When a neighbor asked Mary Jane Miller and Jim Hyde to take in a sickly young goat nearly 30 years ago, the couple gave her a home, if only for a few months before she eventually passed away from an unknown condition. Named Flora, the kid was their very first rescue goat.
Like many stories of animal rescue, a happy ending isn’t always guaranteed. Still, it hasn’t deterred Miller and Hyde from rescuing hundreds of goats over the past three decades, several of which have lived long and happy lives.
And in light of a recent tragic animal cruelty case in Island County, the couple is hoping to bring awareness to the importance of education and caring for livestock animals as pets.
Miller and Hyde currently live with 11 goats on their Bayview property, which they moved to in 2003. Both are lifelong animal lovers. Growing up, Miller was inspired by “Wild Horse Annie,” also known as Velma Bronn Johnston, an animal rights activist who saved wild mustangs. Johnston became friends with Miller’s parents, who wrote articles about her rescue efforts during the 1950s.
Miller described her husband as “Dr. Doolittle.” When she knew him in college, Hyde had a number of interesting animals he was tending to, such as a dove and a raccoon.
“Once you’re an animal lover, animals seem to know and they show up,” Miller said. “I have a frog living in my bathroom now.”
All their knowledge of goats they’ve developed over the years is from taking care of them. They share their advice and experience via the website, petgoats.org. For many years, the couple’s goat rescue website was the first of its kind on the internet. When they lived in California, Hyde, being technologically savvy, had a job as a software developer in Silicon Valley.
The couple moved to South Whidbey from their home near Santa Cruz almost 20 years ago. Miller was the first to arrive, bringing over 30 goats with her. Her arrival coincided with a big storm.
“I didn’t know what I was living through. For two weeks, it was just wind,” Miller said. “I went and bought every tarp, every bungee I could get my hands on to try and keep my goats dry.”
These days, they keep many fewer goats. Last year, they were down to just four and contemplating retirement – that is, until seven more goats arrived in the summertime. The majority of their goats are adult castrated males, also known as wethers. Male goats are often butchered or sold for meat, whereas female goats are considered to be of more value for their milk and breeding in the dairy business.
The couple emphasized that they are not looking to add more to their herd. There are some physical and financial limitations they face, and above all, volunteers are needed to help with building infrastructure or donations of hay. Hyde estimated it takes about a bale per day to keep the goats fed. In colder weather, the goats eat alfalfa, which is higher in calories.
“If somebody can provide as good a home or better, then we’re all for them being adopted out,” Miller said, adding that there can be a shortage of those.
She and Hyde have performed home visits in the past to make sure prospective goat owners meet certain criteria, such as proper fencing, space to run and fresh water and hay. If just one of these things is lacking, they’re not afraid to act in the best interest of the goats and say no.
Here and there, they’ve observed situations on the island where goats have been mistreated and they did their best to help. In one particular instance with frozen water pipes and goats covered with lice, they were disappointed that they didn’t receive any updates from animal control, which showed up to handle the situation.
With the appearance of a recent animal cruelty situation on Whidbey Island, the couple is pleased that the consciousness seems to be growing around the proper ways to keep livestock animals as pets. Earlier this month, over a dozen county residents spoke about the importance of animal welfare during an Island County commissioners meeting. Efforts to convene to discuss this topic are ongoing.
“We’re kinda hoping that this movement, you might say, is going to bring Island County into the 21st century in a way in terms of adopting new rules and new guidelines,” Hyde said.
“It’s an opportunity. Just sitting here doing what we do, we’re aware that there’s a lot going on in the county that might not be good for the animals,” Miller said. “Knowing that there’s a movement, in the sense, to help with that and to alleviate that is really satisfying to know that people are getting more aware of wellbeing, animal welfare, not just animal control.”
The couple also advocates for education that might be able to keep a situation from ending up in the sheriff’s office. Not everyone is perfect, and they’re not ashamed to admit they’ve made some mistakes along the way as rescuers.
They also encourage owners of livestock to view their animals in a sustainable light. On the couple’s 25-acre farm, the goats are free to roam the fenced pastures, taking shelter when it rains under a covered structure. The goats build the quality of the island’s notoriously rocky soil with the addition of their manure.
“We like to think we’re moving in a direction of being sustainable, that the goats are actually providing a service to our backdrop here,” Miller said.
Although many stories surrounding rescued animals are often sad, humor can also be found. Miller and Hyde recalled a time when a disgruntled owner showed up to claim his goat, which had been rescued from the middle of the highway. A Langley police officer, who assisted in the dispute, ended up putting the goat in the backseat of his squad car when Miller objected to the goat being thrown in the back of the owner’s pickup truck, where it could easily jump out. The goat spent the ride in the cop car screaming at the top of its lungs and pooping.
“That was memorable. I wish I’d gotten a picture of that,” Miller said. “They didn’t know what they were doing, the poor guys.”