SHEEP WAR SPLITS NEIGHBORS -- COLO. RESIDENTS DEBATE: RURAL OR SUBURBAN?
DURANGO, Colo. - Paul and Terrianne Warner can relax now that a judge has ruled that they won't have to be sheepless in Shenandoah.
"I'm so happy for my sheep. Now they don't have to feel like felons," Terrianne Warner said this week.
The Shenandoah sheep war lasted more than three years; its casualties have been neighborly relations in Shenandoah, an upscale rural subdivision where people's different dreams of Durango and the West collided.
"The lawyers outnumber the sheep," Shenandoah resident Steve Jacobs observed early in the conflict.
Shenandoah's rolling green pastures, winding dirt roads and luxurious homes with breathtaking views of the snow-capped La Plata Mountains formed the battleground.
All sides were fighting over an indistinct line dividing rural areas from suburbia in the subdivision about 15 minutes southwest of Durango. Was this supposed to be Beverly Hills or Green Acres?
One morning, a retired couple from a Chicago suburb woke up in their Shenandoah home to find eight sheep grazing next door at the Warners'. Edward Dunne complained that if he had wanted to buy farmland, he would have bought farmland. What he thought he had bought into, he said, was a high-end residential area.
Dunne paid a premium to live there, and the homeowner covenants don't allow sheep, he said. The covenants are silent on sheep, the Warners responded; therefore, no prohibition.
The Warners got into the sheep business - a hobby, actually - after they rescued a stray border collie named Gusty. The dog, like most border collies, had a keen work ethic and wasn't satisfied with a life of leisure. After a taste of herding, the dog was addicted, Terrianne Warner said. So she and Paul, representatives for a snowboard manufacturer, found themselves buying sheep for Gusty and two other new border collies to herd around.
"We're the only people who bought our pets eight pets of their own," Warner
said. But soon the couple became deeply involved in training border collies with local 4-H clubs. The flock averaged about a dozen sheep on a dozen acres.
Dunne fought the Warners before a divided Shenandoah Homeowners Association, which eventually sided with the sheep. In 1996, Dunne and his wife, Adalouise, sued the Warners and association officers. By last year, the lawsuit had grown from the two plaintiffs and the original six defendants to include all the owners of about 50 lots in Shenandoah, who the court ruled were indispensable parties to the litigation.
Discord spread, as many residents aligned themselves with one neighbor or the other on Tierra Alta Drive and argued over who held the high ground. At the 1997 annual homeowners meeting, the sheep question erupted. A disagreement over procedures incited one person to throw a copy of Robert's Rules of Order at one participant, who threw it back.
"At that point I knew we had a serious problem," said the Warners' attorney, Tom Dugan.
Shenandoah's covenants, adopted in 1989, expressly allow horses and "bovine" animals in varying numbers depending on acreage. The covenants don't mention sheep. But the Dunnes argued that 1984 covenants spelled out "no pigs or sheep" and that they were not properly revoked.
Dugan told the judge that the Dunnes "make the curious argument that having sheep at Shenandoah properties renders those properties less than first class." Dugan said the sheep-dog hobby is arguably every bit as classy as the Dunnes' giant, black TV dish.
The Dunnes were unmoved, Terrianne Warner said, when she told them that her Cheviot sheep were the same breed that the queen of England keeps.
"I think they're cute," Dugan said of the sheep. He comes from New York, he said, and the sheep's dotting of the subdivision's emerald hills reminded him of Ireland.
He told the judge it was silly for anyone to assert that the specifically allowed bovines - cattle and oxen - were somehow classier than sheep. At one time, he said, he found himself pondering how he would present evidence that sheep manure was no more offensive than other varieties.
Last Halloween, the Warners dressed their sheep as cows. The woolly drill team wore robes marked like black-and-white Holstein cows. A few also wore cowboy hats.
"We wanted to make our sheep feel good about themselves for a day," Warner said. "They were cows for a day."
Two couples in the subdivision dressed up as three sheep and their lawyer to trick or treat - reportedly careful about which doors they knocked on. The numbers of people who could enjoy the humor of the situation were dwindling fast as the case dragged on, Dugan said.
One of the Dunnes' attorneys, Keith Newbold, said early on that the case was about a lot more than sheep right outside the Dunnes' window. He said it was about enforcement of covenants, which lose all meaning when they are continually waived.
La Plata County District Judge Greg Lyman on Friday granted the Warners' motion for summary judgment, finding that the 1989 covenants do not prohibit sheep. He had ruled in July that the 1984 covenants banning sheep didn't apply to the parties in the case; they both bought their lots under the 1989 covenants. Attorneys' fees are left to be determined.
"We got a huge lesson on our legal system," Warner said. "If you're willing to withstand the stress, the system will hold up for you eventually. I just don't think it should have gone as far as it did."
There is "a lot of history and a lot of hard feelings" at Shenandoah, Edward Dunne said several months ago.
Part of that history is that, before developers created the 250-acre Shenandoah subdivision, Gary Farmer owned the land. He ran sheep on it - hundreds if not thousands of sheep.
I'm not really a proper reporter, due to the chronic lack of discipline, negligible attention span, and a certain juvenile difficulty taking serious things seriously.