Visalia’s Got Its Goat?

Gingi and Jonathan Freeman with their two month old speaking in front of the city council.
Gingi and Jonathan Freeman with their two month old speaking in front of the city council.

An enthusiastic pro-goat rally took place in front of Visalia’s City Hall before the May 4 City Council meeting. After the rally, participants entered the chambers to speak during public comment. At issue was the city’s ordinance on household pets.

Many Visalia residents came to the meeting to encourage the council members to change the ordinance to allow dwarf goats within the city limits. The council is currently deciding on whether or not to allow chickens as household pets. According to Josh McDonald, city planner, the household pet ordinance has not been updated since the 1970’s.

The movement started when Gingi and Jonathan Freeman received a notice in the mail from the city stating that they had 10 days to get rid of their goats or face a $1,000 per day fine. They have since moved their goats to the breeder’s house.

Gingi Freeman raised goats as a child in Lemoore and now uses them as a source for making baby formula for her three-month-old and her 19-month-old daughters. She is unable to breast feed and goat’s milk is the closest substitute.

In response to the city’s threatened fines, Freeman started a campaign on Change.org and has stood outside Walmart and Visalia’s Thursday night Farmers Market to collect signatures. Thus far she has received more than 1,000 signatures, half of which are Visalia residents.

Pro-goat protesters outside of Visalia City Hall.
Pro-goat protesters outside of Visalia City Hall.

Both sides of the debate showed up at the city council meeting. About 10 supporters spoke during public comment, encouraging the city council to change the ordinance, and one speaker spoke out against the goats. The argument against revolved around the fact that people move into the city to get away from farm animals. The speaker felt that for the safety and health of the city’s residents that livestock should only be allowed in rural areas.

“Farm animals have their place. I want to be able to sit and relax by my pool without smelling goat pee,” the Visalia resident said.

Gingi Freeman said the average miniature goat weighs between 35 to 65 pounds, and make excellent pets due to their good-natured personality, friendliness, and hardy constitution. Female and neutered male goats do not generate significant odors, are not violent, do not wander the neighborhood like cats nor generate the noise that dogs do. They are far less likely to spread disease. She also added that after calling the city staff of other major cities that allow dwarf goats, such as Seattle and San Diego, they have had no problems.

“Out of 4 million people I could not find one complaint,” she said.

Those in favor of changing the ordinance to allow dwarf goats within the city limits said that they would rather have goats than deal with the feral cat colonies throughout Visalia.

A speaker from Three Rivers, where owning goats is legal because the community is not incorporated, said that he has never hear of a vicious goat attack, or even a biting incident. Another speaker said that she chose to get rid of her rabbits because of the smell and buy dwarf goats instead. She also said that she fed her premature baby goat’s milk because it was the best alternative.

The overwhelming consensus was that Visalia residents should have the right to raise their own dwarf goats, feed them organically, and practice self-sufficiency, especially if it doesn’t bother anyone else. With the noise, vicious attacks and the smell, dogs and cats are a huge burden to neighborhoods. Allowing dwarf goats could actually alleviate the situation by allowing residents a wider choice of pets.

A difference of opinion sprung up about whether one could smell the goats or not. The speaker against changing the ordinance said that homes with dwarf goats smell like a petting zoo, except that the petting zoo has more sanitary restrictions. Those who supported the goats encouraged the city council members to go to a home where there are dwarf goats and pick up goat feces and smell them. Where dog and cat feces regularly get tracked into houses, this does not happen with the goats. Nor does their pee smell, supporters claim.

After speaking privately withFreeman, a city planner has agreed to go out to her house and inspect the goats living quarters and determine if they smell or not. Freeman met with the city staff May 5, to determine the next step needed to take to get the item on the city council agenda.

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