Montana Jones began her career as a Shepherdess in the hills of Ontario, Canada raising a rare and special breed, Shropshire. She lived the hard life of a famer but enjoyed the idyllic setting and her connection to the animals she loved and the land she lived on. With her only child, her son grown and gone, the sheep became the subjects of her nurturing. She was deeply connected and bonded to them, knowing it was her job to raise them, protect the flock, and breed the best qualities into them she could so the heritage breed would continue strengthening its genetics.
Shropshires are known and respected for their wool, heartiness, gentle demeanor and disease resistance. In her efforts, Montana produced a strong flock of healthy, robust animals.
A few years into her farming adventure, Montana’s dream became a nightmare. Her healthy flock came under the scrutiny of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in 2011 after a sheep that she had sold a few years before, on a farm 300 miles away, tested positive for scrapie. Scrapie is a disease of the central nervous system in sheep and is not transmissible to humans. It is a well-defined disease in sheep with no threat to human health.
None of Montana’s sheep displayed the symptoms of scrapie prior to the 2011 investigation into her flock and the subsequent quarantine order by the CFIA. As the CFIA became more aggressive against her and her sheep, Montana had her entire flock tested by rectal biopsy for scrapie as a precautionary measure and to assure the CFIA that her flock did not have it. All tests came back negative.
Montana and her lawyer made every effort to reason with the CFIA to find another solution rather than slaughter dozens of sheep. She would keep them in quarantine, she offered, so that they could be retested periodically. They would not be a danger to anyone or to any other sheep. They were her life, her livelihood, her everything.
Despite the negative tests and Jones’ request for a different approach, the CFIA agents on the case continued their onslaught against the peaceful shepherdess and her flock of heritage, healthy Shropshire sheep. They issued a kill order.
On the morning of April 2, 2012 they arrived on Montana’s farm to destroy the 44 sheep who carried the “wrong” genotype.
When they arrived, the sheep were gone. In their place was a note that said the Farmers Peace Corp has taken the sheep into protective custody. For the people following the case, this was marked with a sigh of relief–the sheep were safe for the moment. But also marked with the accompanying dread of knowing something worse might come next. For Montana, as a shepherdess, it is her job to protect her flock.
Montana felt a sense of relief that her sheep were protected, and, at least for the moment, living. But mixed with that understandable relief, a deep anxiety: men with guns were there to destroy her sheep, and, in the process, destroy her life. And she didn’t know where the sheep were, or whether the people who had taken them would know how to care for them properly.
The next couple of weeks were a tense time of watching the news, waiting for some sort of turn in the case. The CFIA was after those sheep. They wanted them dead at any cost. And they certainly spared no cost. But now, it seemed it became a case of saving face, an ego-driven case against the shepherdess and the anonymous farmers who saved innocent sheep. The CFIA used helicopters, teams of people to search for the sheep on the ground and in the air.
During this time of search, farmer Michael Schmidt celebrated his 58th birthday on June 13th 2012 by recognizing the outright vindictive, tyrannical nature of this witch-hunt, turned sheep hunt. As spokesman for the previously unheard of “Farmers Peace Corp”, he made a public statement taking about the disappearance of the sheep. Part one. And part two.
When the CFIA eventually found the sheep on the farm of Mirko Malisch it was immediate death for the sheep and simultaneous death of Montana’s dream, and livelihood. All of the recovered sheep tested negative for scrapie after they were killed and their brains were examined—exactly as Jones had predicted. What began as the death of her sheep and dreams, turned into legal torment for her and the other individuals charged in the case.
Since that time in December of 2012, the case has progressed slowly with punitive hearings disallowing Schmidt to travel or Jones to speak to Schmidt or any number of other petty add-ons the CFIA could get away with to further harass the peaceful farmers.
Now, the case is in the preliminary hearing stages. The Canadian Constitution Foundation has been providing legal assistance to Jones and Schmidt. They have set up a campaign to help fund the legal defense of the peaceful farmers.
Now is the time when we can work to set precedent. With a strong legal team, and strong support, we can send a message to the CFIA that we will not tolerate the senseless slaughter of innocent animals and the imprisonment of peaceful farmers. Donate. Share. Watch for updates. We have the capacity to give this story a better ending than peaceful farmers in prison for 10 years.
Wherever you are in your personal journey toward clean living and local food, thank you for joining me in mine. I look forward to sharing it with you.