published Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

East Ridge Council considers exception for family's pet goat

Samantha Viar holds a handful of oatmeal for her 1-year-old  goat, Oreo. The animal looks to the container instead at supper time in her backyard in East Ridge, where an ordinance prohibits farm animals within the city limits.
Samantha Viar holds a handful of oatmeal for her 1-year-old goat, Oreo. The animal looks to the container instead at supper time in her backyard in East Ridge, where an ordinance prohibits farm animals within the city limits.
Photo by Tim Barber.

WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?

"Except in agriculture zones, swine and goats are prohibited within the corporate limits. No person shall keep or allow any other animal or fowl enumerated in the preceding section to come within 1,000 feet of any residence, place of business, or public street, as measured in a straight line."

Source: City of East Ridge, Title 10

The newest mover and shaker in East Ridge politics likes to eat shrubbery, weighs 40 pounds and goes by the name Oreo.

The 1-year-old, black-and-white-haired pygmy goat scampered into the spotlight last week, when his owner Jeff Viar came before the East Ridge City Council and pleaded with the city not to take away the pet goat.

City code outlaws goats and other livestock in residential areas, but Oreo's family say they did not know that until they found a citation on their front door this month.

"He's a good pet and a smart little goat. He's like my third child. You've got to love him," Jeff's wife Samantha Viar said affectionately.

The city's Facebook has been flooded with comments like "Save Oreo!!!" and "Awww let Oreo stay." Some residents have discussed starting a petition to keep Oreo in East Ridge.

The goat has found some sympathy among city leaders, who say Oreo's case is unusual because he's domesticated and clean.

"Oreo is cute, no question about it. I'm actually kind of a fan of goats," said East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble, who has posted photos and "notes from Oreo" to the city's Facebook page. "But we have to enforce the ordinance or come up with an alternative."

Gobble said the city's animal control officer cited the family after receiving several anonymous complaints about the goat.

The Viars have had Oreo for a year -- since he was just a spindly-legged kid. They got him from a family friend in Chickamauga, Ga., after their two children begged for a goat.

"They just didn't want a dog. They wanted a different kind of animal," Samantha Viar said.

Oreo does more than chomp on the family's grass in the Viars' fenced-in yard at the end of Springvale Road. He plays with Viar's 8-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, swinging in their tire swing and climbing in the treehouse with them. Neighborhood kids feed him leafy branches.

The children cried after she and Jeff told them Oreo may have to go, Viar said.

East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert said he can relate.

"I have young children; I can imagine how devastated they would be over losing a pet," said Lambert. "If we can create a narrow exception in the law for Oreo and similar animals, certainly I'd be willing to look at that,"

This is not the first time goats have butted their way into Hamilton County politics this year.

Soddy-Daisy commissioners were drawn into a family feud involving a goat herd last winter after a brother issued a series of complaints against his neighbor -- his sister -- and her 22 pygmy goats.

The commission ended up crafting a special ordinance to let 65-year-old Brenda Smith keep the goats -- which she called her "babies" -- until they die.

"It was an emotional situation on both sides, and we were put in the middle of it. It was a no-win situation," recalled Soddy-Daisy Commissioner Rick Nunley.

Nunley said he just shook his head when he heard about the current situation in East Ridge.

"I feel sorry for those commissioners," he said.

Though there are several properties zoned for agriculture in East Ridge, city officials have had to crack down on farm animal violations in residential areas before. Several years ago, the city used the ordinance to require one woman to remove her chickens from her home.

Gobble said he will ask the council for a 120-day moratorium on enforcing the anti-Oreo ordinance until the Hamilton County Regional Agency can look at the issue and provide some suggested course of action.

The council plans to continue the discussion at next month's council meeting, set for Sept. 13.

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