Polly and Dolly: Inseparable Sheep Have Each Other, and Now the Good Life Too

2013 Update: Dolly is Now a Mom!

At 4:30 a.m. on January 21, Kerrie Wooten, a senior caregiver at our Northern California Shelter was woken by “baas” coming over the baby monitor next to her bed. For three weeks, the staff had been keeping close watch night and day on Dolly, the sheep we rescued along with her mother, Polly, late last year. We soon discovered that she had arrived at the shelter pregnant! In the darkness, before a winter sunrise, the exciting moment had come. The caregivers rushed to Dolly’s pen and were greeted by the sight of two newborn lambs.


The first-born, Elizabeth, was already standing and licked clean by her mother, but her twin, Zuri, still lay with the fluid sack encasing her head. The caregivers quickly removed the sack, allowing the newborn to take her first breath — and probably saved her life. Then they cleaned, dried, and warmed Zuri as Dolly tended to Elizabeth.


Zuri’s breathing sounded wet at first, so Susie Coston, our National Shelter Director, hurried her to the UC Davis veterinary hospital, fearing she had aspirated fluid. On the way, however, Zuri started to perk up, and, at the hospital, our vets found that her lungs were completely clear. Now she is back home at the shelter, where caregivers continue to keep a close eye on her as well as her mom and sister to make sure they are healthy and thriving (and help the lambs stay warm by outfitting them in some spiffy pajamas).


 Polly and Dolly’s Rescue Story:

When the staff of a Future Farmers of America (FFA) farm in Santa Clara, California, came to work one morning this fall, they found two sheep awaiting them. The sight of the pair would not normally have been a surprise, but these sheep had not been there the night before. The elderly ewes were dumped! Like many animals in such situations, they easily could have ended up at auction and then the slaughterhouse, but a call to Farm Sanctuary brought the two, now named Polly and Dolly, to our Northern California Shelter instead.

The details of the sheep’s origin were never discovered, but their bodies tell an all too common story of exploitation and neglect. The older of the two, Polly, arrived thin, frail, and completely toothless. She clearly had been used for years as a breeding ewe, her health depleted as she gave birth to lamb after lamb only to have each one taken from her in its infancy. For ewes in the food production system, the cycle of pregnancy begins at six months of age and continues relentlessly for about 10 years, ending only when the exhausted sheep, no longer able to produce, are slaughtered for dog food or rendering.

Sheep are devoted mothers and friends. They co-raise their young in close-knit family groups and forge lifelong bonds with their sons and daughters. For breeding ewes like Polly, who are unable to fulfill this core need, life is a bleak affair. And, beyond this ordeal, Polly also experienced acute neglect. She and Dolly had severely overgrown hooves, and one of Polly’s legs showed an old fracture that had not been set and was painfully left to heal on its own.

There’s no going back to heal that bone properly or to return the many lambs Polly never had the chance to raise and love. But amidst these scars, her past has granted her one consoling gift: Dolly, who we believe is Polly’s daughter by blood — and who certainly is her daughter by mutual attachment. Dolly is devoted to Polly and loathes to be separated from her for an instant.

Clearly strangers to kind treatment from humans, both sheep were nervous when they reached the shelter and shied away from the caregivers who approached to help them out of the truck. Dolly cast aside her wariness, though, when Polly was carried down the ramp. She ran to her mother, choosing to face the unknown rather than be left behind without her. The next day, when caregivers haltered Polly to trim her hooves, Dolly once again overcame her caution and rushed over to press herself as close to Polly as she could. Polly has proved to be much braver, presenting a strong front for them both as Dolly does her best to hide beside her.

With time and gentle attention, we know they will both learn to feel safe here and trust their caregivers. Once they receive a clean bill of health, both will join our other sheep and experience the familial bond of flock life, a crucial source of comfort and fulfillment for all sheep. In the meantime, we are working to make the pair as healthy, strong, cozy, and well-fed as possible. Polly and Dolly love each other tremendously. After the hardships they have weathered together, we’re looking forward to giving them a life they can love just as much.