Goats: an ongoing issue

Editorial by Susan Winters, Publisher

As seen from Ms. Carmody’s window

There’s a big problem on Cross Highway near the corner of Newtown Turnpike. It’s not cute and it’s not funny that some people think Redding has its own version of the Tiger King, but with goats.

The ramshackle house has sported a blue tarp over its roof for years. Rusted cars and non working farm equipment dot the property as well as lean-tos insufficient to shelter the ever increasing population of goats.

The property is owned by Nancy Burton, an attorney disbarred in 2003, who has papered to town with motions and lawsuits so that she does not have to follow the rule of law. She uses the law to break the law.

Ms Burton’s property is not zoned for a multitude of goats, nor is she equipped to take care of dozens of animals. In 2017, the Zoning Commission upheld the statute and ruled that she remove all over the 9 goats allowed. She did not comply and filed motions to circumvent their immediate removal, tying the town’s hands.

To the consternation of her neighbors, her herd grew. The goats are apparently underfed so they leave her property to forage at the neighbors. It’s not cute. It’s a menace.

A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with Elinore Carmody, a neighbor seriously affected by the situation. I pulled up to Ms. Carmody’s picture perfect home that she shares with her husband Dennis Gibbons: it’s a beautiful oasis destroyed by an uninvited invasion.

When I got out of my car, I was assailed by a stench so powerful, I almost gagged.

I can’t imagine having to live with that every day.

When Miss Carmody bought her home in 2002, Ms Burton already lived next-door with her husband, New York Times journalist William Honan.

The couples had some neighborly interactions and exchanged holiday cards. Ms. Carmody does not remember goats on the property but she does remember when Ms Burton adopted Katie the goat from near the Millstone nuclear power plant.

After Mr. Honan passed away, things deteriorated quickly.

Zoning officer Aimee Pardee visited Ms Burton after neighbors complained about the growing herd.

In April 2017, she and health officer Doug Hartline invited Miss Burton to Town Hall to see if the town could help her reduce the animals to legal numbers. She refused all offers of assistance.

It was then that the issue was brought before the Zoning Commission who ruled that she take care of the issue immediately. She finally submitted a Land Management Plan in October 2017. The Zoning Commission rejected the plan.

Instead of complying, Ms Burton sued them. That matter is still in the court.

The closing of court buildings because of COVID-19 has delayed all ongoing cases so the neighbors and the goats are in limbo.

On the day of our meeting, Ms. Carmody welcomed me into her lovely home. We reviewed pictures and videos of dozens of goats walking right up to her house to eat her plantings. Leaving piles of excrement in their wake. It was clear that many were disabled.

We had a full view of the back of Ms Burton‘s property. The animals had eaten all the foliage that previously had it blocked.

The goats were bleating loudly, but then I heard a sound that I can only describe as a serial killer murdering a child. It was goats in distress.

Ms Burton had erected a makeshift fence that did little to keep the goats on her property. Daily, Ms Carmody told me, dozens of goats came through the fence to her property. Often, she said, they would get caught in the fence and then make that horrible noise.

I don’t know about you, but when I am driving on Cross Highway, I go extra slowly past the Burton home to make sure a goat or two or a dozen aren’t going to dash in front of my car on the way to have a meal on the other side on the road.

David Mason lives across from the Burton home.

He said, “I’m not sure people really realize that it’s not just a goat or two out for a cute frolic. There were — and occasionally still are — a roaming pack of anywhere from twenty to thirty, or forty or more goats at a time. During late March and in April I would have to get up at 5:00 in the morning because the goats would come over shortly after dawn. I’ve been woken up at 5:12 a.m. by the goats clamoring on my front porch to get access to decorative plantings around the porch.”

Mason added, “Twenty to forty goats. Often they would come over several times during the day. Could be in the morning. Could be in the afternoon. Could be both. At times they might be more than 200 feet deep into my property.”

