What happens to critically ill or injured goats? If they are very, very lucky, they get sent to a goat rescue and sanctuary. In Annondale, New York, the rescued goats receive medical care such as surgery and prosthetic legs then live out their not-so-secret lives as the Goats of Anarchy, darlings of social media.
Polly, a blind Nigerian Dwarf goat, is the official spokesgoat for Goats of Anarchy. She suffered from crippling anxiety unless buried in hay or swaddled in a blanket. One day, her rescuer put her in a toddlers’ duck costume. She finally felt brave while in that costume, and her story captured hearts across the internet and inspired a children’s book. Since then, she has worn other costumes including a pig, peas in a pod, a unicorn, a fox and Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. Now she has a little goat friend named Pocket who goes everywhere with her and helps her be brave.
Ansel the destroyer, a huge black LaMancha goat with foot-long horns, was GOA’s first rescue goat. Fans follow his antics on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube as he destroys barn walls, fences, and pieces of the sanctuary playground. Recently, he worked on ripping the trim from around the barn windows. Prospect, the smallest adult goat, spends his time yelling at the other goats and protecting his girlfriend, Ruby, who has red prosthetic legs. Other favorites include Finny the Comedian, Kiko the gentle teddy bear, Frankie with the good hair and Bunchie with the better hair.
In 2017, Goats of Anarchy won a People’s Voice Webby Award in the Animals category. A Webby Award is an award for excellence on the internet. According to the Webby Award page, the Animals category is for, “Any social media account created on behalf of a particular animal, and/or animal-related organizations or causes whereby an animal is the face and voice of the account.” Two winners are selected in each category, one by members of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and one by the public. Our star goats were chosen by the public.
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When Leanne Lauricella got married and moved from New York City to New Jersey, she had no idea the direction her life would turn. She started driving past farms with pastures of sheep and goats and thought they were cute. She visited a goat farm and fell in love at first sight. At the time, she was binge-watching Sons of Anarchy. She named her first two goats Jax and Opie, after her favorite characters. A couple months later, she got three more goats named Tig, Nero and Otto. She started an Instagram account to show her friends and family. She never expected it to go beyond a very personal thing.
Leanne continued to commute to her job as a corporate event planner in New York City. However, the more time she spent outside with her goats, the less she wanted to commute and go to work all day. She loved being outside and getting fresh air. She loved doing farm work. One day she told her husband she felt like she needed to quit her job in the city. She was ready to give up the six-figure salary and the expensive car and foreign shoes to work with animals. Her husband agreed. On her first day of unemployment, just when she was wondering what the heck she’d just done, Instagram featured one of her pictures on their homepage. Jax and Opie, headbutting each other, earned her an instant 30,000 followers. She took that as a sign she was on the right track.
With more time on her hands, Leanne volunteered to help at Barnyard Sanctuary, a local animal rescue. She brought home a mini horse, a donkey and a pig. She says, “They were working on this big cruelty case where there were over 200 baby animals that were all starving to death and they asked me if I could bottle-feed two of the baby goats because I had experience with that. I said of course. They had E. coli and they were really sick. It took about two weeks of just really intense treatment and around the clock care to bring them back to healthy. I actually got E. coli myself. Those were my first two rescues and that’s when I fell in love with the whole idea of rescue.”
As people saw what she was doing on social media, they started calling her with more goats that needed help. She said yes to a set of twins. One was born with only three legs and the other with contracted tendons. Leanne discovered she loved working with special needs goats. She continued posting to Instagram and her following grew. The adorable pictures and videos attracted the attention of Rachel Ray, who asked Leanne to be on her show. After that, the calls asking her to take in goats increased. She got a call for a little goat named Angel who had lost both of her back legs to frostbite. Again, Leanne said yes.
Soon, the number of rescued animals exceeded the capacity of her Leanne’s home. With the help of generous donations, she rented a second location about fifteen minutes away and named it GOA2. Healthier, more mobile goats who needed less care moved to the second location. Volunteers built a goat playground that any kid, human or goat, would envy. The goats have a huge trampoline, ramps, bridges between the trees, and even a platform with a wooden motorcycle dubbed the goatercycle.
When Leanne takes in a new small baby, they are usually immobile. They are either recent frostbite victims or amputees or have neurological disorders. They start off in the house so she can watch them all the time. Right now, there are five baby goats living in the house. Every morning starts off with five bottle-feedings then changing diapers and onesies. They do stretching and rehab then get buckled into their carts and head outside. There, more robogoats need to be mobilized. Some get clean socks on their leg stumps then prosthetic legs strapped on. Some get loaded into wheelchairs or carts. From 8:00 to 5:00 the goats wheel around and play under the watchful eyes of Leanne and a few volunteers. In the evening, they do the entire thing in reverse.
The farm is not open to the public. Once the goats gained internet stardom, things got a little crazy. Now, if you want to visit the goats, you need to sign up to volunteer. Every Friday, 15 to 20 volunteers clean out the stalls and do other farm chores then get to spend a little time petting the goats and taking pictures with them. Be sure to sign up early, though; there is a two-month waiting list.
I asked Leanne if there was anything she wanted our readers to know about caring for goats. She said the biggest problem she sees with goat ownership is people getting into it too quickly without doing research. “The number one problem that I see from people who write to me is, before they got goats, they did not find a goat vet.” She wishes everyone could have a goat but encourages people to first research health issues and where they can get medical treatment for emergencies.
Goats of Anarchy is currently looking for a bigger farm where the goats can all be together in one place with room to grow. “We’re pretty maxed out,” said Leanne. “We really can’t take any more where we are now, so I’m looking for like a 30-acre farm nearby.”
If you would like to help make this a reality, you can visit the Goats of Anarchy website and make a donation, become a patron or buy one of the four books about the goats.
Theresa Miller lives in a small ranching town in Idaho, where she and her husband own and operate a small engine repair shop called Cycles, Sleds & Saws. Her spare time is divided between reading, writing, cooking, gardening, picking huckleberries and learning new things. Her favorite hobby is talking to people about things they are passionate about.
Originally published in the March/April 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.