Political side of pet goats: Leaders miss opportunity | Roegner

The Anissipour family
The Anissipour family's pet pygmy goats Lilly, at right, and Juju.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

When you start out in politics, one of the first lessons you learn is don’t annoy old people, or appear to pick on animals or children, and particularly not in an election year.

Recently, pygmy goats and a 12-year-old girl named Ava became overnight showstoppers in the race for mayor and city council.

This was great political theater and a good opportunity for incumbents and candidates to show leadership, flexibility and compassion.

Mayor Skip Priest earns points for trying to help. The city council candidates and mayoral candidate Jim Ferrell lose points for missing a golden opportunity to show how they would have handled the situation differently — and demonstrate why people should vote for them. They need to show that Federal Way is a city that has a commitment to making government work for its residents.

By way of background, the city animal control officer received a complaint about a family having two goats that smell. The officer determined that one goat was allowed because it was considered a medical support animal for Ava, who has anxiety issues. The second goat was meant to keep the first goat company.

Apparently goats, like some people I know, are social and can get mischievous when they are lonely or bored. But the city’s rules only allowed one goat for this lot size. The officer said the second goat would have to go or the family would be subject to fines. The police department tried to help by making arrangements for the second goat to go somewhere else.

Then the issue became public and was the talk of the town. Federal Way appeared to the region to be insensitive to a goat and a little girl. Ava, by the way, is adorable and articulate — and the goat is kind of cute, too.

Mayor Priest tried to save the situation. He met with Ava and her family and explained the rules, and said she could address the city council and start a process to change the rules. He said it could take four to six months to complete the process. His effort helped soften our regional image.

Ava did address the council and handled herself as we all hope our children would. She was outstanding. The mayor, city staff and city council took the position that rules are rules, and there is a process that has to be followed to change or modify the rules. Rules are important and should be followed, and there is also the neighbors to consider. Their concerns need to be addressed as well.

This was a golden opportunity for mayoral candidate Jim Ferrell or the city council to weigh in and challenge the city administration to look for more creative solutions that might result in a win for all concerned. Many citizens certainly weighed in and weren’t happy. They questioned the staff’s interpretation of the rules. They also questioned City Hall’s flexibility, responsiveness to its citizens, compassion and common sense. Some view the episode as the city being unnecessarily heavy handed. Some noted that the city seems willing to be “flexible” when trying to attract new businesses, so why not now?

The mayor’s staff will report back to the council in September. It seems likely that six months from now the city council will change some rule that allows the second goat to return to the family. Once the election is over and the political pressure is off, that may change.

But how would the public have reacted if the mayor or city council had found a way to hold in abeyance the penalty of moving the goat for several months while the “appeal” to change the rules was processed? And in deference to the neighbors, as well as Ava, isn’t it possible to make something happen in city government a little faster than four to six months? You might need a special meeting here and there, but wouldn’t it be nice to see Federal Way on the regional news for trying to make government work, rather than simply offering a civics lesson where the wrong lesson might be learned?

The mayor and council members are good people trying to do a difficult job. But if you’re going to demonstrate leadership, flexibility and creativity that could have served the public interest a little better than “see you in four to six months,” this might have been the time.

And it’s an election year. They could have made the city look good while doing it.

Politically, Mayor Priest gets points, and everyone else loses points. Opportunity missed.


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