March 7th, 2015

Tale of the Goat

“We have to show Tristan the goats,” said Jill Turner as we headed into Little Haiti. “You’ve got goats?”, I gasped.

I was in Miami, spending a day with the city’s Neighborhood Enhancement Team as part of the research for my book Feral Cities: Adventures with Animals in the Urban Jungle.

The goal was to learn about the thousands of feral chickens that roam the city’s streets, so the addition of goats to the mix was unexpected.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Miami had confounded my expectations from the off. The idea to go to Miami had popped into my head a few weeks earlier, as I sat with my atlas plotting a three-week journey across the United States to see the country’s urban wildlife first hand. Ever since getting hooked on Miami Vice as a kid, the city had held a special place in my imagination.

So much so, that when the UK (very) briefly got excited about American football at the tail end of the 1980s, I decided I was a Miami Dolphins supporter. I even pestered my parents to buy me a Dolphins shirt so I could wear it while watching televised matches of a sport that I, like most Brits, did not understand. It would take another 20 years and a copy of Madden NFL for me to finally get American football, but I was a Dolphins fan all the same.

But it wasn’t just childhood fancy that drew me to Miami, because when I thought of what wild animals might live in Miami the answer was obvious: Alligators!

Figuring that an encounter with urban gators would be great material for the book, I got in touch with Miami Dade County Animal Services. The conversation didn’t go as I expected. We’re not worried about the gators, they told me, alligators are native and we’ve got much bigger problems: pythons and boas, chickens and lizards, and giant toxic snails eating walls. Although disappointed at the lack of gator action, I was sold.

Several weeks later I was in the city of Crockett and Tubbs, rueing how my inability to drive meant I couldn’t live out my Miami Vice fantasies by hiring a white Ferrari Testarossa. But even armed with the knowledge that Miami was home to much unexpected wildlife, the news that there were goats in the city was a shock.

So, after a morning spent chasing feral chickens through the streets of Little Haiti, the team took me to see the goats. “I thought it was a joke when someone said, ‘There’s goats down the block and can you address that?’,” explained Jill on the way to the goats. “I was like, uh? This lady said: ‘There’s goats over there. Do you catch goats?’. I said, ‘No ma’am, I don’t catch goats but I’ll find out what we can do for you’.”

We stop on a residential street in Little Haiti. It looks like any other street in the area. But there behind the wooden boards and steel fence guarding an otherwise unremarkable backyard were the goats. We peer through the fence at the goats lurking in the yard.

Turns out they’re not wild. It may look like they are in the yard of a residential home on a residential street, but this home is actually a petting zoo. Fully licensed too.

One of the goats comes up to us and we give it a stroke through the fence. “We found out that through our compliance that they are legal – you would never think that would be a legal thing,” says Jill as we stare in wonder at the backyard zoo.

“It’s amazing. There’s that saying that you can do whatever you want in America, that it’s a land of freedom. It lives up to its words. You can do whatever you want in this country.”

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by Tristan Donovan

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