Richmond’s Urban Shepherd Loses Four More Sheep, Flock Stands at 20

Photo by PNG. Sandy Chappell with his sheep on a commercial plot near Downtown Richmond in September, 2013.

Photo by PNG. Sandy Chappell with his sheep on a commercial plot near Downtown Richmond in September, 2013.

I happened to bump into Richmond’s urban shepherd Sandy Chappell while doing some work on a community news feature of the West Cambie area.

It turns out that since the last media reports of his story his relationship with the City of Richmond has now completely fallen off its tumultuous cliff and he’s now seeking legal counsel to get back four sheep he says the SPCA – via the city – has taken from him about two weeks ago. His herd of 31 is now apparently down to 20 at a claimed cost of $3,000.

Two months ago Chappell was keeping to his own, tending to his 31 sheep in a three-acre field behind his home in the West Cambie area of Richmond. It’s an odd little place to raise sheep as it’s the last farmland in that area, which is now mostly Asian malls and commercial buildings.

So he got the idea to move his sheep to a nearby parcel of undeveloped commercially-zoned land that Chappell’s landscaping company was hired to maintain. It was a “green” endeavour and a sort-of experiment for Chappell to see if he could employ the tactics elsewhere around Richmond as part of a small-business venture.

The whole plot went south, fast. First, the move was technically illegal – you can’t have farm animals on commercial land even if the land has delicious sheep food. Then a nearby business complained to the city. Furthermore it was reported that the landowner did not grant permission to have the sheep on the land. So, bylaw officers jumped on the issue quickly.

What was an attempt to do something unique in the city turned into a disaster and to boot six of his sheep were stolen and one died after the first story broke.

Media stories left off in mid September with the sheep still there and the city and Chappell in agreement that the animals had to move on. But late in the month, when Chappell requested more time to move the sheep properly (they require lots of coaxing) it turned out the city had phoned the SPCA, which in turn took the last four remaining sheep to the Richmond Animal Protection Society.

According to Chappell, he was moving the sheep off the property slowly, in small groups, and the last four were to be taken the next day. When he arrived he found that they were already taken and the SPCA gave him a bill for $1,100 to have them returned. He was told one was sick.

Animal bylaw officers had previously voiced concern about a lack of shelter and feeding and clean-up procedures, which led to an investigation from the BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Chappell told me he had plans to build a temporary shelter on an old concrete foundation on the land. It seems reasonable; After all, no farmer has an interest in losing his assets. Nevertheless…

The story gets more complicated when Chappell claims the city and the SPCA went out of its way to harass Chappell as to the new location of his remaining herd. According to him the SPCA wanted to inspect his entire flock, something he says was unnecessary and tantamount to bullying.

Chappell claims he told a city bylaw officer in confidence where the sheep were and the officer deliberately breached his trust and went beyond his jurisdiction and told the SPCA the sheep were at a farm in Langley.

He has since moved them to an undisclosed location after the Langley farmer wanted nothing to do with the SPCA.

So, at this point the sheep are gone from the land, six have been stolen, one has died and four have been impounded. The remaining 20 are in a location Chappell is keeping from the SPCA.

 

My thoughts:

I’d like to first hear from the city and the SPCA, which I plan on doing. But it’s sad to see something so seemingly novel get so political in a hurry. Chappell says the city and especially Mayor Malcolm Brodie wasted a good public relations opportunity.

I kind of agree. While bylaws are useful, everything is done by the books these days, especially in Richmond. It’s a serious problem. Anything new that comes about always seems to have to go through a plethora of committees and meetings. Yes, this is how city’s function civilly but a little rationality goes a long way.

Furthermore, this was an excellent opportunity to educate citizens about agriculture and its history in Richmond. Couldn’t a special bylaw amendment be rubber stamped in this case?

Chappell says that while the landowner never gave direct approval it also didn’t object. And while there was one complaint to the city from a restaurant, he says the vast majority of people he spoke to about the sheep enjoyed their presence. Again, it’s another example of a small majority beating down the majority.

It reminds me of days spent playing road hockey as a teenager in Richmond. Technically we were breaking the law by skating on the streets and because one jerk always phoned the police on us we were frequently visited by the RCMP or bylaw officials (who thankfully, most of the time, simply asked us what the score was and drove off, thus completing their official duties).

So the sheep are gone, and we all have another ugly empty plot of grass to look at before it becomes a big concrete hotel.