Abused Yelm sheep begin to recover; suspect in the case released on bail

Abused sheep recovered from a Yelm home have been placed in foster care and are starting to recover, Hooved Animal Rescue of Thurston County President Kathy Bailey said Wednesday.

In total, 11 sheep were recovered, five rams and six ewes. All of the sheep are very thin, and most have skin conditions and parasites. The sheep hadn’t been sheared in years.

A Thurston County Sheriff’s Office detective discovered the abused sheep after a neighbor sent an anonymous letter to report the animals’ condition. The neighbor wrote that the sheep had never been sheared and that dead sheep were often left in the field for days, according to Thurston County Superior Court documents.

The animals were confiscated from the home in the 15000 block of Molly Court Southeast with the assistance of Bailey’s rescue group. While searching the property, detectives found a marijuana grow operation and large amounts of the drug, according to court documents.

The suspect, Robert L. Ritzman was arrested on suspicion of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance and 11 counts of second-degree animal cruelty.

The animals were placed in two foster homes, one for the ewes, one for the rams, Bailey said. For now, their caregivers are working on getting them the nutrients they need to recover.

“We’re feeding them up with some nice hay and slowly introducing a little bit of grain,” Bailey said. “They’re all thin, and they appear to be anemic. Their gums are very pale, and that’s usually a sign of anemia.”

A veterinarian will likely visit the sheep Thursday, Bailey said. The vet will determine which parasites the sheep have and diagnose any other ailments.

“We tried to have a vet (with us) when we rescued the animals on Monday, but they ended up having to respond to an emergency,” Bailey said. “This is the soonest we could get one.”

A sheep shearer visited one of the foster properties Tuesday night and gave the ewes a much-needed haircut. Bailey said the ewes seemed happy to be rid of the extra weight.

“They immediately seemed a lot happier,” Bailey said. “They were even jumping around and playing.”

The rams will be sheared later this week.

Meanwhile, Ritzman has been released from the Thurston County Jail on $2,500 bail. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch set bail during his Tuesday afternoon court appearance.

The judge also found probable cause for the marijuana and animal abuse charges and prohibited Ritzman from having contact with any animals after his release.

According to court documents, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office began investigating Ritzman on Feb. 19 after receiving the anonymous letter.

A detective drove to Ritzman’s home and found 11 adult sheep and two dead lambs, according to court documents. She reported that the wool on the sheep was so thick that it “weighed them down immensely.”

The detective contacted Ritzman by phone, and he allegedly told her that he stopped shearing the sheep 20 years ago because he has a bad back.

The detective also discovered that the sheep didn’t have access to water unless it rained, according to court documents.

While searching for sheep medication, the detective discovered marijuana plants. Ritzman’s home also smelled of marijuana, according to court documents.

A Thurston County judge amended the warrant to allow law enforcement to search for marijuana. Deputies found enough marijuana to fill four 55-gallon garbage cans, along with materials used to dry and process marijuana, they reported.

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