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Tuesday, September 25, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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"One giant step for goatkind": Seattle gives them pet status

Seattle Times staff reporter

Thanks to the work of the Goat Justice League, ruminants now have the right to life and limited liberty in Seattle.

On Monday, the City Council acknowledged the miniature goat's attributes as human companion, weed whacker and milk maker, and unanimously voted that the goats could be kept as pets.

"One small step for man, one giant step for goatkind," said Councilmember Richard Conlin, who sponsored the legislation.

As of late, goats have gained the environmental status of hybrid cars and bovine-growth-hormone-free milk, prized for their ability to mow lawns without using fossil fuels. University of Washington and Seattle City Light recently hired herds to clear slopes of blackberry brambles.

Monday's vote marked yet another gain for miniature goats, which are about the size of a large dog. Also known as pygmy or dwarf goats, the animals weigh between 50 and 100 pounds and grow to about 2 feet tall. Owners keep them as pets and sources of milk.

People who want to keep goats will have to license them like a dog or cat and get them dehorned. Male goats must be neutered — the unaltered male gives off a musky scent that some find offensive, goat experts say. To protect sidewalk gardens and park vegetation, goats will not be allowed in off-leash areas or anywhere outside the owner's yard, with an exception: They can be lent to other owners to graze in their yards. Portland and Everett have passed legislation legalizing the goats.

Under the previous land-use code in Seattle, farm animals could not be kept on lots smaller than 20,000 square feet.

The law passed Monday classifies minigoats as small animals rather than farm animals, and the new licensing requirement treats them like dogs, cats, exotic animals and potbellied pigs.

Jennie Grant, a Madrona resident and outlaw goat owner, asked Conlin's office to consider changing the old law after a neighbor alerted the city to Grant's goats and complained about potential public-health risks. Grant is president of the Goat Justice League, which she says has 100 members.

Her goats, Brownie and Snowflake, "are happy, they have each other, they have enough space to do the things goats like to do," Grant said at a public hearing. "Every day they harvest blackberry bushes. Every day Snowflake gives a half gallon of delicious milk. I make cheese and I bring it to the neighbors."

After researching the health risks and finding they were low, Conlin said, he proposed the new law because the goats can provide local milk and serve as "another link to the reality of where food comes from."

Animal lovers, advocates of urban sustainability and children testified in favor of legalizing the goats at the hearing Thursday. One person criticized the change, saying goats can escape any enclosure and they prefer to eat roses.

Grant sees a pastoral future for Seattle populated with minianimals. "We would be a really charming city if we were a place people could keep minifarms with chickens, goats, a vegetable garden and fruit trees," she said.

At her home, Snowflake and Brownie seemed oblivious to the legal reprieve. In fact, they seemed much more interested in a reporter's notebook that was just out of their reach.

Grant also handed out tips on raising minigoats: Build a 5-foot fence and a rain shelter, keep at least two goats, do not tether them and do not keep them indoors. Seattle Tilth plans to provide classes on goat-keeping, she said.

Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck said there was more to be done. "Why stop there? Why not sheep, llamas ... ? I think there is an argument that there are greater heights to be achieved with urban sustainability."

Staff reporter Brian Alexander contributed to this report.

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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