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Alpaca herd split in money dispute

Like a scene from a futuristic western, Greenbank alpaca owner Dick Whittick came home from a business trip Sunday to find a large chunk of his alpaca herd missing.

Gone are 25 alpacas total, 16 females and nine babies. One of the females was pregnant and due to deliver this weekend, Whittick said.

“This really decimates the herd,” he said Monday.

Left behind were 40 males, three females and two babies. Two mothers and babies were separated, leaving a mismatched mother and baby behind, and taking another pair away.

“He wasn’t caring much about the animals,” Whittick said.

The alpacas are the showpiece of Whittick’s proposed fiber processing mill at Greenbank Farm, and a favorite farm attraction.

The alpacas were taken Saturday, while Whittick was gone. Whether it was a case of rustling or repossession is a matter of debate.

Whittick said the animals were apparently taken by Harold Berkholtz, an alpaca farmer from Canada, with whom he had had previous business dealings, and whom he owed close to $50,000.

Whittick said Berkholtz phoned him last week, before Whittick left on a business trip, and asked about the alpaca babies, and about picking up some male alpacas he had sold Whittick earlier. Whittick told him he didn’t want the males, but they hadn’t arranged a pick up time.

“He knew I wouldn’t be here,” Whittick said.

Saturday afternoon Berkholtz showed up at the farm with a stock trailer. Farm manager Laura Blankenship spoke with him briefly, then left to oversee a busy weekend of events at the farm, including the Tour de Whidbey bicycle gathering.

In hindsight, Blankenship wished she had questioned him closer.

“If I wasn’t so busy I probably would have checked better,” she said.

Sunday morning alpaca manager Rick Anderson discovered a fence had been cut to free a lock and the alpacas were gone. Whittick said an all-terrain vehicle was also gone.

Since female alpacas are much more valuable than males, Whittick estimates the loss at $141,000. He did not have insurance on the missing animals.

“Clearly he was taking the most valuable animals,” he said.

All the females have identifying microchips embedded under their skin, but the babies are unmarked.

Berkholtz’s wife Shawn, contacted by phone Tuesday, said they did indeed take the alpacas, but only to settle part of what Whittick owed them for animals purchased over the last year.

She said the animals taken were originally from their farm in Enderby, British Columbia. The all-terrain vehicle was also theirs and was not paid for, she said, which is why they took it as well.

A buyer for the alpacas came to the farm with them Saturday and selected which ones he wanted, Berkholtz said, which happened to be the females and their babies.

She also claimed the animals were in poor condition, with no pasture and moldy hay.

“Alpacas can’t eat moldy hay,” she said. “The girls need quite a bit of nutrition to feed the babies. Many of these were malnourished.”

She declined to say who bought the alpacas or where they are.

Whittick has filed a police report and put out an “all points bulletin” to members of the International Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, in hopes that someone will know the whereabouts of the missing alpacas.

Island County Sheriff’s office has contacted the Berkholtzes, and are investigating the incident as a civil matter, a simple property dispute between buyer and seller. Jan Smith, sheriff’s spokesperson, also declined to comment on the whereabouts of the missing alpacas, since it is an ongoing investigation.

Both Whittick and Berkholtz said the sheriff’s department told them not to contact each other.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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