Ram on the Run
A memorable encounter with a lost Merino sheep
How does a young man with no experience with large animals – short of watching the many Westerns – catch a Merino sheep who does not want to be caught? Writer Nick Thomas recalls his own very memorable experience chasing down a ram.
By a curious coincidence, March not only signifies the beginning of the astrological zodiac sign Aries – the flying ram – but also happens to be the month, back in the ’70s, of my own rather memorable ‘flying’ sheep encounter.
As a college student in the late ’70s, one of my many odd jobs was driving an ambulance for an animal shelter. Working a couple of evenings a week for the princely sum of $20 per night, I would nap in the clinic while waiting on calls from the public to collect injured homeless animals and transport them safely back to the clinic where a vet would examine them.
One of the most interesting rescues came early one Sunday morning from a woman who had awoken to find a large Merino sheep roaming around her suburban backyard. I arrived to find her and some neighbors gathered, musing over the massive wool-ball lurking behind a row of bushes. When I drove up, I’m sure I heard one wisecracking neighbor mutter: “Hey Mary, lost your little lamb?”
But there was nothing lamb-like about this woolly beast. He was a large 120-pound ram and you didn’t have to be Little Bo-Peep to see that this guy had lost his way and was far from content. Each time I approached the animal he bolted past me, causing me to stumble earthwards more than once, much to the amusement of the jeering onlookers. While none offered assistance, they did vocalize encouragement – for the sheep.
After retrieving a length of rope, I stood before my adversary planning the capture. Having watched far too many Western movies as a child, I felt quite qualified to throw a rope around a fat old sheep!
I soon realized that years as a couch cowboy had, in fact, failed to provide the necessary practical skills to quickly construct, let alone operate, an effective lasso. My attempt yielded a rather limp and pathetic-looking piece of twisted cord that must have amused the mob of chuckling spectators.
After several attempts, I managed to rope just about every object in the backyard – several tree branches, the garbage can, the lawn mower, the most vocal and obnoxious neighbor (okay, I’ll admit that one was intentional) – everything, that is, except the darn Merino sheep.
By now, the bystanders were wavering between contempt and hysterics. My face was red from embarrassment and exhaustion, but my patience eventually paid off. As the flying fleecy fellow made yet another dash for freedom, I managed to slip the rope over its head, before tumbling to the ground one last indignant time.
To my surprise, and relief, the animal became quite docile after capture as I led it towards the vehicle where it calmly climbed into the back. From there, it was back to the vet for a checkup.
Attempts to locate the owner failed and I was later told that the Merino, a breed prized for their fine soft wool, had been transferred to a sheep farm. But in the years that followed, I could never purchase a new sweater without wondering if it had come from the four-legged woolly foe that had left me slightly bruised after our animated March tussle.
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for many magazines and newspapers, including many in the Boomer nostalgia and humor departments. See www.getnickt.org