I have written a few times about the frustrations of working for a county-run animal control facility. They are quite different from privately-run shelters. For one, they tend to be at the bottom of the barrel for funding because animal control is actually a black hole, revenue-wise, for the county. They spend a lot of money housing animals, feeding them, cleaning them, and all of the other expenses that go along with animal husbandry, but make very little money back in comparison. Add to that the normal red tape of getting anything progressive accomplished in a county-run facility of any kind and you are left feeling like you are knocking your head up against a wall.
The day came when I inevitably had enough of county shelter life and decided to leave to preserve what little sanity I had left. About the same time that I had made this decision, the shelter received a small goat that had been found wandering the rural streets of a nearby city. This was not an uncommon occurrence, finding stray livestock. This little goat was one of the coolest goats that I had ever met. He was more like a little dog, and he followed me all over the shelter’s barnyard area whenever I was there. When I stood still, he would hop on top of the picnic table and push his head into me, waiting for me to push back or scratch his ears. Whenever he saw me even walk near the barnyard area, he would excitedly pace back and forth the length of the fence, waiting for me to pay attention to him.
At the shelters for which I have worked previously, we sent any unclaimed livestock that we received to farm animal rescue. Unfortunately, however, my particular shelter had an animal control office that adhered strictly to the book and insisted we abide by a law that had been on the books since the 1920s. This law states that when a shelter receives a stray livestock animal, if the animal goes unclaimed, then it goes up for auction to the highest bidder. In my shelter career up to that point, I knew of no animal shelters that actually paid any attention to this law. It was one of those obscure laws that probably made more sense at the time it was written. Further, there were simply no controls over with whom, or where, that animal ended up if it was sent to auction.
As my last day at the shelter began, I was impatiently waiting for it to be over. By this time I was embittered towards the whole county shelter process, frustrated with my executive director’s lack of interest in making any changes, and at my wits end at the county’s refusal to look into what was a clear violation of some major ethics occurring by our higher-level management. As I went out to the barnyard area, I saw my little goat, who was lying down in the far corner, hurriedly get up and run towards me when he saw me walking his way. It dawned on me: who was going to look after the little goat? I did not want him going to auction under any circumstances.
After racking my brain, I made a call to one of the women who volunteered for the shelter’s sister non-profit organization. She had a lot of land and fantastic facilities for livestock. I explained to her the situation and asked what she thought of taking a goat onto her farm. She agreed and I told her that I would come to her with the goat.
After closing time for the shelter came, I waited until everyone had left for the day, logged-on to our shelter database, and pulled up his records. Once his record came up, I marked him as “Sent to rescue,” closed his file, and logged out of the database for the last time. I then pulled my little Volkswagen Jetta around to the barnyard, packed the back seat full of blankets, and ran off to get the little goat. Bringing him around to the backseat of my car, I silently prayed that getting a goat into the backseat of a compact car would be easier than it sounded. It wasn’t.
After much pushing and coaxing, I finally got a very bewildered goat into the back of my car. As I drove away with my little stowaway, I wondered what the penalty was for technically stealing a goat from shelter property. Too late to turn back now. As rain started to pour down, I turned on my windshield wipers and glanced back in the rearview. I saw the goat’s head move back and forth really fast as he tracked the movement of the windshield wipers, a new experience for him I am sure.
I slowly pulled into a convenience store to grab a few things for the road, and while in line, I glanced out to my car to make sure that my little goat-friend wasn’t making a meal out of my car. I watched a woman pull up next to my car to park, completely unaware of the goat in the Jetta next to her. As she got out of her car, she glanced up just in time to see him let out a loud bleat while intently staring back at her. I’m pretty sure he shaved about 5 years off of her life; she looked quite startled.
After finishing up at the store, I pulled out of the parking lot, and we began our journey down the highway, girl and goat, both off to start new chapters in our lives. His arrival on the farm went well as we slowly led him to his new dwelling, and he made short work of settling in. From time to time, I still speak with that volunteer who took him, and he is still a happy and thriving little goat, blissfully unaware of how close he came to the auction-block.
I should probably insert something here about feeling badly for smuggling an animal out of the shelter or make some public service announcement about how it is bad to steal “shelter property.” But the truth is I’d do it again in a heartbeat. And I’m pretty sure my little goat friend had no complaints.
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