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(PHOTOS) Campbell County leaders seek to address sheepdog challenge

Bob Isenberger is among the Campbell County ranchers who want people to stop bringing their sheepdogs to the shelter because of a misunderstanding.

Rancher Bob Isenberger (left) said strangers have brought his sheepdog to the animal shelter several times. (Bob Isenberger)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — Bob Isenberger, a Campbell County rancher, said Sept. 5 that his sheepdog, Cogsworth, has been picked up several times by people passing by his land that lines Highway 59.

Cogsworth with his herd. (Bob Isenberger)

The dogs, which are typically Great Pyrenees, Akbash or a mix, are not like household dogs, Isenberger said. Most are born in the pasture and live their lives out there. They may have very little human contact. Cogsworth, for example, had such an aversion to being in a kennel that he made himself sick.

Falsely believing that Cogsworth, a working guard dog, has been abused or is a stray dog, people — both from Wyoming and from other states — have attempted to bring or succeeded in bringing him to animal shelters, Isenberger said. Within two weeks, the Isenbergers had to stop three people from picking up Cogsworth. Friends of Isenberger’s who work in the oil field called him to let him know that someone was trying to pick him up.

Cogsworth, a roughly 140-pound Pyrenees and Akbash mix who guards several herds of sheep on both sides of the highway is one of many sheepdogs in the region who don’t wear collars, Isenberger said. The dogs are crossing over and under fences and through culverts throughout the day.

“The collar could kill them,” Isenberger said.

Cogsworth on the Isenberger ranch. (Bob Isenberger)

One time, Isenberger spotted a couple trying to attract Cogsworth with graham crackers and peanut butter. Another couple believed Cogsworth had been shot because of the red spray paint Isenberger uses. Isenberger has posted signs noting that there is a guard dog in use.

While they might be friendly to their owners, the dogs typically are not friendly to people whom they don’t know, Isenberger said. With the oil field traffic, the dogs are becoming desensitized to strangers and that is starting to become a challenge for the Isenbergers.

Cogsworth isn’t the only working livestock sheepdog that has been picked up, according to Iseberger. He has friends in Crook County and a friend in Casper who have had to drive to Gillette to pick up their dogs.

Isenberger said he has been trying to get legislation passed that would make taking a dog in this situation akin to stealing an animal, to lessen the burden on ranchers, since every time a dog goes to the City County Animal Shelter the rancher has to pay a fee, in addition to the travel expense. If the dog doesn’t have a rabies shot, the rancher has to guarantee that the dog will receive one within 10 days. Sheepdogs may not have the shots because they’re hard to catch when a veterinarian visits the ranch. If a bill banning people from picking up these dogs doesn’t pass, he wants whoever brings a microchipped guard dog to a shelter to have to pay the shelter’s fee.

House District 3 Rep. Abby Angelos, a Republican, said Sept. 5 that she’s received reports from sheep ranchers who say tourists are picking up their livestock dogs and bringing them to the shelters.

“It’s not entirely the tourists’ fault for thinking these dogs are abused and abandoned; however, they load them up, feed them a hotdog or a snack on the way to the pound [and] meanwhile, sheep ranchers’ flocks are in jeopardy,” Angelos said.

Cogsworth with sheep (Bob Isenberger)

As in the case of the theft of sheep from Guy Edwards’s ranch, humans can be a threat to the sheep, she said. The dogs need to remain wary of humans.

“It seems comical, but ask any of the sheep ranchers: Your livelihood is at risk when a dog is sitting in the pound for doing his job,” Angelos said.

Campbell County Sheriff Scott Matheny raised the issue at a Sept. 5 meeting with commissioners. Matheny recommended educating people more and discussing the fees with the animal shelter instead of passing a new law.

Commissioner Colleen Faber said that once a dog gets picked up and receives the treats and special attention, they lose interest in guarding sheep. She favors signage, which could state that the passersby can call the landowner. Like Isenberger said, she understands that some people believe that dogs that are marked with spray paint have been abused.

“It’s been a challenge for a long time,” she said.

Commissioner Jim Ford said that while he’s aware of the situation, passing a law won’t help.

“It seems like a solution looking for a problem,” he said. “There’s maybe a few dozen or, I don’t know, 100 of them in the whole state, and passing law isn’t gonna keep some ignorant person from driving down the road and picking them up.”

City County Animal Shelter declined to comment.