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Sheep dogs stolen

EMMETT--The Gem County Sheriffs Office has issued a felony warrant alleging grand theft charges against a Ridgefield, Wash., man in connection with an incident in which three livestock guardian puppies were picked up by a person driving by the Soulen sheep ranch in Letha, west of Emmett, took the dogs to Clark County, Washington, and refused to return them.

The Gem County Sheriffs Office confirmed that a felony warrant had been issued on grand theft charges against Christopher Lee Nix of Ridgefield, Wash.

Idaho sheep rancher Harry Soulen, the owner of the young sheep guard dogs, said on Dec. 16, the dogs were out with about 50 head of domestic sheep on their ranch next to Hanna Road. The dogs were left with the sheep on purpose for them to bond with the sheep and guard them from predators. The suspect allegedly stopped along the road, put the dogs into his truck, and drove to Washington.

A neighbor of Soulens talked to the man and got his business card. Soulen said he called Nix and spoke to him on the phone, and requested that he return the guard dogs immediately.

Livestock guardian dogs are used by western range sheep operations as a non-lethal, best management practice to ward off predators such as coyotes, black bears, wolves and mountain lions when the sheep are grazing on private, state or federal lands.

Theres been a growing trend recently in Idaho of people picking up livestock guardian dogs on the range and in the forest, thinking they are lost or have been abandoned. Then they transported the dogs to an animal shelter or took them home. The Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission issued a press release in August 2020 about this problem. Idaho sheep ranchers, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service officials encouraged the public to leave the dogs in the field with the sheep (sometimes the sheep arent right next to themthey patrol” wide areas), as intended. They encouraged people to call the sheriffs office or the BLM or Forest Service local office to report any concerns.

Now Soulen could be short three guard dogs for the upcoming spring and summer grazing season, if he cant get them back. We put a lot of effort into training and caring for these dogs,” Soulen says. Theyre the best non-lethal tool we have to protect our sheep from predators. We had just given those dogs their vaccination shots for the season. page1image48421440

Soulen said that Nix initially said he would try to return the dogs by Jan. 4, when he was possibly coming back through the Emmett area. But he never returned the dogs. Thats when Soulen filed a criminal complaint with the Gem County Sheriffs office.

Its possible that the man may have tried to sell the dogs, Soulen said. The dogs are worth $1,800 each, he said.

Livestock guardian dogs dont make good pets, as they are bred to protect sheep from predators. In a domestic situation, the dogs could end up preying on neighbors’ pets or wandering away, officials said.

IRRC and the Idaho Wool Growers Association have notified the Washington State Sheep Producers organization about the stolen guard dogs incident and requested assistance in locating the dogs.

Anyone with information about the Soulen guard dogs should contact the Gem County Sheriffs office, 208-365-3521. See attached photos of the missing dogs.

The IRRC published a long-form feature story and video about the Soulen sheep operation in Idaho. See this link to watch the video or read the story.