Howard County's five-member Animal Matters Hearing Board will decide within 30 days whether a flock of sheep on Daisy Road is guilty as charged of disturbing the peace.
The board heard an appeal last week from sheep owner John R. Fleishell, of the 2200 block of Daisy Road, who received a citation in July from the county Office of Animal Control.
The citation, which carries a $25 fine, stemmed from a complaint by one of Fleishell's neighbors, Bruce Snyder, also of the 2200 block of Daisy Road.
Snyder brought to the hearing a tape recording of a sheep bleating.
"One sheep can be quite loud," he told board members, adding that he wanted to make sure they were familiar with the sound.
"Sounds like a sheep," said board chairman Louis M. Weist Jr., a veterinarian, after listening to the tape.
Fleishell brought neighbors who testified that they have never been disturbed by the flock's bleating, although their houses are closer to the animals than the Snyder residence. The Snyder family has lived in the rural area near Woodbine for 13 years.
The sheep owner told the board that in the 12 years since his daughter Karen began raising Suffolk sheep as a 4-H project, he has never had a complaint, other than two earlier verbal complaints from Snyder.
The number of sheep at the property varies, but can reach 35 in the spring when ewes lamb, he said.
Neighbor Robert W. Anderson said the sheep have never awakened him, although the bedrooms in his house face the fenced area where the animals are kept.
Anderson said that when Snyder came to him several years ago with a petition against the sheep, "I told Bruce, 'This is a farm area.' That's why I moved out here. I want to smell cow s---; I want to hear the animals."
The area is zoned residential, Snyder pointed out. However, keeping domestic animals on one-acre lots does not violate county zoning law. Area residents have sheep, horses, cows and a goat.
Three other neighbors also testified that they were not disturbed by the sheep. Dr. Weist then cut off testimony, saying the board did not want to hear additional witnesses who would repeat that Fleishell's sheep did not disturb them.
Board member Carolyn "Nicky" Ratliff urged the neighbors to work out an informal agreement: "If instead of all these citations and that garbage, if you guys could work something out . . . when you know it's going to be particularly noisy, you could put them somewhere else."
Karen Fleishell said that would be difficult since sheep are difficult to move during many situations that would cause them to bleat. She said she feeds them at approximately 5 a.m., and since she can feed only one pen at a time, sometimes the sheep in the other pen voice their impatience.
When lambs are weaned, their mothers are taken to another pasture owned by the Fleishells on Route 32 because the lambs call and the mothers answer, she said.
She said if the sheep bleated at 2:30 or 3 a.m., as Snyder complained, "I would be out there, because a lamb could have its head stuck in a fence or be hurt."
Snyder said he would be happy with a compromise that would allow his family to enjoy their lawn and patio. He said he did not object to the neighbors keeping sheep, but "we should be able to keep our windows open when it's nice. We can't. We should be able to use our patio."
Fleishell said he concurred.
"I totally agree with Mr. Snyder that you should be able to open your windows and use your patio. And I think everyone in the neighborhood does except him," he said.