Goats aren't Ellen Felsenthal's favorite animal—that would be cats—but they are an awfully big part of her life. Felsenthal is the founder, director, and animal caretaker at the New Moon Farm Goat Rescue & Sanctuary, a nonprofit based in Arlington that takes in abandoned or neglected goats, nurses them back to health, and then re-homes them. And there are, it turns out, plenty of goats needing to be rescued in the Puget Sound area: Since New Moon's founding 20 years ago, Felsenthal and her network of volunteers have rescued more than 1,500 goats.
"They end up with us for all the same reasons that cats and dogs end up in shelters," Felsenthal said. "People get them and then change their minds, or they are moving and they can't take them, or they got them for the kids and the kids aren't taking care of them. We get a lot that are picked up by animal control for neglect." Before New Moon opened, Felsenthal said, unwanted goats frequently ended up being eaten.
Today, about half of New Moon's operating budget comes from its annual fundraiser, the Goatalympics, which was held July 8 at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe. The crowd looked like a mix of local country folk and urban hipsters seeking a highly Instagrammable way to spend the afternoon. Competitions were held in a dusty ring and included foot races, obstacle courses, musical chairs, contests for the tallest goat, shortest goat, widest goat, longest beard, and a look-alike contest, where humans and goats donned matching outfits and wigs. All events were free, with proceeds from entry fees, raffles, and a silent auction going to the sanctuary.
"We started this as a fundraiser, but we also do it because there isn't anywhere else for people who have pet goats to hang out with other people who have pet goats," said Felsenthal. "There are no dog parks for goats."
One highlight of the day was the obstacle course. Youth and adult goat owners alike coaxed—or pushed or pulled—their animals through a ring dotted with bridges and slides. It was just like one of those agility competitions for dogs—except slow. The crowd favorite was a little boy who looked about 5 or 6 and was dragging not a goat but a massive furry sheep that seemed to have no interest in participating. The sheep outweighed his master by about 300 pounds, and as the boy attempted to tug and tow his pet through the course, the sheep just stood there, staring, unperturbed, as the clock ticked. Eventually, the boy, with help from the official Goatalympics rodeo clown, was able to coax his sheep over bridges and down steps to the finish line. There was no blue ribbon for this duo, but the applause was mighty.
For those who tired of the contests, there was also a beer garden and vegan and vegetarian food trucks for human participants and spectators. You could also adopt a goat of your own, although Felsenthal makes sure potential parents are realistic about goat ownership. "A lot of people get goats and think they can just throw them out in the field and they'll be self-sufficient," she said. "But they are just like any other pet. They need to go to the vet, they need to have their hooves trimmed every eight weeks, and you have to feed them. Unless you have a lot of acreage, they are not going to survive on what's growing in your yard."
But for those who have the space and the resources, goats make fantastic pets—if not Olympic athletes. "They are as smart as dogs and they're very affectionate," said Felsenthal. "And they'll mow your lawn."