Story # 3: Mattie, the Goat
Hello, I’m Bill Crain from Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in Poughquag, which is just up the road from Pawling. My wife, Ellen, and I founded the sanctuary in 2008 to provide a permanent home to farm animals rescued from slaughter and abusive conditions. We currently care for over 100 animals, including sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys, and a mini-horse. Each month, I’ve been telling you a new story about the animals. This time I’d like to tell you about a goat named Mattie and her son, Boomer.
Mattie was among the first animals at our farm. We got her from a live meat market in the Bronx. Live meat markets are places where customers walk in and pick out the animals they want butchered. For several years, we had driven by this market and had seen sheep and goats awaiting slaughter. We had talked about wishing we could save those animals. So when we opened the farm, we purchased some goats and sheep. I later learned that many animal activists don’t want people to buy animals from live meat markets; the activists say the purchases support the businesses. I came to see their point, although I have mixed feelings. If you asked the animal, she’d say, “Get me out of here.”
Anyway, Ellen and I rented a truck and drove the goats and sheep from the live meat market to our farm. Our first caretaker, a young woman named Stacy, gave them all names, calling one “Mattie.”
When Mattie got out of the truck, she was terrified. She was shaking all over. It was a month before she began to explore the farm and become an active goat.
Soon Stacy pointed out that that Mattie was gaining more weight than one would expect. “Could she be pregnant?,” Stacy asked. We asked our vet to examine her, but the vet said he couldn’t tell. Then, after four months, Mattie went into labor. But the baby was turned the wrong way. Stacy took charge and turned the baby around. Then the baby, a boy, boomed out. Stacy named him Boomer.
Baby Boomer was full of energy. By seven days of age, he was sprinting back and forth in the isle of the barn, apparently just for the fun of it. When he was 10 days old, he ran out to the pasture in the morning and tried to climb up a rock that was about that was about 1and 1/2 feet high. But when he reached the top, he slid down backwards, landing with a thud. He climbed back up and jumped down–backwards–and this time he landed perfectly. He climbed up and jumped down several more times. He leapt forwards and backwards, and each time he added a new spin while in the air. He looked like a platform diver experimenting with new stunts. Seeing that I was observing this, Stacy said, “It’s funny that he never just jumps, but always tries something new. He’s full of antics.”
As Boomer grew up, he calmed down somewhat, but not completely. He still loved to play. Mattie, too, was rambunctious. Both Mattie and Boomer were often up to mischief. They found ways to get into the chicken coops to eat the chicken food, and they figured out how to squeeze through fences to gain access to tasty new plants and trees. Like our other goats, they were enjoying life on the farm.
Then, when Boomer was two years old, he suddenly didn’t seem himself. He was sluggish. We called our vet, who examined Boomer at the farm and told us to test Boomer and the other goats for parasites. The results showed that Boomer was suffering from severe anemia; a parasite was sucking the blood from his stomach. Mattie had the same parasite, but her case was not as severe.
Our vet said Boomer’s life was in imminent danger and recommended that we drive Boomer to the Tufts Veterinary School in Boston, which is three hours away. So Ellen and our new caretaker, Karen, put Boomer in the backseat of our Hondo Civic. They put Mattie in the car, too. Mattie could have been treated at the farm, but we didn’t want Boomer or Mattie to be left alone.
When Boomer reached Tufts, the staff was waiting for him. Once he was out of the car, he tried to walk, but he staggered, so the staff lifted him onto a stretcher. The staff carried Boomer down a long hallway toward the stall where he would be prepared for surgery.
Ellen and Karen watched him go, while Karen held Mattie on a leash. Karen held it tight. She knew that Mattie loved to explore and at this hospital there were many things to attract her–hospital equipment, stacks of hay, and open doors. Mattie could get into considerable trouble.
Then Ellen told Karen: “Let Mattie go free.”
Karen was perplexed. It seemed like a crazy idea. But Ellen was the boss, so she followed Ellen’s order. Once off the leash, Mattie rushed to catch up with Boomer, and then walked directly behind the stretcher for the rest of the long trip down the hall. For Ellen and Karen, it was a touching sight. Mattie could go wherever she wanted, but all she cared about was her baby.
The Tufts staff did a great job. They had to repair Boomer’s stomach, but he recovered. Mattie recovered, too. They are happy animals on our farm.
As a final note, I would like to tell you about a small gesture that meant a great deal to me. I mentioned earlier that when Mattie came to our farm sanctuary, she was extremely frightened. Her fear of humans lasted several years. I assumed it would never go away. After all, humans were about to kill her in the live meat market, and her life before that may have involved great suffering at human hands.
But one afternoon, over four years after Mattie’s arrival, I was weeding in a pasture when Mattie left the other goats and walked over to me. She placed her head under my hand, and I rubbed it. She tilted her head so I could rub it few seconds more, and then she left to rejoin her companions. As she walked away, I felt very happy. I felt accepted.
You can read about Mattie and other animals at our farm sanctuary in my new book, The Emotional Lives of Animals and Children: Insights from a Farm Sanctuary. It is now available on Amazon.com