Goat Tales

The newly shaven Chauncey after the repair work on his neck.
Jill Hunter

We never knew whether it was illegal to keep our goat inside the city of New Orleans. We never had to know. Because our Bywater neighbors never cared what parties we threw, what concerts we hosted, what goats we kept. Whereas my parents in Conroe aren't even allowed to hang their choice of drapes in their own windows. And another nosy Texan neighbor called the police on my new editor's grandparents, for housing Chauncey in their overgrown garden while we're homeless in Houston.

Everywhere we've landed since the evacuation has been another attempt to accommodate the goat. As if just being New Orleanians hasn't gotten us enough free meals and drinks, Chauncey has been, as always, the Great Ambassador. He's finally led us here, to this goat farm! An older, hippyish couple own the whole neighborhood: a large clump of houses and small farms -- on a bayou! The area is called the Fifth Ward; I hadn't known the world outside New Orleans divided itself into wards. "Fifth Ward also has Houston's highest crime rate," informed my new editor, who found us this situation. "S'where I figure you'll feel most at home."

The couple will arrive home in three days. I haven't met them yet. Their goats are being kept at a separate location while they vacation in Colorado. But as I type on their computer, two huge prehistoric sheep stare in at me through the window -- a chicken rests atop one's back. I don't see Chauncey anywhere underhoof. He's closer in size to the chickens; a clean little toy compared to the sheep; no balls, no horns. The breeders sawed off then cauterized Chauncey's horns at birth, without asking our preference. We snipped his nuts later.



My girlfriend, Mizzy, has been at her parents' in D.C. all week while I've holed up alone in this big house as if in a writer's colony, an artist's retreat. Mizzy and I have little responsibility. Nothing is expected of us refugees, for now. Our boundless cell phones roam free of charge; our rich, kindly landlords will have bigger concerns; Entergy will have stopped knocking on our door (painted with its big orange X) about that past-due $300. And all this while our bank accounts are stuffed with FEMA and Red Cross money. When this couple return, they want us to rent a two-bedroom house across from the goat farm for $475! No lease. Month-to-month refugee special. With a Jacuzzi. And cable Internet. On a goat farm! The exact situation Mizzy and I have often theorized about, out loud.

But though Chauncey is meant for a farm, he looks small and lost in that vast gray pen built for beasts four times his size. The currently absent goats have eaten every stitch of green, mowed the pen down to just gray, so I take Chauncey on eating walks around the neighborhood -- like taking a dog to pee, except eating takes time. I lead Chauncey down to the thickest roadside weeds and hide in the shade reading The Bonfire of the Vanities (drawing my own comparisons to the recent governmental reaction in New Orleans) and watching Chauncey munch for the length of one chapter.

But even a Tom Wolfe chapter's never long enough to give a goat his fill. Thus, so hungry and so small, Chauncey slips out of any pen, evacuating the gray in search of green. Goats are famous masters of escape that learn to work latches with their tongues. We shifted Chauncey into a smaller chicken-wire enclosure within the big gray pen, but still, every morning when I step outside, Chauncey comes trotting up the road on hooves like tiny high heels.

What can I do? Just hope he doesn't get mugged.

One Jack-and-Coke into another slow refugee afternoon, I heard a shriek like a hawk. "Chauncey!" I sprinted through the big house and out to the pens. "Chauncey!" My simultaneous first sights were a medium-sized black dog rushing away along the fence, and Chauncey scrambling toward me, squealing, bleeding. I snatched up all of his 27 pounds and gripped his muscular throat to plug the pencil-thick red stream. "No, no, no!" I shouted in response to Chauncey's hot tragic screams in my face. And suddenly, not having a car didn't seem so bohemian, so cute. I could only carry this bloody armful out onto the dirt streets, bleating, "Help me! Help me!" But the farmers were all gone. Chauncey's legs straightened out, back at an angle like he was cliff-diving -- like death throes. "Chauncey's dying! Help!" I cannot imagine the first impression my teary, red, anguished face -- and shirt and shorts painted with blood and the screaming goat in my arms -- made on the pale young man who finally piled us into his Mustang.

Our young driver didn't know of any animal hospital. His Mustang idled as I watched him rack his brain, calmly, but with his fists up on either side of his head, like thought conductors revving and revving and: "Okay! Yes! An emergency vet!"

"A close one?" I asked, knowing that in Texas anything "close" is still far away -- another reason to miss New Orleans. After 20 minutes on the freeway, Chauncey's transport instinct kicked in and he lay still, squealing only when I released his throat -- the bleeding had stopped. Chauncey remained a civilized beast, while in my panic I harassed our driver: "He's gonna bleed to death!" I shook Chauncey to keep him from falling sleep. "Is the vet actually close yet?" Our driver's continual Shh, shh, shh, shhhh was meant as much for me. But I couldn't help believing that Chauncey was about to become another of Katrina's after-the-fact fatalities. And while Mizzy is gone! I couldn't stop blaming myself: Why did I let them cut off his horns! Why wasn't I out there spending time with him? I spend more time writing about Chauncey, and talking about him at parties with strangers…

By the time we reached the other side of Houston, I realized Chauncey would have already died if he was going to. He breathed through his nose, normally, relaxed. He probably would have eaten a branch, if offered (goats are so hardwired to just eat, eat, eat that as Chauncey's mother lay on her back screaming, giving birth, I saw her lips stretch back over her shoulder to nibble hay). So I was less worried by the time our young driver parked outside a strip mall under red block letters: VET EMERGENCY.

Which I immediately realized was some sort of Vietnam veterans health insurance place.

"No!" I cried. "NO! AH! This isn't a…a real…"

"I know," our driver sighed, gripping his temples. "I can't think of anywhere else. They can at least stop the bleeding here."

I froze. Is he right? "They can? Okay, I'll, uh, just…take Chauncey in, and uh…"

Chauncey squealed when I lifted his head, and our driver studied the building more closely and suddenly realized: "Oh, shit! Veterans?"

"Yes! See? They can't help us at all! Oh, Christ! Christ! Christ!" I climbed back into his Mustang. "God oh God oh God oh God!" I looked across and down the street: "A cat hospital!" We skidded directly over.

The calm doctor shaved Chauncey's throat and found four puncture wounds. She said I'd done an excellent job of stopping the blood and sewed no stitches, just thoroughly cleaned the holes, suggested we buy a spiked collar to protect his throat, and after some goat research, administered a fat white penicillin shot over which Chauncey did not cry -- all on the house, since we're from New Orleans. Chauncey slept clumsily in my arms on the way out, as the doctor assured me he would be fine but that his neck would become very sore from the bites, in that particular way a puncture wound stiffens and spreads out after its first piercing pain. "Like how this whole Katrina experience has been," I testified.

Twenty-four hours later, Chauncey is back living in his carrier as he was when Katrina first threatened. He stands stone-still behind bars, semicatatonic. We are befuddled; even this ideal world is not ours, we've decided, before Mizzy could even see it. Before we've even met its owners. Alone now in their big empty house we wait, and wait, wondering, What now? What next?

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