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Injuries: A Stitch in Time (or, Don't Ride the Goat) by Sue Reith

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Thank you Sue for allowing us to post your articles

Tho Summer is past this is a good reminder for us all.

Hi, all...

Some have already read this post previously... If so, please feel free to 'delete'... However, for new goat owners/new list members, I feel inclined to share the info herein, as this is summertime when the children are out of school and they have their friends over and so forth...

I just got my first 'heads-up' call of the 'season' late last night... The owner gave me the symptoms, and they were very puzzling... Initially, knowing that this is a really great family that really provides good care to their animals, I worried that their Pygmy wether might have something like urolithiasis (but they feed correctly, so that was strange!) or possibly bloat (but the animal hadn't left the pen, and again, they feed correctly)... There were some really strange symptoms, indicating to me a mechanical problem of some sort... And in further questioning this morning, when the mom made casual reference to the fact that some of the children's friends were visiting at the time it all started, it came to me... The animal had been described by one of the owner's children (in a very panicky voice) as rolling around on the ground... Not usual for Pygmies! And it appeared to have a strange swelling of some sort behind the right shoulder... This Pygmy was a very lucky boy... I think he will probably be all right, but here's my post below, prompted by that late night phone call last night.

Subject: One more aspect of caprine caregiving... A stitch in time saves nine.

This is one of those times when it's hard to give a management tip, because I sense that it will not be well-received by many people. But in this particular case I will forge ahead, mindful that the old adage, 'A stitch in
time saves nine' appears apropos. My goal is, as always, to save a few goats from disaster...

Not many of us who really enjoy animals, and whose children (because they are ours, of course! <smile>) usually feel the same way, would ever even consider that we need to sit down and talk frankly but kindly to our beloved children/grandchildren about certain important aspects of goats. But sometimes it is judicious to do just that. Frankly, I never thought about it either when my own children were growing up. And due, I suspect, to sheer luck, I never personally had a negative experience that made me regret not having done so. But now, as an adult, I find that with relative frequency, maybe once every year or so, I get presented by a distraught owner with the symptoms of a rather strange but by now familiar syndrome... After I ask all of my usual background questions (you know... General demeanor, temp, interest in food, current vaccinations, signs of pain, et al... The whole gamut... ) as I try to formulate a suggested diagnosis/cure for the problem, I start to recognize the pattern in the owners' responses:

The description is of an animal that has heretofore appeared healthy and doing well. Then, suddenly and without warning, the owner discovers that it has lost the use of its hindquarters. It is unable to walk, but struggles to push itself upward anyway. It is clearly in much pain. The temp is normal. The owner was not witness any causative event, but he/she surmises it to be anything from the victim's pen mates beating it up, to sabotage by a neighbor, to sudden onset of some fast-acting, possibly communicable, disease. My first thought, until I start asking specific questions, is always 'copper deficiency' but I toss that in a hurry since the animal is attempting to rise, showing pain and unable to push the body upward to a standing position despite its frustrated efforts. A copper-deficiency case does not show pain, and makes no effort to push itself upwards, but instead is described as resignedly 'sitting like a dog'. Further, the demeanor of the copper-deficiency kid is 'bright-eyed and bushy-tailed'. Its only problem seems to be that it has no use of the hind legs.

Sometimes the owner will take the goat immediately in to the vet's office, where the puzzled vet runs various tests in an attempt to determine the cause of this phenomenon, and comes up empty-handed. The vet will often keep the animal at the hospital for several days 'for observation', and within the week he/she usually recommends to the owner that the kind thing to do would be to euthanize the goat, and that is that. If the goat is cared for at home it continues the behavior mentioned above without improvement until one morning, about a week after it all started, the owner comes out to find it dead.

Now this is the hard part of the story... The first time I saw this syndrome was back in about 1984. It happened that the victim was a Saanen yearling doe that I had placed with a friend. The friend loved the goat, as did her 12-year old daughter, and they gave her much devoted attention. She was a happy goat. Then one day that Spring the girl brought a best girlfriend home from school, as she had done many times before, and the two girls joyously took this Saanen yearling doe for a walk down the country lane, as they had also done many times before. A short while later the daughter came home sobbing, telling her mother that suddenly the young Saanen doe had collapsed, for no reason at all, and that the mother would have to come and get her. They brought the goat home, and she was the first goat that I personally ever saw with the symptoms I describe above. I knew intuitively what had happened. I sat down with the mother and told her as gently as I could (big mistake!) that while her daughter was devoted to the goat, and had no wish ever to harm her, I suspected that the two girls were clowning around and one decided to find out what it would be like to ride this doe like a pony. That was all it took. The goat would have had to collapse immediately. I told the mother that I knew in my heart that the girl must be absolutely devastated and full of remorse, having not had a clue that their game could result in such a disaster, but that I suspected she would not be able to tell the mother what had taken place and, in fact, her poor daughter would probably have to carry that secret in a heavy heart forever. The mother was angry with me for suggesting such a thing, and defensive, saying that the daughter would never, could never, hurt that goat... that she loved that goat. I understand that, which is why it was such a particularly tragic situation. The goat died about a week later.

Since that time this same scenario has repeated itself in contacts from goat owners looking for assistance every year or so... I get cries for help from owners that go out into the pen one day to find their favorite animal
suddenly, without warning, having totally lost the ability to use the hindquarters... Trying to stand, showing pain, no temp, surviving about a week or so, and then dying. I have no doubt that some child or children
that had access to the goat, with no malice intended, entered into a 'group mentality' while playing with friends or siblings and thought, with not the slightest idea of what the consequences might be, that it would be lots of
fun to play cowboy, using the goat for a horse. They see children on TV riding ponies and horses routinely. These young children can be the most caring youngsters in the world, and there is no way they would know that sitting on that goat would cause irreparable damage to the spinal column. At the same time, caring as they are, and knowing they had, albeit unintentionally, caused the damage, it is highly unlikely that they could
tell mom or dad or grandma or grandpa how the goat got the way it did. So they say nothing, but internally they feel quite distraught.

In my questioning, when asked for help diagnosing these situations, unless the owner has already volunteered the information I always inquire as to who the caregivers of the goat are. Invariably there are children around that really, genuinely like those goats. I have learned the hard way not to suggest to the goat owners the scenario I've presented above, but as an alternative I thought that perhaps the most positive thing I might do would be to make it my mission to encourage all goat owners who have young children in their lives to take a few moments with these children and, without threats or recrimination, but with caring tones, discuss the fragility of these wonderful animals and come right out and explain to these young people what might happen if anyone ever decided to sit on a goat... That they are not designed like ponies and horses and they cannot support the weight of a human, and that we, as their caregivers, must always respect this fact and protect them from harm. We must prepare these young people so that if they ever find themselves in a group situation where someone does suggest playing cowboy with a goat, they will be prepared to quickly explain why that is not a good idea. This is where my 'stitch in time' adage comes in, and I would really encourage goat owners to pay it heed.

Addendum: Last year, having just written and posted this to the list, I stepped outdoors and, while it was fresh on my mind, commented to the neighbors' two lovely children, a girl and a boy, about how very fragile the backbone of a goat is, and that they could really hurt the animal should they ever decide to ride one of them. At the time, having asked my permission, they were playing with my 2 Togg Sr Kids in my goat pen. When those words came out of my mouth the little girl turned to me in shock, and she said, "But, you NEVER TOLD US not to do that!"

(While I urge you to share this information with other individual goat owners, please do not reproduce the article for publication without my specific permission. Thank you. Sue Reith.)

Sue Reith
Carmelita Toggs
Bainbridge Island WA
[email protected]
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