A popular legend has it that an Ethiopian goat herder spied his goats nibbling on some bright berries; not long thereafter, the goats became much more energetic. Sensing there must be more to the simple berries than met his eye, the goat herder thought he’d let his taste buds decide. Soon he too received the same euphoric high his goats did. Bundling up the berries, he headed off to a nearby monastery to share his new discovery. Here the monk was not pleased at all, so much so that he threw the berries into the fire. The alluring aroma that followed was enough to ensure the roasted beans were carefully picked from the embers. Now, here’s where story gets really interesting: the roasted beans were then dissolved in hot water, yielding the world’s first cup of coffee.
There can be no doubt that goats have long enriched our lives, since their domestication around 11,000 years ago. They have featured for time immemorial in our art, folklore and fantasies. And although we may have received coffee and many other benefits from our symbiotic relationship with these gregarious even-toed ungulates—that’s just a fancy word for saying each of their cloven hooves are divided into two ‘toes’—the benefits have not been evenly shared.
Goats have an innate ability to survive harsh conditions with minimal food demands that would see other animals perish. They are naturally curious and will often seek out human company. They have an ability to bred at an early age, along with a natural docility if handled from young. All of these things have been both a curse and comfort for goats as we humans have exploited them for food, fun, fashion, fibre and even freightage. Yet their most deserving title, tragically, still eludes so many of them, and that is the title of “friend”.
But fortunate am I to have had the privilege of sharing my heart (although many have taken a piece of it), my hands (as I have gently massaged their favorite spots to their giddy delight) and my home (it’s actually called a sanctuary—Edgar’s Mission) with many a goat.
Gladys Goat was the first goat to find her way to Edgar’s Mission through finding me at the notorious and now thankfully defunct Mernda Market. Those who had been to this market could well have been forgiven for asking what century they were living in as animals were poked, prodded and even shoved into car boots. The aged, weather-beaten and bedraggled Gladys, who had clearly “served her master well”, miraculously made her way into my gaze wherever that may have been that day at the market. And whilst others laughed and mocked her as she held her head up despite her pitiful state, I whispered into her ear, “You’re coming home with me, my lovely,” to which her wise eyes returned the message, “I know”. I thought the old goat would simply be coming home to pass on peacefully in her sleep not long thereafter, but Gladys had other ideas as she gently inhaled her second wind, grew a soft shiny coat and endeared herself into many a heart for many a year.
If Gladys was to prove the Mother Teresa of goats, Rusty, my second goat to call friend, was to prove the Saddam Hussein, causing me to muse that had he been my first goat, there could well have never been a second! Misunderstood and a victim of human stupidity (I struggle for a better, kinder word but there is none), the young and uncastrated Rusty had been encouraged into bad, which was to progress to dangerous, behaviour. And sadly he was looking down the barrel of paying the ultimate price. With his repertoire of tricks escalating from the somewhat benign ripping up of every page of the Sunday Age (a tome of a newspaper in the day) on the road trip home, to ejaculating on me on numerous occasions on said road trip, to smashing his horns into my chest and resolve later that night—all of this caused me to think, “What have I done?”. Thankfully, history was to show I had “done” the right thing; I saved a life, learned one hell of a lot about goats on the run through, and found the truth of the quote that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (and love goats even more!!)
Frostie the Snow Goat, a wee little kid goat who was found by bush walkers unable to use his back legs, became my best buddy for the short while he danced on this earth. Despite the terrible hand life had dealt him, Frostie was to prove one of the happiest, if not the happiest, animal I have even encountered. His cheery little face and cheeky little bleats, along with his penchant for chewing my hair, said each morning, “Come on world, I want to explore you” and a custom-made wheel chair was to make this possible. But sadly, only so for a short while, until the sum of his ills was to prove too great as Frostie took his last breath cradled in my arms, and I could not have sobbed any more if I tried. That life is not always fair is something I know only too well, but why it had to play out this way for Frostie, I will never understand. I will love you forever little buddy and one day longer.
It has been said that animals can bring out the best and worst in we humans, and Sounder tells this story well on both scores. Sounder, a handsome and leggy rangeland goat, born on the vast open plains, roamed free until the day he and his herd were rounded up and trucked off to slaughter. On reaching the abattoir, the terrified animals—pregnant does, newborn kids, ageing matriarchs and smelly bucks—were all to meet with foreign sights and smells that confirmed they were not in a good place and things were about to get worse. But Sounder saw an opportunity and he seized it with all of his might. Taking flight, he made good his escape; alas his jaw did not, as it collided with a hard and blunt object that almost ripped it from his body. With breathtaking unbearable pain in his body, and terror in his heart, he still kept running. Finding himself in a factory courtyard, he stood shaking uncontrollably, the pain of his throbbing jaw proving almost too much. Through all of this came an opportunity for the human heart to shine, and that is just what it did, as the factory owner explained to me, “Last month a sheep did just the same thing, stood there terrified as the police came, grabbed the animal, hog tied him and shoved him in the back of the divvy van and drove him back to the abattoir. The sheep looked at me, and the sheer terror in that animal’s eyes is something I will never ever forget. I don’t want to be responsible for it again”. Over time, Sounder’s jaw was to heal, although his lip on the left side has a bit of a droop; his mental anguish was to take a lot longer. Even today, he is wary of people, although my heart sings wildly as he comes forward to take a treat from my hand and I place a finger on his nose and thank him for the forgiveness he has given our species, and I couldn’t love him any more if I tried.
And so, as I started my tale of goats with a story about coffee, it seems only fitting to end it with a tale of a goat named Cappuccino—a most sickly little kid who arrived cradled in the arms of a human who desperately wanted the poor animal to live. They explained the circumstance of his elderly human carers, who could no longer provide properly for the animals in their care, with several of them perishing. Peeling back the blanket that had tried in vain to warm the bony body, it seemed that kindness may have come too late. Cold, lifeless and limp—but no one had told little Cappuccino’s spirit what this all meant, as his crusty eye lids began to part, and there was hope. For several weeks Cappuccino would come everywhere I went, wrapped in a warm blanket and gently poked every now and then just to ensure he was still on the right side of living. He gave many a nervous moment as he battled illness after illness, yet somehow he triumphed and his indomitable resolve is something I regularly draw upon for inspiration.
Over the years I have had the privilege and good fortune to have my life and sense of humour enriched by graceful and gleeful, cheeky and enchanting goats, each one giving rise to the notion that something here is brewing—and that is the idea that all animals want, need and deserve our kindness. Yep, I’ll drink to that, what about you?