DURANGO, Colo. - The lawyers outnumber the sheep in the Shenandoah sheep war.
It started one morning
about three years ago, when Edward and Adalou Dunne woke up to find
eight sheep grazing in the yard next to theirs in Shenandoah, a
subdivision of large lots where green pastures roll and dirt roads
unwind in view of the snowcapped La Plata Mountains of southern
It is the sort of scenery that moves a
lot of people into moving to the
Shenandoah is about 15 minutes southeast
of Durango, but whether it is in rural La Plata County or suburbia
is in hot dispute. The Dunnes, who retired to Shenandoah from the
Chicago area, weren't happy to see the sheep next door at Paul and
"This is an upscale, high-end
residential area, and you pay a premium to live here," Edward Dunne
says. "If I wanted to buy farmland, I would have gone somewhere
else and bought farmland."
The Dunnes have been
arguing with the Warners about the flock ever since. The trouble
between neighbors led to the Dunnes suing the Warners, Shenandoah
and its officials in March 1996 over homeowner covenants, the rules
that attempt to protect property values and bind residents into a
shared vision of "the good life."
attempt at mediation, in August, failed. Now amended and
resubmitted Sept. 15, the lawsuit has mushroomed to include all the
owners of about 50 homesites in the subdivision, whom the court
ruled were indispensable parties in the litigation. Everyone must
either choose sides or declare they want to keep out of it.
Summonses are still being served.
that some horses and cows are allowed; sheep are a different
"For some reason, the Dunnes think that
sheep are not classy enough," says Tom Dugan, the attorney
representing the Warners, Northwesterners who have lived in the
Durango area for 10 years.
For the Warners, the
sheep war started with a stray dog, a border collie mix they found
on the Navajo Reservation and brought home to Shenandoah. The
Warners soon learned that Gusty, and the three other border collies
they eventually brought into their home, have intense personalities
and a keen work ethic. They want to herd. They live to herd. So the
Warners bought some sheep.
"We're the only people
who bought our pets eight pets of their own," Terri Warner
The couple is heavily involved with the 4-H
Club, training border collies and competing. They don't make money
doing this; they say they spend a lot of money on
They bought another lot, an adjacent one,
more sheep, and they say they do most of the training on land out
of sight of the Dunnes. The number of sheep varies, but an average
is about a dozen sheep on a dozen acres.
cute sheep," attorney Tom Dugan says. "I grew up in New York City,
and I think they're cute." He says in the spring and summer the
emerald hills kept trim and lush by the Warners' small woolly drill
team remind him of Ireland.
Terri Warner says the
Dunnes look at them as if they'll next bring in a dozen
broken-down, rusted-out cars to keep in the yard. Paul Warner says
he told the Dunnes their Cheviot sheep are the same kind the Queen
of England keeps in her yard. Dunne was unmoved by the information,
"This is about more than sheep," says
attorney Keith Newbold, a partner in Shand, Newbold & Chapman,
the firm that is representing the Dunnes. "It is about sheep in the
sense that the Dunnes bought under covenants that precluded sheep
and now here are sheep right outside their window. It is also about
enforcement of covenants. If covenants are waived and continue to
be waived, they lose meaning."
Dugan says the
war over sheep has divided the subdivision into different camps.
It's the sort of conflict, he says, that gives people a knot in
their stomachs when they drive by some of their neighbors'
"I've done a lot of covenant work and
I've never seen a case like this before," Dugan says. "Even if you
win this lawsuit, there's such discord left among neighbors."
At the annual homeowners' association meeting in
July, Dugan says, a disagreement over procedures incited one person
to throw a copy of Robert's Rules of Order at another participant,
who threw it back.
"At that point I knew we had a
serious problem," he says.
At Halloween, some
residents dressed as sheep, accompanied by their "attorneys."
"It's nice that some people have a sense of
humor about this, but I can tell you their numbers are dwindling,"
Edward Dunne says there's a lot of
history behind the case "and a lot of hard feelings out here."
Some of that history: Before Shenandoah Ltd.
partners F.L. Hutchison and W. Rowland Carmack developed the
250-acre Shenandoah subdivision, the land belonged to Gary Farmer.
He ran sheep on it, several
Shenandoah's first declaration of
protective covenants, recorded in October 1984, ran two pages long.
One of the lengthiest articles stated that no large animals, such
as horses or cows, were allowed on tracts smaller than five acres.
One such animal would be allowed for each five acres of a
"No pigs or sheep are allowed," the
Hutchison and Carmack sought to
revoke the first set of covenants in April 1989 and adopted in
their place a 24-page document. It states that "two horses or
bovine animals may be kept on a lot of five or less acres' and "one
additional such animal may be kept for each additional three acres
of lot area." Sheep and pigs are not
In their lawsuit, the Dunnes allege
that the 1984 covenants that specifically prohibited sheep were not
properly revoked. They also allege that the 1989 set specifies
which animals are allowed, and its silence on sheep means sheep are
The Warners asked that the
homeowners' board grant approval for them to have sheep on their
property. The board approved the request in a 3-2
Steve Jacobs, a director for the
homeowners' association, who is credited with being the first
person to observe that the members of the various legal teams were
becoming more numerous than the contested sheep, is now reluctant
to talk about the case because he is personally named in the
lawsuit, like it or not.
"I prefer to remain
innocuous," he says when asked to comment, but finally adds, "I
really wish this thing would go away. It's just unfortunate that
somebody has to sue 50 of their neighbors."
Coincidentally, Jacobs says, he and the Dunnes
are from the same Chicago suburb, Northbrook,
"Ain't it a small world."
Jacobs says he retired to Colorado to enjoy
life, participate in the community, work, play, "raise critters."
But everybody had a different idea of what they
were buying into at Shenandoah, which is carved into three- to
35-acre lots. Jacobs says he wanted part of rural Colorado. He
muses that perhaps some of his neighbors wanted something more akin
to Beverly Hills.
Everybody comes here with their
preconceived image of the West and Rocky Mountain splendor, Dugan
says. Unfortunately, in La Plata County, a lot of dreams collided.
No trial date has been set.
Electa Draper worked
until recently for the Durango Herald; she now writes for The