(Host) More than a dozen state and local officials met in Montpelier on Friday to discuss what to do about one man and nearly 300 goats that have residents of Corinth up in arms.
As VPR’s Steve Zind reports the group found there were no easy answers.
(Zind) For years, residents of Corinth have been concerned about a growing herd of goats owned by 64 year old Chris Weathersbee. Last winter the Humane Society seized 44 animals they said were sick and neglected.
This week Weathersbee pleaded innocent to charges of animal cruelty. More than 200 goats remain on his farm. Neighbors say they’ve been roaming free through their yards and in the road – destroying property and posing a public safety hazard.
The Montpelier meeting was called to discuss what remedies exist to keep the goats confined in the short term and, ultimately, remove them from Weatherbee’s farm. Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr was joined by representatives of the Attorney General’s office and the Health Department along with Corinth officials, the Orange County State’s Attorney and area legislators, including Orange County Senator Mark McDonald.
(MacDonald) “I would hope that we this morning could answer the following question: what avenues must be exhausted before some authority may arrive on the premises and the wayward, marauding goats are herded into trucks and removed?”
(Zind) But those at the meeting soon discovered that solutions, especially quick ones, are hard to find. Kerr explained that his agency has gone as far as it legally can by determining that Weathersbee did not follow acceptable livestock practices. Removing the remaining goats under Vermont’s animal cruelty statutes is the job of the authorities and the Humane Society – and may not be possible at the moment because the animals seem to be getting enough to eat.
Officials say Weathersbee has repeatedly violated a court order to keep the goats fenced in and off roads and neighbors’ property. But authorities indicated it could take time and many more violations before the court acts on the violations and seizes the animals. Officials said Weathersbee isn’t in a position to pay fines.
After two hours of discussion, the group decided to pursue several options. In the short term they agreed to talk with Weathersbee about giving up the goats. They also agreed to help organize volunteers to help fix the fences around his farm. In the long term, if the goats are found to be malnourished this winter, they could be seized. There is also the possibility of civil action against Weathersbee.
Frank Roderick is chair of the Corinth Select Board. Roderick says he’ll ask townspeople to wait a little longer for solutions.
(Roderick) “I think that as long as they realize that there is some action in process that the neighbors and the townspeople of Corinth will exercise more of their well demonstrated patience with this problem.”
(Zind) For his part, Weathersbee says he would gladly accept help with the fence.
(Weathersbee) “You bet! I would have accepted it four years ago when I first begged for it.”
(Zind) Weathersbee, who describes himself as a monk, says he lives with the animals like a nomadic sheepherder. He acknowledges that his lifestyle and methods are unusual, but says that doesn’t mean his animals are abused.
He says he won’t give up the animals because he’s sure some will be slaughtered.
(Weathersbee) “The serious person says, why don’t you give up the goats? You can’t care for them properly. And my answer is, because the practical effects of that is that most of them would be slaughtered.”
(Zind) Weathersbee says he has long appealed for help with his goats but no one is willing to adopt more than a few and to promise not to slaughter them. He says he has no money to feed the animals this winter but hopes by then he and his goats will have relocated to Kentucky.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Montpelier.