How is a capybara like a sheep?

There are so many inherent problems with finding a replacement for Dobby the capybara, that for months after his death I was bewildered. I knew that it would be unfair for a new little capybara to have to live up to the grandeur of Prince Dobalob, so a new capybara was never an option. But what would be suitably entertaining without burdening my “sunset years” with complex husbandry tasks? Those of you who are snickering “Just get a dog, honey” do not know me. You can move along, now, find yourself a YouTube video of falling domino spirals or something. This was an existential dilemma that threatened to gum up my gears for months.

Dobby’s parents, Bonnie & Clyde appeared in this sideshow. Photo courtesy of Rick West of West Sideshows

After Dobby died, the steady stream of visitors- and donations- suddenly stopped. The Funny Farm needs a new “ambassador animal,” a kind of sideshow attraction. To be honest, when you already have four dozen animals in your charge, to consider actively searching for another is the definition of lunacy. Or hoarding. Hoarders generally have no idea how many animals they have because the animals are breeding unchecked and the situation spirals out of control. Until Princess the chicken moved into the living room, visitors to the Funny Farm found themselves looking around for the animals as if they had come to the wrong address. That’s as it should be, and the population here is (for the most part) static. But the sparkle was gone.

Prince Dobalob, the showoff

A couple practicalities reinforced my decision: climate and swimming pools. Dobby’s species hails from a tropical climate. As quickly as the ravages of climate change are grabbing our attention, I have no confidence that Seattle will become tropical in time to comfort a new capybara. Dobby was a good sport about the wicked weather, but he spent most of his last winter “hibernating” in my kitchen. And, as much as I would love to get some more use out of Dobby’s final deluxe swimming pool (by “deluxe,” I mean expensive) three-quarters of the year it is too cold here for swimming. The straw bale steps rotted every winter, and, of course, the water frequently froze in winter. I’m not talking about a thin sheet of ice on the top. Once a year it would develop a 6″ thick cap of ice. The scary part was when it eventually melted to a dangerous one inch thick, ready to crack apart. That’s when safety fencing goes up. No more outdoor tropical animals for the Funny Farm.

Little Dobby is sad about the arctic condition of his swimming pool.

I reluctantly concluded that most exotics are too demanding. As I flipped through my binders of domestic animals, they were either too large, too expensive, too stinky, too belligerent, or too destructive. I wanted something nice and ordinary, but “unexpected.” How about sheep? I have pasture and pens and I already keep loads of hay around. A friend verified that they are reasonable lawn ornaments. But what kind of sheep? Not those big white ones- my space is limited. Shetland sheep are petite, friendly, and with a bit of luck will shed their fleece, no need to shear.

Fat Bonnie relaxes indoors while Hamish guards the door. Charlie is hoofing it over to the food dishes in case fresh carrots are in there.

So, now that the sheep have been here three months, how did I do? How do sheep compare to capybaras? Okay, to be fair, my sample size is extremely limited. It would be a stretch to generalize, wouldn’t it? How about if I just compare Dobby to Charlie & Hamish? Here’s how that would look:

Subject Dobby Charlie & Hamish
To start with One dude Two dudes
Skull Schnoz was hard enough to break my nose giving me a kiss Let’s not butt heads, okay?
Ears Leathery and flick like happy hippo ears Velvety soft
Hearing Keen Keen
Eyes Deep brown, big round like guinea pig eyes Light brown with goaty rectangular irises
Peripheral vision 355 degrees 270 degrees, depending upon length of fleece
Eyelashes Long, with eyeliner Short
Whiskers Great big ones No
Nose Big but soft Soft like a bunny
Nostrils Big and round like a hippo Squinty slits
Sense of smell Keen Keen
Teeth Gigantic, constantly growing incisors, no canines: scissor action No upper teeth at all: bite and yank
Tongue Fat little tongue, rarely seen Long tongue, flicks at side of mouth
Day Sounds Bark, trill, tsk, loud clicking Baa (Charlie), Aaaaagh! (Hamish)
Night Sounds Bashing a bucket around because he is playing all night long Bashing the feed bin because they are eating all night long
Neck No Possibly in there somewhere
Fur Sparse guard hairs, no undercoat No guard hairs, dense woolly undercoat
Skin Leather, dark on top, pink where the sun don’t shine Thin and delicate, palest pink possible under all of that wool
Legs Chubby with short fur Skinny with black velvet stockings
Feet Downright weird, bird-like, webbed Dainty high-heels
Sexual dimorphism Hard to see, except the morrillo Hard to see, except the awesome horns
Tail No Short and stubby like a hamster tail
Poop Caecotrophy rules Tail spins during pooping, like a hippo
Potty training Decline to say Forget it
So . . . Watch where you step Watch where you step
Recline Sit like a normal animal Crumple to the ground all at once
Weight 110-140 pounds (50-65kg) 90-125 pounds (41-57kg)
Social Herding prey animal Flocking prey animal
Speed Slow, slower, sudden sprints Quick, quicker, breakneck speed
Diet Grass and shrubs, hay, less grain and birdseed than he really wants, bushels of corn and vegetables Grass and all of your prize shrubs, hay, less grain and birdseed than they really want, saltine crackers
Water Semi-aquatic Gimme shelter! Hate rain
CITES rating Species of Least Concern Unimproved (landrace) domestic breed, not rated
Native habitat Tropical Subarctic
Temperature range 55f to 104f (13c to 40c) 16f to 74f (-9c to 23c)
Swimming Excellent Not on your life
Jumping Maybe 3′ high, no leaping except maybe while diving Leap about 5′, height TBD
Footstep sound High heels High heels
Doofus Dance Yes Yes
Tricks Yes Yes
Affectionate Somewhat selective Yes, absolutely
Naughty or Nice Naughty Naughty
Vindictive Yes Time will tell, potential is there
Utility Useless Highly prized wool, if you don’t mind twigs, seeds, and moss throughout your yarn
Cachet Very high Low to medium: Sheep are common, Shetland sheep that do tricks are not
Purchase Price $1200-1500 $100 (pet quality wether)

What do you think? More alike or more different?

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