The goat that keeps on giving

Our elderly Toggenburg goat has attended First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Ind., for much of her life. Cynthia shows up only once a year, but her charitable work at the annual fund drive for Heifer Project International has garnered contributions that might not have been made but for her earnest oval eyes. (The program donates livestock to rural families in developing countries.)

When the church first approached us about displaying our animals in their Fellowship Hall to help bring home what the project was all about, we had a wide assortment to loan them: dairy calves, hens and roosters, and our pet goat. Other local farms contributed lambs, sheep, ducks, and piglets.

After services one October day the hall became a mini farm, complete with straw-bedded pens and cages, bleats, moos, snorts, and cackles. It was so wildly popular with the kids and so conducive to their parents' philanthropy that the tradition took hold. We would get reports on the day's successes when the fellows who had come in the predawn light to load Cynthia and the other animals into their truck redelivered them safely back to us.

From that first year Cynthia seemed unperturbed by the trip to town. After a couple of such experiences, she began to jump into the back of the truck when her special Sunday rolled around, as if eager to get going. And she has gamely and gladly carried on her role in Heifer Project Day even after we retired from commercial milking and had no calves to send along with her.

By now, she's a veritable institution at First Presbyterian. I recently decided it was high time I saw for myself how she worked her audience. I am inordinately fond of Cynthia, and her annual public appearance constituted a secret pocket of her life I suddenly felt ashamed that I knew nothing about.

She didn't see me for quite some time as she basked, center stage, in a steady stream of attention. The sheep with whom she shared a roomy pen was a winsome enough creature, but no match for the old fundraising pro that our goat had become. Whereas the sheep stood solidly at the pen's center, Cynthia schmoozed along its edges, thrusting her nose shamelessly into passing hands.

When I walked up and called to her, she stopped in her tracks absolutely dumbstruck. The last thing she'd expected was a face from home. This had been her gig all these years, after all, and she seemed determined to keep it that way, acknowledging me once with her nose, then turning her back to work another side of the pen.

I wandered off to buy a couple of crafty items in support of the project - it seemed the least I could do in light of Cynthia's contributions to the church's efforts. When I left, the goat was too absorbed to notice. After all, there were photographers and reporters about.

Back home late that afternoon, Cynthia gazed out from the little shed she shares with the laying hens, impatient for her evening grain. As I approached, she gave me her undivided attention, licking her lips suggestively, something she always does when I say hello close to mealtimes. It suddenly struck me that she hadn't done so when I'd visited her at the church. Food, apparently, was not on her mind at the time. She was, you might say, a goat on a mission.

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