe typically ends at about age ten, when the frail and exhausted sheep are sold for slaughter.
Despite their poor health, these elderly ewes, who are considered “spent” by meat producers, still have plenty of life left in them. With rehabilitative care, they can experience many rich and happy years. Abigail, who is younger than a typical culled breeding sheep, is one of the few who have escaped production and now has a bright future to enjoy. At our Southern California Shelter, caregivers helped Abigail slowly gain weight as they treated her infection and parasites. Understandably, she is still nervous around humans, but she’ll soon learn that we show her only kindness. Until then, however, she has taken comfort in the friendship of a goat named Aidan. At the beginning of October, we moved the pair to our Northern California Shelter, where Abigail will continue to heal.
We can’t give Abigail back the lambs who were taken from her or the years she lost, but we can give her health, nourishment, a comfortable home, and a new family to bring her happiness. We can give her what sheep in the meat and wool production industry never get to experience: a life that is her own to enjoy, not endure.