A couple heals their inner child when adopting two rescue goats

The line between pet and farm animal can often get blurry – especially when you adopt from the SPCA. In part one of two, Naomi Arnold recounts the experience.

Words: Naomi Arnold

A personal law that has held me in good stead over the years is that you must never visit the SPCA “for a look”. There will be looking, all right – but looking inevitably turns to adopting, and then before you know it you’re home playing with a small and yowly bundle of fur that will tear your life to tatters for the next few weeks.

Suffice it to say that three months ago, I forgot this very important law when I visited the highly amusing yet highly dangerous SPCA Facebook page, and came across the cutest baby animals I’d ever seen. Their names were Buckley and Scooter: two ex-feral goat kids with fluffy winter coats and huge eyes.

“You were keen to get more goats, eh?” I asked my husband, Doug, as I filled out the SPCA application form.

“Yeah, eventually,” he said.

Sounded like a yes to me. I could always remind him of his lifelong devotion to Furry Friend, the goat kid he’d raised as a boy who met an “unknown end” – a tragedy that still pained Doug to this day. I sent off the application and my phone rang instantly. Could I go in for a look sometime this week?

A look? I could indeed.

A few days later, the goats’ carer met me in reception, explaining that a hunter had shot their mother and had felt sufficiently guilty to rescue them.

Scooter and Buckley, as pictured in the SPCA Facebook ad. Because goats are herd animals, it’s important to adopt two or more to prevent a solitary animal becoming lonely.

“It’s pretty unusual for hunters to bring them in once they shoot the mum,” she said. As she opened the gate to the pen, two tiny, rabbit-sized orphans issued a babel of bleating and wrapped around our legs.

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They were small – far smaller than how they appeared in the Facebook photo. Scooter immediately climbed onto my lap. He was adorable; white and caramel, with long, creamy eyelashes and a Simon Cowell thatch of hair on top of his head.

“He had pneumonia, but he’s been given the all-clear,” their carer said, detailing all the vet care they had received. They’d had a succession of people bottle-feeding and caring for them, and were ready to be weaned.

“Pneumonia?” I thought warily, looking down at the tiny bundle of bones, belly, and fur in my lap, feelings of doubt and delight waging war in my head. Scooter coughed and shoved his head under my arm. Buckley, the darker and more confident of the twins, already had his horns growing in. But Scooter, this doe-like little runt, had presumably not been well enough to spare the resources.

Delight won. I felt my “never visit the SPCA for a look” dictum drift off and float far away, lost along with the other painful lesson I recalled from childhood: “Never adopt a sickly animal.”

It turned out we were Scooter and Buckley’s best shot. A few minutes later, I’d paid $40 for the pair of them and was driving home with two shrieking goats in a cat carrier in the boot, along with a bag of milk replacer, bottles, teats, and a sheet of feeding instructions.

I had actually been wanting a couple more goats to join our big Boer, Brian, and orphaned ex-feral, Stephen, for a while. These two had been doing a great job of keeping the weeds down around our two-hectare property, but we thought they could use company. Apart from Brian’s querulous old-man bleat and Stephen’s habit of nibbling holes in my hems, they were useful and entertaining animals. And they never escaped.

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I didn’t want to introduce Buckley and Scooter to the big goats straight away, so spent the afternoon constructing a fenced area from a roll of chicken wire and waratahs, giving them Stephen’s old house and a portion of the shed, the floor thickly covered in straw. I figured we’d fence off a decent wedge of the big goats’ paddock so everyone could get used to each other without any overzealous bunting.

Buckley tested every corner of the new enclosure, scrambling under or over or through, and scampering down to the house. Meanwhile, Scooter, feeble and lacking any athletic ability, bleated like he’d been shot. I fixed the gaps until Buckely was mostly contained, and peace reigned.

Scooter and Buckley were described as inseparable in the SPCA Facebook ad. The SPCA saves over 34,000 animals every year.

Then the rains began. It was the notorious “atmospheric river” that hit the top of the south in August 2022. It rained several months’ worth of rain in a week. Roads washed away; the power cut out; slips came down; surface water streamed and puddled. We lost our water connection immediately.

On Wednesday, I went down to the baby goats’ shed; it was flooded inches deep and the bottom of their bedding was saturated. Buckley stood squarely and nickered at me; Scooter hung his little head over his brother’s back. He had come with a little dog vest to keep him warm, and it was speckled with raindrops.

I took them back to the house with a bale of hay and settled them on our covered brick patio. They peered through the French doors at us as we hunkered down like it was lockdown 2020. We had no access to our road or town, and would end up being without running water for eight days. We had some stored, but only enough for basic hygiene, to drink, and for a bare minimum of cooking and dishes.

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Doug had often spoken of his childhood dream of wanting to build his house in a paddock so all his animal friends could come and visit him, poking their noses in the windows. Now he had it. For the rest of the week, Buckley and Scooter pranced around the porch and the deck, tipping over our outdoor furniture, firewood and pot plants, menacing the dog, and providing light relief as we worried about water, neighbours, food, slips, bridges, access, climate change, COVID, the future of the planet. They dashed between our legs to cavort inside, leaving perfect semi-circle bites in pot plants as we carried buckets out to fill with rain and scooped pond water to flush the toilet.

They were safe and dry, funny and cute, but they just wanted to be with us. Preferably on us; Scooter in particular loved jumping into our laps, where he’d obviously been nursed by kind-hearted souls when he was sick.

But as they bleated for attention, I was aware our familiarity was going to be a problem when it came to fencing them again. I remembered my uncle scolding the 10-year-old me when I tried to play with the huntaway puppy he was raising, in case it became too much of a pet and was ruined for working life.

But for Scooter and Buckley, the die was cast. I could see we’d have our work cut out for us with these goats – once the rains finally stopped.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.

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