Urban sustainability debated as City Council considers lifting ban on weed-munching, milk-making livestock
In about a week, the Seattle City Council will assemble to discuss the possession and cultivation of Capra hicus, or, more commonly, the pygmy goat. It will be the culmination of a debate that birthed a goat legalization society (the "Goat Justice League") and catalyzed proponents of sustainable and local agriculture. It will also be the culmination of a debate that has left a fair few wondering why the City Council chose to tackle this issue when would-be goat habitat will become luxury condos by Christmas.
The movement for the legalization of pygmy goats began last October, when Seattle's Jennie Grant bought two mini LaMancha goats for her backyard.
"I liked the idea of growing my own food for political and ecological reasons," said Grant in an interview at the Sept. 8 Seattle Tilth Harvest Fair. Grant's garden includes lettuce, green beans, and strawberries, and it is plentiful enough to provide her family with greens throughout the summer.
Grant found that goat's milk is an acquired taste; goat cheese, on the other hand, is delicious and a good source of calcium, protein, and vitamin B2. Besides the health benefits of goat dairy, Grant was pleased to discover that her goats, known affectionately as Snowflake and Brownie, happily ate unwanted invasive species like blackberry bushes and Japanese knotweed.
"And they make great pets!" added Grant.
But when a neighbor came down with an uncommon illness a few months ago, fingers were pointed in the direction of Grant's bleating backyard. The health department would later conclude Grant's goats could not possibly have been vectors for the disease. But in the meantime, Grant's neighbors discovered a century-old zoning ordinance prohibiting the possession of goats in city limits, and the Department of Planning and Development came a-knocking.
This antiquated legislation was originally intended, as Grant put it, "to make Seattle a more 'sophisticated' city," and it may well mean the end of her goats' days here.
Grant is down, but not out. Though eventually issued an order to dispose of her goats, Grant took her case before Councilmember Richard Conlin, arguing that her animals were a great addition to Seattle's dogs, cats, chickens, and (thanks to a recent ruling) potbellied pigs.
Since the council announced its intention to make a decision on Sept. 18, Conlin's office has been bombarded with emails, phone calls, and letters. The pygmy goat has quickly become the most controversial quadruped in Seattle history.
Besides the ecological benefits, the mini LaMancha can be housebroken and will trim (parts of) the yard. One owner wrote that she likes to watch TV with her favorite pygmy goat nestled in her lap. But there is a downside.
The most obvious argument against goats is odor: male goat feces is pungent and, too small to clean effectively, tends to remain in soil for long periods of time. Male goats that aren't neutered can also be temperamental and loud. But those in favor of goat legalization counter that an ordinance could require that only female and neutered male goats be allowed in city limits.
Still, there is the question of whether Seattle is equipped to deal with the goats to begin with. Ornamental plants like rhododendron are noxious to goats if eaten in great quantity. Cute and cuddly baby goats will eventually become needy and not-so-cute adult goats. The city pound, said one critic, may not be equipped to deal with a flood of unwanted livestock whose health and space needs are totally unlike those of dogs or cats.
Seattleites on both sides of the debate agree that breeding and ownership should be well regulated were goats allowed in city limits, and several advised the council to require educational classes for those interested in having their own goats. Whether or not the city has the time, energy, and resources to do so is a debate in itself. Nonetheless, Grant is optimistic: "I think [the City Council] will pass [the ordinance]."
And if they don't?
Said Grant, "I don't even want to think about it."