Watch: Portrush woman's sheep Marley thinks he’s a dog
A Portrush woman has told how an orphaned sheep she bought to cut the grass chose a dog's life instead.
Six-month-old Marley, a Valais Blacknose valley sheep built for harsh mountain conditions, was taken in by Ali Vaughan (34) to her family home in Carlisle, Cumbria.
Marley's unusual transition to the cosy life of a Labrador began when he developed a life-threatening joint condition.
Allowed inside to rest at the fireside, Marley quickly became firm friends with 10-year-old lab Jess sharing food from the same bowl, playing fetch and joining the family on walks.
"It's been absolutely nuts, I didn't expect this much attention," Ali told the Belfast Telegraph.
"When he became ill we feared he would have to be put to sleep, but the vet made a last ditch attempt to give him daily penicillin injections."
Accompanied by Jess each day to the vet, Marley began to improve within days.
"Because we had to nurse him back to health for such a long time we did spoil him a bit. He very much took to the cosy dog bed in front of the Aga," said Ali.
Gentle Jess had no problem sharing her kitchen space.
"They became best buddies and Marley starting adopting dog-like characteristics down to eating out of the same dog bowl and chasing after balls," said Ali.
She admits house training a sheep is "next to impossible".
"Luckily it's a tiled floor, put it that way," she said.
Ali's husband Adam (37) and their two children Ella (10) and Max (4) were quick to embrace Marley's unique appeal.
"The children are so funny because they think this is normal," she said. "They go to school and nursery and say 'I've got a sheep we take for a walk', they think that's what most kids do. They don't seem to realise we have a rather odd animal.
"Marley's very fond of Max. Max actually taught Marley how to jump up and down in the kitchen.
"Having quadrupled in size, Marley now towers over Jess and is still growing. He's still only a baby so he has a long way to go."
With Marley too big for the house the family recruited another sheep, A Ryeland breed named Bear, to remind Marley how to be a sheep. "From day one they got on really well. It's a bit of a bromance, they eat grass with their faces touching," said Ali.
"It's been nice because Marley and Jess missed each other, but Jess is too old to be out in the cold all day.
"Within a week Bear had Marley out eating grass and doing more sheep-like things, but he's still 90% dog.
"The minute he can get out of the field and into the kitchen he's back to being a dog.
"He sleeps now in a place attached to the house we call the piggery.
"There's ducks on the other side of him.
"It's cosy and warm and has a soft dog bed, pretty luxurious for a sheep really."
Asked if she had plans for an entire flock, Ali said: "I promised I won't, but I did actually message the farmer a couple of nights ago to say I'd quite like a Herdwick sheep."