ANYTHING WITH FOUR LEGS and fur is huggable to my wife, Jackie. We had cats and dogs in town, but since we moved to the acreage, Jackie's urge to accumulate pets has expanded dramatically.
Our introduction to goats started with a highway sign reading Livestock Auction: Next Left.
"Mark, did you see that?"
"See what?" Feigning ignorance, I stepped on the gas.
"Nice try, wise guy. Now, turn here!"
Busted. And I knew that look on her face, the kind children have when they're preparing to open presents. As we turned in, Karl, our 10-year-old with impeccable timing, crowed, "Wow, Mom, are we gonna get a pony?"
"Hold on folks," I said, trying to get a handle on things before the knot in my stomach turned into an ulcer. "We're only here to look. We are NOT buying anything, okay?"
"Relax, Mark. You're always so wound up. Everything will be just fine."
Faster than you can say Pepto-Bismol, Jackie and Karl jumped out of the truck, threaded their way past rows of pickups and stock trailers, and disappeared into the auction mart. By the time I caught up, they were sitting ringside, packed cheek to jowl with folks wearing ball caps and cowboy hats.
The air was thick with excitement and ripe with a host of delightful "all-natural" aromas I won't go into just now. As I snaked down a row of denim-clad knees, Jackie gave me a mischievous smile and held up a bidding card.
"Look, honey, we're all set!"
Perfect, I thought. Now I really do have an ulcer.
"Ladies and gents, who'll give me two bucks a box for these lovely rabbits?"
The small fry went quickly as the auctioneer's machine-gun-style banter set the pace. A raucous herd of sheep arrived. The bidding was fast and furious. Out went the sheep and in came a cute little family of goats: a momma and three kids.
As she saw them, Jackie's eyes lit up and she waved the bidding card. I bowed my head in prayer to the rather obscure but oft-called-upon patron saint of stressed husbands. Alas, I was too late. Two shakes of a goat's tail and 70 bucks lighter, we were the proud owners of a foursome of "horned pygmy goats."
With the help of clearly amused livestock handlers, we got the cloven-hooved little critters loaded into the back of our Suburban. They settled down quickly enough and started chewing the upholstery.
Soon, we were home and pulling up to the barn. We hopped out and I carefully opened the back door of the truck, just a crack.
"They look a little skittish," I said, "so let's not...."
"Aren't they just adorable!" said Jackie, reaching in for the big hug. Momma goat saw an opening, head-butted the door ajar and skedaddled past us with her kids in tow. We watched, dumbfounded, as they bolted across the field and headed for the road.
Yikes. Now what?
The next hour and a half was a confusion of running and yelling. I ran to head them off, and yelled to Jackie and Karl to go the other way. In the melee, helpful neighbours got into the act, criss-crossing acreages, forming human chains, trying anything and everything to stop the little blighters.
Finally, a fellow down the road jumped on his ATV and managed to stall them in their tracks.
That bought us enough time to catch up, collar them, and lead the errant ruminants back home and into the corral. I was exhausted. As I leaned up against a fencepost to catch my breath, I noticed momma goat had found a small gap in the fence. She was prying it open. And the kids? They were eating the barn door.
Jackie, who'd been deep in thought, turned to me then, flashing one of her radiant smiles.
"Say, Mark," she said, "how do you feel about sheep?"