Literally- a goat. Not like yours truly, Greatest Of All Time, but a four-legged animal.
I waited until the entire odyssey was over before I posted this blog post but I really did want everyone to know what happened and what they can do about it if it happens to you!
Several months ago, an article was posted about how some nasty neighbors called animal control on my client’s little backyard farm. (https://www.covnews.com/news/newton-county-family-facing-fines-keeping-childs-emotional-support-goat/)
As you can see, they have a special needs child (like yours truly) and love animals (like yours truly). They needed a pro bono attorney, and as it turns out, I can be that attorney. I was President of the Student Animal Defense League in law school and lord knows I will fight anyone who even thinks ugly about special needs kids. So I offered my services, and they were accepted.
I went to municode.com to look up the local ordinances and to verify what kinds of animals they are allowed on their property based on size and zone. They had the goat, ducks, a pig, and various other animals but unfortunately they were not allowed to keep them all. They were only allowed to keep Lego the goat because he was deemed an emotional support animal for their autistic son. My daughter is highly likely to need one as well so this became a somewhat personal mission of mine to boot.
They had all the paperwork and then some, including a letter from the pediatrician, signage, a vest, a leash, and all kinds of documentation to prove it was in fact an emotional support animal. For the unintitiated, an emotional support animal can be a real thing, not just a made up thing for people who want to bring their emotional support peacock on the plane. You do require a letter from a medical professional outling the need for the animal and the service it provides. For this boy, his pediatrician wrote that the boy had been in hippo (horse riding) therapy and had been very successful. But he had also graduated from the need for hippo therapy. Lego gave the boy responsibilities, a companion, and some exercise outdoors. These things helped alleviate anxiety, frustration, and loneliness- something people with special needs (and their families) experience in far greater numbers.
Once they gave me proof that the animal was an actual support animal deemed so by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), we had to show that proof to the county. I emailed the county attorney and he was very pleasant and extremely helpful. We looked at their plot of land through various land maps through the tax assessor’s office, checked the zoning, and reconciled against their home size and location. Another very gracious move was that the attorney agreed to waiving the filing fees, saving my clients a few hundred dollars. We all agreed that the survey of land done previously was still accurate so another survey was deemed unnecessary, saving them more money.
Next, we had to request a variance to accomodate the goat to the home. We filled out the paperwork and hand-delivered it to the zoning office. It was reviewed and accepted- hooray! But it had to run in the local paper for 4 weeks, and we had missed the last deadline so we wouldn’t be heard before the zoning board for almost 6 weeks- the first week in December.
When our time came, we had many supporters and -of course- the neighbors that had called and complained. We both got a few minutes to give our speeches and persuade the board to allow for the variance (or request they deny it). The neighbors claimed it was the mother’s goat, not the son’s, that they waited to register the animal as a service animal because they thought they’d get away with it, and that the goat nearly drown one time.
I argued the obvious- that under the ADA the county was required to provide reasonable accomodations for this child’s disability, but they had to determine what was considered an accomodation, and if it was reasonable. Further, the goat did not almost drown, and they did not register the goat because why would you need to if everyone is fine with it? Once someone is fine with it you pull the trigger. I get the neighbors point but lets be real. One last point I will concede- they still had the ducks. They had asked to keep them until they could find them a good home as the ducks were handicapped as well. At the meeting I fully admitted to saying I think they should keep the ducks until they can’t anymore. The board decided sooner was better. Unfortunately, one duck died almost immediately and we seemed to have lost track of the other.
The variance was granted (hooray!) with the stipulation that a privacy fence be erected between the complaining neighbors and my clients. I felt this was fair and explained to my clients that because the complaining neighbors were inherently unstable, a fence can prevent them from doing something like throwing poison over the fence or any other nonsense. My clients initially agreed but then were mad they were saddled with the cost of erecting a fence. This choas was further compounded by the complaining neighbors erecting their own fence, and encroaching on my client’s property!
Today, however, I learned their fence was given all the clear and the case is considered closed!!
So- what to do if you get a complaint about your animal? Visit municode to find out what animals you are allowed to have in your local area. See how your home is zoned. Line up all your documentation. If all else fails- Just Call Jen!