“Strange request” was the subject of the e-mail that landed in my inbox overnight. My friend Sarah*, the director of programming for a synagogue in New York City, needed a goat. The synagogue was organizing an Israeli Independence Day festival with the theme “Foods of Israel: Ancient and Modern,” and had gotten enthusiastic about having an actual goat there. Sarah thought that I, her farmer-friend in nearby Warwick, could help.
OK, I thought. I know people who know people with goats. I was willing to assume that goats were more cooperative than the pigs and cows that my husband and I raise, but I wasn’t sure about getting a goat from Warwick into a building on Broadway and 99th Street. I had no way to guess what goat people did or didn’t know about New York City, never mind what the synagogue people did or didn’t know about goats.
I pictured a farmer climbing out of his pick-up at a parking garage on West 96th Street and leading a goat out of the truck bed past the astonished parking attendant. Would the goat walk on a leash up Broadway, munching pedestrians’ hems and the contents of garbage cans at every corner?
Relax, I told myself. Find a goat handler and let him or her figure it out. But what about the manure? Had anyone on the synagogue committee thought about manure? Could you simply count on goat people to carry drop cloths wherever they went? Maybe some goats are house broken? Clearly I was operating at the margins of my knowledge. It was Thursday morning, and they needed the goat on Sunday, so I’d better get started.
My first call, to a couple I was sure would be OK getting a phone call before 8a.m., produced a few ideas. They knew a woman who had miniature goats (I’d forgotten goats came in sizes) but she was elderly and I’d have to find someone to take her goats in for her – maybe I’d want to do it myself? Hmmm. Or perhaps a youngster from 4H – someone with a willing parent to drive – would want the job.
My 4H contact called back immediately. “Charlie Brown would have been perfect!,” she nearly sobbed. Apparently Charlie Brown had recently reached the age at which male goats need to leave their farm, and this had been a very sad occasion.
That evening, I got a callback from my sheep-herding friend who’d just returned from an exhausting day of lambing. “No,” she said earnestly. “You can’t take one goat away from its flock.” Her voice was somewhat urgent. “It’s not right. They need to be with their herd.” I proposed that the synagogue folks would probably be OK with two goats, and did she know anyone I could call? She remained stuck on the image of me prying a single goat away from its peers, however, and proposed that I find someone with a pet goat, a creature that she clearly considered a lesser member of the goat species. She didn’t have any names for me.
On Friday I was still goatless. My husband, eavesdropping on one of my calls, said that I needed to emphasize payment: the synagogue had budgeted $500 for goat rental. This spurred me to think of the employees of a local petting farm.
I need a goat escorted to Manhattan, I explained to Jim. “Just one?,” he asked. I wondered if this was an echo of the goats-need-to-stay-with-their-herd notion, but as we continued to talk it seemed that he thought $500 was a lot for chaffeuring a lone goat. He’d talk to his sister. Encouraged that there were people who thought taking a goat into the city was a simple matter, I waited by the phone. By Saturday, however, I’d learned that Jim’s sister was really, really busy and although she had a friend whose nieces might be interested in the job, there was a family wedding this weekend so maybe I shouldn’t bother them about goats.
Time was running short when Jill herself, of JillHaven Goat Farm, called. No problem, she said. She had taken a goat into the Rachael Ray Show in midtown just last week. I burbled my delight. Names and phone numbers exchanged, my task was done.
Sunday came and went, and I heard nothing. A week later, I met Sarah in the city. I had to interrupt her friendly chatter about her grandchildren to ask, “Did you get your goat?”
Oh, no, she said blithely. Jill the Goat Lady and she had talked, but the time frame was too short for the requisite people to connect. I felt a twinge of sadness, and asked if she was disappointed. No, she said cheerfully.
“The event was completely chaotic as it was. Honestly, a goat was the last thing we needed.”