The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) says a pack of about 18 dogs lives in the Virginia Range, near the Truckee River. It says the pack started when people abandoned their dogs, and now its numbers are growing. They have to find a way to eat, and the area's young bighorn sheep offer a source of food.

"These lambs are eight to ten pounds, no match for these dogs and when they're not able to escape, they're literally being torn apart and eaten alive," Ashley Sanchez, NDOW Public Information Officer said. "This is all a result of irresponsible pet owners who have abandoned their unwanted dogs in this area."

NDOW relocated 53 bighorn sheep from Boulder City to the Virginia Range in 2011. Since then, its population has grown to about 130.

"We're trying to build and establish our bighorn sheep populations, which we've done a tremendous job over the past few years," Sanchez said.

The Desert Bighorn Sheep is Nevada's state animal, and NDOW is trying to keep it off the endangered species list. At one point, there were only about 3,000 sheep left in the state. Now that number is up to about 12,000. That is still well-below the 30,000-50,000 that once roamed throughout Nevada. 

NDOW says the feral dogs are threatening that progress, and it had to make the difficult decision to shoot some of them.

"It's such a hard decision to make but we have this human cause that's threatening this species, these newborn lambs, and it's our job to step in and take action," Sanchez said.

Sanchez says these feral dogs are past the point where they can be domesticated. NDOW said killing them was their only option.

"They are very aggressive," Sanchez said. "People should not go near them. They're not normal dogs. There's been reports that they're eating whatever they can find, so that's why these lambs are a great target for them."

NDOW officials said they did have to leave some of the dogs' bodies behind because the terrain was too dangerous to retrieve them. It is against state law for people to let their dogs run at large if it is tracking, pursuing, harassing or killing any big game animal. Residents in the Truckee River Canyon near Derby Dam say they have seen the feral dogs, which they say live near the river, several miles from the any homes.

NDOW killed the dogs in unincorporated Storey County, where there is no animal control. It says it killed the dogs in April. Since then, it has not received any incident reports regarding the pack.