Lobbying for Urban Goats? Here are some tips!

Lobbying for Urban Goats? Here are some tips!

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By Aliya Hall  Although there are many cities where it has become legal to own goats under specific requirements, this wasn’t always the case. The right to own goats in the city often had to be fought for, as goat-loving residents came together to change zoning codes that prohibited farm animals.  

Jennie Grant, the founder of Goat Justice League, is known for spearheading the urban goat lobbying movement in Seattle to keep her two mini goats. She has since written the book City Goats: The Goat Justice League’s Guide to Backyard Goat Keeping and offers her expertise to other organizations looking to change their city’s policy on goats.  

“My grassroots efforts succeeded, and today it’s legal to keep three mini goats (males must be neutered) in the city of Seattle,” Grant said on the Goat Justice League website.  

Grant, who had already been keeping goats illegally, was reported to the Seattle Building Code Department by a neighbor after a young girl in the neighborhood had gotten a mysterious illness. Although preliminary tests indicated it may have been Q fever (Coxiella burnetii), a disease carried by goats, the condition was cat-scratch fever (Bartonella henselae). 

“I was able to prove it had nothing to do with goats,” she said.  

To keep her goats, Grant reached out to her city councilman at the time, Richard Conlin, who was already looking to change the laws around urban farming. She met with his assistant and was told that it was “a good initiative to help me with,” she said. 

“That was a lucky break that he was interested in and wanted to work on similar things.”  

Grant had to showcase community support and gather signatures for the initiative, which passed unanimously in 2007 with the stipulations that only two goats were allowed per household. The goats had to be 100 pounds or less with no horns, and the males were to be castrated. 

For those interested in getting goats in their city, the first step is to look at the city’s zoning or planning department to see if they allow goats or not, Grant said. Some cities that allow urban goats — with particular requirements — include San Fransisco, Seattle, Portland, Charlottesville, Berkley, Baltimore, Denver, Nashville, St. Paul, and Long Beach.  

“It’s important to have your goat yard looking nice,” she said. “I think the real concern of people is that it’s going to make the neighborhood look junky, and I don’t think it needs to.” 

Grant outlined questions to ask zoning department officials in her book, City Goats: The Goat Justice League’s Guide to Backyard Goat Keeping, which includes: 

  • Are there any rules on the books that specifically stipulate whether goats are allowed or not? 
  • Are there any rules on the books that regulate the keeping of farm animals? 
  • Do the rules define what a farm animal is? 
  • Do the rules regarding the keeping of goats or farm animals specify a minimum lot size? (For example, many areas will allow you to keep goats only if you have an acre or more of land. The amount of land required by different municipalities is highly variable.) 
  • Are there setbacks? (For example, some cities may allow goats but require that they be kept a certain distance from the property line or buildings.) 
  • Do the rules say anything about the size of animals that can be kept? 
  • If goats are not allowed, is there any way to get a formal exemption? If so, what is the process and cost for obtaining an exemption? 

Like Minneapolis and Kansas City, other cities have tried lobbying for urban goats, but the movement ultimately failed. In Lansing, Michigan, residents have been asking for changes in zoning laws for goats and ducks for years. The decision is up to Lansing City Council.  

One of Grant’s most prominent pieces of advice goes to people currently keeping goats illegally and want to change the laws.  

“It’s important to have your goat yard looking nice,” she said. “I think the real concern of people is that it’s going to make the neighborhood look junky, and I don’t think it needs to.” 

Grant added that if goat activists showcase the cleanliness and fun of owning goats, “people will get excited about it.” The biggest challenges can come from neighbors, which Grant said having a good relationship with a neighbor will make the process easier.  

“If you don’t have a good relationship, you’ll be in trouble,” she said. “You might have difficult neighbors, and it’ll be hard then too.” 

Those struggles can also be seen in the media. Grant said one of her challenges was the media messaging because it centered on,“Oh this is such a small thing. Why is the city bothering dealing with this when we have homelessness and bigger issues facing the city?”  

urban-goats

“My argument was if the city only talked about big things that are going to take years and ignore all the small things, what kind of city government is that? If they can do small things that make like better for some people, they should do them.” 

For some members of her community, there was also a gap in education about goats. Grant said that many had only partial knowledge of goats from when they were a child. One of the biggest misconceptions was how smelly goats would be, which is mainly an issue for bucks. 

Grant also recommended looking at the history behind zoning code ordinances to ensure they aren’t based on racist ideology. In Seattle, the same 1930s Home Owners Association that prohibited People of Color, particularly Black and Asian Americans, also prohibited farm animals, Grant said. 

“So, by association, we were able to show that it was part of a broader racist policy,” she explained.  

Grant added that society has moved on past viewing farming as lower class. Now, the movement back to rural is being embraced again as more cities expand upon their urban farm regulations. Although she said it’s still “pretty unusual” for cities to allow goats, there is still some interest that goes back to embracing rural roots. 

“It’s kind of opening the door.” 

Originally published in the July/August 2022 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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