"Dumb Animals"

Christine Maccabee

Have you ever gone on a hike in Glacier National Park along the Garden Wall (border of U.S. and Canada) and chased wild mountain goats over the boulders, bounding and leaping after them until they are cornered and trembling with fright? I have. Perhaps my experience with those wild goats years ago has shaped my present opinion of domesticated goats today. I've never thought of any animal as dumb, but as I work with my goats I can see what forces may have shaped this opinion of them. It is not their fault that they are unable to perfectly obey our every whim and demand. Naturally, they will not always conform to our will, nor can they, for they have a unique will of their own, quite different from that of the human being.

Animals are only dumb so far as we've made them that way through domestication and breeding: Certainly God did not create them dumb. Rather, just the opposite is true. Goats and other beasts of bur-den, or suppliers of food, were originally created with all the tools and the instincts they needed in order to survive in the wild. It is we who made them dumb by making them totally dependent on us for their every need. ,

However, there are times (more than I can count) when I've called my goats "dumb," even "stupid." Yes, I confess it. However, I am beginning to see that "dumb" is just a handy word through which we vent our frustration, or flaunt our supposed superiority. However,calling our animals bad names is a far better outlet for human frustration than hitting or abusing them. Other uncomplimentary words commonly used by myself and others are "dumb-ass," "big-butt," idiot." and "silly." a word verging on the affectionate. All the above words can be spoken in such a way as to convey not only frustration. but affection as well. Of course, there are many, many other more unsavory expressions used by some people (not me) which are totally unfit to print here. As much wit of our own as we use to control our goats, they frequently equally match us with their own startling wit. Sometimes I worry that my one goat, FleetFoot, purposefully gives me a hard time just to get even with me. After all, it must get tiring to be tugged on and squeezed on a regular basis just to give me the milk I desire. For instance, about two months ago, I decided to try milking FleetFoot without tethering her back feet. This was a wonderful relief for us both, and I sensed she welcomed it. So long as I kept up an even rhythm and put a bit of extra corn in her feed, she was content. At least it worked for two days that way. By - the third day she was beginning to fall into her old pattern, so I was forced to tether her feet for the last half of the milkings. "You dumb goat!" I would say. As time went on, however, she began to see that no tether felt better, and so milkings progressed quite peacefully until one day...

...almost as if she had it in for me, in the blink of an eye, the tip of her hoof was placed strategically on the edge of the pail and in a flashthe milk was all over the stand, and all over me! I was astounded by her perfectly accurate placement of hoof on pail and the swiftness with which she moved. I would not have

thought she was purposefully trying to dump the milk except that she did the exact same thing the next day! This is one determined wild goat who refuses to be otherwise. I am convinced she knows what she is doing and is doing it to get my goat. What do you think?

Goats are ancient. Goats are mythical. Goats are WILD. It is this wildness which I appreciate even more than their ability to learn human rules for their behavior. Over the eons humans have domesticated them, and much like the ant and the aphid, we serve one another in a unique and satisfying arrangement. It is anyone's guess whether the goats we work with respect us, though we certainly should respect them. They in no way asked to become our servants, but, in making them our slaves, we. ironically. in turn, must serve them, wining and dining them and keeping them healthy—an altogether natural, symbiotic relationship, unnatural as it may seem.

I have to wonder what is really going on in the minds of these naturally intelligent animals. As they eat our hay, do they imagine they are dining on live, sweet grasses in some distant meadow? Or perhaps they are dreaming of freedom beyond the fence, a life spent leaping from rock to rock on the slopes of the Garden Wall in the Rocky Mountains. Whatever, they are truly a mystery, as are we all'

Read other Articles by Christine Maccabee

The on-going true life adventures and reflections as I've raised my Nubians over the past five years. This collection of stories happily resulted in the birthing of a little book. It includes fun photographs, including one of my Great-grandmother and her goat-in- Baltimore in the early 1900's, as well as delightful sketches of goats by Marie
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