Thanks to His Sheep Labor, Brian McCandless's Neighbors Are Singing the Mow Better Blues

UPDATED 10/01/1990 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 10/01/1990 at 01:00 AM EDT

When Dr. Brian McCandless bought his sprawling but dilapidated 1865 house two years ago in Cohoes, N.Y., he also acquired the daunting task of mowing more than three acres of hilly terrain. McCandless, 35, cut the grass a couple of times with a power mower, but he thought that was a drag, and besides, the method didn't seem to suit the surroundings. His next notion was shear inspiration. "This is a 19th-century mansion, and accurate restoration requires sheep, not lawn mowers," says McCandless, who bought the place for $126,000. "I'm also Scotch-Irish, and you can't call a place home until you have sheep roaming around."

So the nuclear medicine physician at the Albany Medical Center went out and bought seven "self-fertilizing lawn units," as he refers to his woolly pets, from a friend who owned a farm nearby. The flock grew to a dozen, including three rambunctious rams, and that's when McCandless and the local authorities—he lives in a residential neighborhood-began to butt heads. The rams broke through the fence, and the entire flock began to descend on a nearby convenience store, causing residents to panic. "People here tend to look at sheep as the equivalent of Martians," says McCandless's wife, Barbara, 36. The couple, who concede they may be just a bit eccentric, thought this was a great way to meet the neighbors. "A lot of people get involved in a sheep roundup," says McCandless. "Maybe catching a greased pig is harder, but I doubt it."

Many of the neighbors say they like the idea of living near sheep. But other residents of the quiet mill town near Albany objected to the sheep smell that occasionally wafted through the neighborhood. Besides, says Rhonda Cucchi, "They're dirty looking, and I see no reason why they're here. Sheep should be in the country."

The job of keeping lawn order in Cohoes falls to the town's animal control officer, Barbara Gagnon. While McCandless can legally own sheep, his fold is not free to roam the streets. "I'm the one who's out there trying to catch them," gripes Gagnon, although she admits they're "kind of cute."

The attendant publicity has forced McCandless to reduce his flock to four, and, as it happens, he's even thinking about selling the house overlooking the Mohawk and Hudson rivers. Ah, yes, one can imagine how the real estate listing might read: "Majestic 18-room mansion, complete with spectacular ewes."

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