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Man faces charges for abusing sheep

WORTHINGTON -- A rural Worthington man is facing 32 misdemeanor counts of animal mistreatment after a Nobles County deputy responded to a call of sheep in the ditch and found carcasses, skulls and underweight sheep.

Law enforcement records show there have been at least 14 reports of sheep in the roadway in the last six years near the residence of Douglas Donald Mathias, 48, who resides on U.S. 59 near 170th Street.

The complaint states a deputy arrived at the Mathias property Oct. 5 and discovered two sheep in the ditch across the highway and no one home.

Seeing an outdoor shed on the property, the deputy approached, hoping to locate Mathias. He saw several dead animals in the pen area and at least 15 skulls that appeared to be lying where the animals had perished.

With another deputy's assistance, a sheep was found in a machine shop pinned between a round bale and the wall. The animal's legs were twisted and it appeared thin and unhealthy.

Inside the shed were approximately 30 sheep. There were open feed bags on a pallet that allegedly looked as though the sheep had ripped open the bags to feed themselves. There were no troughs for food or water in sight, the complaint states. There was an abundance of manure, and when herded outside, the sheep moved in a path they had made around the items in the machine shed.

The deputies obtained a search warrant and the services of a veterinarian. The sheep trapped behind the hay bale was determined to be starved beyond hope of recovery and had to be euthanized. An autopsy determined the sheep had likely been trapped for days.

Authorities constructed a new pen for the remaining sheep using panel gates and made food, water and bedding available to the animals. The vet expressed an opinion that they were somewhat underweight but would be in no immediate harm if left on the farm.

In the vet's report, he indicated there were approximately 40 dead sheep on the premises, their condition ranging from carcasses with decaying organs and soft tissue to piles of bones. In the vet's opinion, most had been dead for several weeks to several months.

Mathias was not present during the execution of the warrant, and the deputy tried to contact him several times. He spoke to him by phone and then at his place of work to set up a meeting time. Mathias indicated he was willing to meet and discuss the animals, but never met with the deputy.

The last report of sheep on the roadway came in Oct. 14, just nine days after the execution of the search warrant.

Each of the 32 charges has a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. An arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 10 at the Prairie Justice Center.