Yorkshire sheep sanctuary at risk of permanent closure to offer sheep-walking experiences

Walking the dog has given millions of people something to do during the long months of lockdown.

Sharon Lawlor has set up sheep walking experiences

But for Sharon Lawlor, animal companionship comes in a much more unusual form - a mini flock of rare sheep.

Ms Lawlor, 55, has set up sheep-walking experiences for those who wish to experience the company of her pride and joy, nine Valais Blacknose sheep, at her sanctuary near Whitby.

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One of the sheep, Casanova, is so named because he is something of a flirt who very much enjoys human companionship.

Ms Lawlor's pride and joy are her nine Valais Blacknose sheep at her sanctuary near Whitby.

They are just nine of hundreds of animals she keeps at the sanctuary in what has now become a full-time job.

But the struggles of the pandemic mean Tranmire Sheep Sanctuary is at risk of permanent closure, and Ms Lawlor has spent months creating artisan crafts including cruelty-free rugs and needle-felting to raise funds to protect her flock.

She said: “Many years ago I saw a picture of the Valais, and I thought ‘that sheep has got to be a teddy bear’. Little did I know a few years later, I’d actually have some of them.

“Casonova, if I don’t walk him, he sulks, and he follows me around.

Tranmire Sheep Sanctuary is at risk of permanent closure

“People get to spend time with the sheep. Normal sheep run away but ours don’t - they run to you. They are very, very similar to dogs.

“A lot of people say ‘this sheep is better at walking than my dog.’ They do stop off to graze a little bit, but they’re very good at walking, and very cuddly too.”

Sheep-lovers can even book themselves in for a bespoke cuddling session with the farm creatures, complete with hot chocolate and cake.

While the sheep ready themselves for another season of walks with new friends, Ms Lawlor’s time has been taken up with hand-rearing some 30 orphan lambs, which she is now trying to rehome.

She has been contacted by dozens of farmers who have lost sheep while lambing, or have had triplet lambs meaning the ewes cannot feed them all, and has found it impossible to say no.

Ms Lawlor set up a crowdfunding site some weeks ago after the pandemic caused the sanctuary to lose income to support the flock, and the new lambs.

She said: “I’m absolutely worn out. I’m networking now to find them homes all over the country.

“We’re going to struggle throughout winter as we’ve used all our reserves.

“Our appeal has been so successful - we’ve had people appear with blankets and dog crates from all over. I’ve been amazed.”

To donate visit www.sheepsanctuary.com