The sheep took a leap, so a rescuer went into the deep.
Animal-control officer Shannon Kuner carried a water-soaked sheep from a creek near the Card Sound Bridge in North Key Largo last week.
"It ran into the water near a small bridge and swam over to the mangroves," Kuner said. "I had to get in the water to get it out."
Sheep are not common in the Florida Keys, where keeping livestock generally is not allowed.
So when the report from Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputies confirmed that a sheep was on the loose last Thursday night near a cleared area popularly known as Jet Ski Beach, Kuner responded as the on-call agent from the Key Largo Animal Shelter.
The sheep was "standing there" on a section of the old U.S. 1 roadbed, Kuner said. Not far away was a circle of luminaries -- candles standing inside paper bags -- perhaps connected to some type of unfinished ritual. A few candles still glowed while others had gone out or fallen over.
"We wanted to keep the sheep from going onto [Card Sound Road] but we wound up chasing it" toward Saunders Creek. The animal reached the waterway and plunged in.
Kuner waded through the waist-deep waters to collect the sheep, apparently a young male adult.
The fact that he was in waters close to the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, home to large and toothy aquatic reptiles that feed at night, did cross his mind, Kuner admitted.
The sheep surrendered peaceably. "He was worn out," Kuner said. "I had to carry him back to the truck, maybe a hundred yards."
Back at the shelter, the sheep was toweled dry. "It had long wool so it was really wet," shelter Director Marsha Garrettson said.
Animal-control officer Lauren McKnight arranged for the sheep to be adopted by a family living near Homestead. "They had a pet sheep that died recently," Garrettson said. "So now this guy is going where he actually gets his own room."
"One of our officers goes out at night, doesn't give up and goes into the water to save an animal," Garrettson said. "The sheep is rehabbed and adopted out within a couple days to a place where he won't be killed. Now that's a rescue."