Pets that get my goat

Family pets eventually gain a place of love and respect totally out of proportion to their domiciliary contribution. This is Le Pelley's law. Cats are like this. At least, our cats were. But cats, over the years, have gained a sort of exception from any law because of alleged ''cuteness'' or ''personality'' expressed even while flaunting their enormous indifference to familial responsibility. Any sacrifices cats make for the human race are entirely in the eye of the beholder. No cat of my acquaintance ever graduated from obedience school.

But this isn't about cats, thank goodness. My literary reputation is too shaky to withstand the approbrium of cat-lovers.

The pet I am discussing is one that gave all our friends serious doubts about our sanity as well as our social standing in the neighborhood.

I speak of Jonathan, a most beloved animal. If one can call a creature who adores flowers an animal. Jonathan was a goat.

That is to say, he was a ''pet'' goat. Now that he has long since gone to his tin can banquet in the sky I can be more objective about him and his years within our family circle. As bad as he was, responsibility-wise, he had this peculiar kind of pet personality, shared with cats, which won our hearts even as he drained us of all other, reasonable human attributes.

To understand goats, one has to abandon certain sophisticated inclinations of disbelief about them. All cliches about goats are true. And while a lot can be said about a goat's intelligence, mostly in the negative, it is not really at issue. A goat's constitution is such that it needs no special, protective IQ.

Adventure with Jonathan started one beautiful, spring day when I first brought him home in the back seat of the Ford. Letting him occupy the back seat of the family car was a mistake in judgment, of course, because instead of lying down as an animal of his proportions should do, he sat up looking out the window. More than one person thought he was a relative. When I paused momentarily in front of the town hall, a kindly old lady said ''Good morning'' to him. This was my first inkling of his ambiguous charm and assumption of kinship.

I should say, at this point, he had been de-horned, and that his whiskers gave a deaconlike apperance. Not that being without horns was entirely necessary to resemble a few of our relatives, but it increased his claim of homogeneous physiognomy to an embarrassing degree.

In spite of this vague family resemblance I decided it was proper to have Jonathan contained in his own part of the yard. To this end, I tethered him in an upper field while I built a shed and put up a six-foot fence, enclosing about half an acre. This took two days and $160. When I escorted Jonathan into his new domain, he immediately jumped over the fence and followed me back to the house, where he assumed he was to live.

We managed to remain firm. He lived in the shed. Except during thunderstorms. A decision of my wife's.

It took several days to remove the useless fence. Jonathan looked on, contentedly, while he ate two small fruit trees, a flower bed, and my son's jelly doughnut, including the bag. My son also claimed he ate his baseball, but I didn't know Jonathan well enough that first week to be sure it was possible. By the end of the first month, I knew it was possible. The dainty manner in which Jonathan masticated his way through the various symbols of civilized living carried us to the edge, but not over, the line of tolerance. The adoration in his eyes as he ate a visitor's embroidered handkerchief even earned him some measure of forgiveness. Especially since we were able to retrieve her handbag, missing only the leather strap.

Goats have a reputation for other things besides eating. One thing is butting. We didn't call it butting, of course, because he did it with affection. We called it ''nuzzling.'' At times, however, the nuzzling was firmer than it needed to be. On one occasion, an ill-mannered nine-year-old child was propelled in a perfect, parabolic arc into the river. A similar fate even befell my wife, who was not ill-mannered, but bent over to examine a frog. This posterior view always seemed to offer irresistible temptation to Jonathan, which was hard to explain beforehand to strangers and guests.

For a while we tried to wean Jonathan from his awful urge to eat tin cans. The eating of tin cans by goats, we found, is not fable.

One can argue that this is a good way to dispose of old cans, but nevertheless, it always set my teeth on edge. On the Fourth of July he ate several cans that had contained salmon. This we understood, at least within the context of goat gourmandise. If one likes the taste of salmon, he eats the can it was in. But he also ate a can that had contained window putty. Under normal circumstances, he didn't eat window putty.

In a few years, a difference in the pattern of our living made it necessary to sell Jonathan. Incredible as it seems, he sold almost at once to a prominent family nearby. And in the way of many profligate, undeserving filials, he improved his station by leaving home.

Unable to abandon Jonathan completely, even to a richer life, we visited him several times. Although he was given one small chore, that of being hitched on occasion to a small cart, he lived in unbelievable luxury. He was fed bread and milk from china dishes. He had a silver ornament on his Fifth Avenue Mark Cross collar. The groom who cared for the horses also brushed Jonathan. He greeted us with a polite and friendly, but aristocratic, nuzzle.

I've pondered long and often about undeserving pets. They seem to prosper anyway.

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