MONTICELLO — As wild beasts go, sheep are widely considered to be among the least ferocious. Nevertheless, a pair living at a private school on the north edge of town could become endangered by a village ordinance.
Now it could be up to the city council — herd them from the metropolitan area, or grandfather in the sheep. There's nothing yet on a council agenda, the city's attorney said.
"Who knows what they wool do?" asked Cody Sanantonio, the longtime owner of Metamorphosis Montessori School.
She tends to pepper her speech with ovine references.
Monticello's city attorney, Bill Tracy, wrote an email about the question on June 15, suggesting that Monticello's animals policies need further looking into.
At this point, there's no imminent danger to the sheep — Thistle and Sunny — but Sanantonio said she wants to head off any lamb attack.
Tracy said there was a query about animals kept within city limits about three weeks ago.
His memo points out the Monticello ordinance is not crystal clear about other animals. There are questions about horses and mules. Lions, tigers and bears come under the dangerous-animals section, unless they're in a zoo.
"As we read through the entire chapter (on animals), a number of questions arose as to the logic of the regulations and the wording thereof," Tracy wrote.
"For example, consider the following: Section 90.02 (A) allows horses, mules and ponies to be kept in the city, provided they are not within 75 feet of any dwelling house. Is this something that the city council really wants to allow?"
Tracy believes that, as written, "Section 90.02 (B) of the Code makes it unlawful to keep sheep, along with other farm-type animals, in the city."
He wrote that Sanantonio's defense of the lambs doesn't address the matter at hand.
The exemption upon which she is relying, he wrote, is found in Section 90.32 of the Code, and the section applies only to the subchapter "... in which it appears relates to 'Dangerous Animals,' and we do not feel that sheep fall within the definition of a Dangerous Animal, in the subchapter," Tracy wrote.
The school could also run afowl of the city with its chickens.
Sanantonio's sheep are in a pen at the school, which is directly behind her State Street home.
"The definition of 'Dangerous Animal' in section 90.31 surely could be improved upon," Tracy wrote, adding "these are just a few thoughts that came up as we read through the regulations. A close look will no doubt raise other issues."
Tracy told The News-Gazette he doesn't know long the ordinances have been on the books and what purpose they originally served.
If the sheep are found guilty, Tracy won't be the one to ostracize them from Monticello.
"I kind of draw the line in my legal representation of the city at hauling animals out of town," Tracy said.
There is a long precedent for keeping sheep out of the schoolhouse.
"The lamb must have followed someone to school one day, which was against the rules," an old poem reported about an obstreperous girl named Mary. In the 1960s, the singer Otis Redding did a soul version of it.
Sanantonio has begun circulating petitions to save Sunny and Thistle, and people haven't been sheepish about signing them.
Earlier this week, the school's pupils were learning about taking care of animals, including keeping them clean. Sanantonio said animals can teach children a lot about responsibility and the cycle of life.
They also learn to shear the wool, dye and knit it.
Noah Usher, 10, said he likes to take care of the animals.
"I learned the right way to approach animals," he said.
His sister, 7-year-old Sarah Usher, said she has been learning a lot about cleaning the sheep, which range in shade depending on how recently they've been washed down.
Ben Cribbs, 8, said he is on a first-name basis with the sheep, who call him "B-e-e-e-en."