On getting - and getting rid of - goats

Getting the tax receipts together for my accountant gets my goat, although turning everything over to Dave in March offers dividends that don't show up on my 1040s. It gives us more time to swap stories about the billies and the nannies.

The fact that now we're both goat-free in no way diminishes our appetite for the genre. To truly savor a goat story, it helps to have "owned" (sponsored?) the livestock equivalent to a cat. My first goat experience occurred in childhood, when Mum bought a Toggenburg we named Susie Powermower Hunter. The middle name indicates our ignorance of goat gestalt.

Goats don't powermower, they pick. The only power lunch that piques a goat's interest involves something forbidden, like poultry feed, as we learned the day Susie broke into the chicken coop and made short work of the contents of a hanging feeder. When Mum sent us out to collect the eggs that evening, we found Susie lying in the coop, belly bulging, bleating weakly. The vet deflated Susie - though not her appetite for chicken feed. That survived undiminished.

Susie had unconventional tastes. The day Dad loaded her into the back of our station wagon to move her from Massachusetts to our new home in New Hampshire, she breached the barricade between luggage area and back seat. While he negotiated traffic on Route 128, she ate the collar off his oxford shirt.

I've twice had goats since becoming a homeowner, most recently an Alpine named Noah I allowed onto the property in a moment of weakness when he was seven days old. I bottle-fed him at first; we napped on the porch after lunch, his little head on my tummy. Six years later, we parted ways after he'd eaten everything on the place that we agreed should be consumed by a goat - and he'd overridden my veto of snow peas and purple cabbages once too often.

Noah's mind kept complicated records of the amount of attention I lavished on every backyard plant. His taste and mine dovetailed exactly. When my attention was diverted, he used his horns to pry out the heavy-duty staples that attached the hog wire to his pen's corner posts and made a beeline for the plants that topped our most-wanted list.

I gave Noah to an idealistic young couple with eight acres of multiflora-rose-choked hillside to subdue. Before they hauled him away in their van, I gave them a bag of sweet treat to keep him on his good behavior. Would that help them bond with Noah? the man wondered. I reined in a guffaw. But for weeks after they drove off, whenever I saw a white van on the road, my heart leapt in fear that they were bringing Noah back.

I told Dave the goat-bonding story. He countered with a better one about the time he tried to give away his elderly goats - who in their youth had shown Noah's proclivities for girdling young apple trees and walking across freshly painted porches - to a doctor we both knew. Dave considered the goats' age and docility selling points, but the doctor demurred; he wanted young goats. He wanted to train them to pull a cart.

I sucked in my breath.

"The next time I saw him," Dave said, "he couldn't wait to tell me all about the two-month-old kids he'd bought instead of taking my old nannies." The doctor described how well the training was going. The goats were such a joy to watch that he penned them right behind the house and built a little shed for them on the back of his workshop.

The smile that had been playing around Dave's mouth transferred itself to mine.

The first thing the goats learned - without training - was to leap on top of their shed. From there, the workshop roof was a mere hop, skip, and a jump. And one quiet Saturday morning when the good doctor and his wife were sleeping in, they were awakened by what they at first mistook for a plane crashing through the roof. After who knows how many weeks of casting covetous eyes, the young trainees had attained the object of their desire: the gently sloping tin roof of the doctor's domicile.

"How did you get him to tell you that story?"

"I asked how the goats were. It sort of leapt out."

"What did he do?"

"Oh, he tried various ways of keeping them off the roof."

"But since they had more time than he to work on the problem...."

"Sure. Eventually he built them another shed, away from the house."

"But they got out."

"Of course."

We both knew where they'd headed. The doctor hadn't torn down the first shed; he'd stored the lawn mower and the goat cart in it. Dave had had the good grace not to inquire further about the training. He hadn't had to. We both knew it was right on schedule.

"I guess we better get to these taxes," he said when we stopped laughing.

"Taxes are taxing."

A relief though, compared to goats.

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