Mason and Carmody both said that they have fully documented the situation with videos and photographs filed with the police department. Mason said, “There is no ‘he said – she said’ here. 100% contemporaneous photographic documentation.”

The neighbors agree that if the goats only ate weeds or grass, it would be hard to get particularly upset. But they’ve decimated flowering shrubs. On Mason’s property, they eat the needles and lower branches of the evergreen trees, resulting in permanent damage. A 100 year old specimen Norway Spruce in front of his house had graceful branches to the ground, but not any more. These branches will never grow back.

The neighbors document and file complaints with the Redding Police Department with every trespass event. Police Chief Mark O’Donnell is very sympathetic to their distress and wants to help every way he can. Animal Control Officer Mike Deluca has beaten a trail to Ms. Burton’s door to serve her with the citations that she has to pay. Ms Carmody said that she has filed at least 2 dozen complaints in the last month.

Ms. Burton has also used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIa) to request copies of the reports filed when citizens report goats in the road. The police redact the names of those citizens when they provide the reports.

Then she can’t turn around and sue these good samaritans who are trying to protect the goats.

Susan Buzaid lives behind Ms. Burton’s home. She is concerned about the invasion, the destruction of her property and the smell. But, mostly she is concerned about the health of family and pets. Excrement is all over her property and her dogs are known to eat what they find. The goats are not well cared for and she is concerned that their diseases (see below) are leaching into the well water and the Little River.

The Whitten home is on the other side. The goats have had a feast and decimated the landscape.

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Earlier this year, a goat was hit by a truck on Cross Highway. The goat hobbled off but was later identified as having been badly hurt. Ms Burton was charged with Cruelty to Animals, Obstruction of an Animal Control Officer (ACO) in the scope of duties as well as Infractions of Town Ordinances for Roaming Livestock and Reckless Release.

The driver was unharmed but there was damage to his vehicle.

It’s apparent that Ms Burton has not been feeding her goats on a regular basis. I have seen photos of animals with ribs protruding. Many are also lame and are disabled. They walk on their knees because their hooves are not trimmed regularly.

Because they are not getting enough food, they cry constantly and then leave the property to find food elsewhere. That’s probably why they travel to the neighbors.

When I was visiting Ms. Carmody, I noticed that the goats that came to her yard seem to be younger. Perhaps that is because the older goats are monopolizing the few feedings they get and the kids are not getting access to the food.

Ms. Carmody has found remains of goats that have died on her property. With no approved land management plan carcasses, bones and excrement are not retrieved.

I have seen videos taken by the neighbors where their property has been invaded. Pajama clad homeowners running out of the house at 6 AM to shoo them away, blowing airhorns to startle the animals so they run home.

As a disbarred attorney, Ms. Burton knows the system but because she is not currently licensed she is given the leeway usually afforded to Pro se (self represented) plaintiffs. She is in process of suing the town, the Zoning commission and the First Selectman. When things are not going her way, she uses ploys like trying to get the judges replaced… a method she has tried many times in the past but has not worked.

Over the years well meaning volunteers have tried to help Ms. Burton manage her issues. They have offered to clean up her property, build shelters, raise money to feed the goats, rehome them to farms and owners that are better equipped.

An animal rights activist who tried to help said that conditions were abominable. A Vet came in and had to euthanize several of the animals. Ms. Burton threatened the Vet for euthanizing without her permission, but the animals were in the care of an animal rights organization at the time and they gave the proper go ahead.

The goats are not healthy. Their needs are not cared for regularly by a Veterinarian. The animals who were tested have CAE.

Caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE) is a contagious viral disease of goats. The disease is typically spread from mother to kid through the ingestion of colostrum or milk. CAE virus may also be spread among adult goats through contact with body secretions including blood and feces of infected goats. There are 5 major forms of CAE in goats: arthritis, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), pneumonia, mastitis, and chronic wasting. The arthritic form of the disease is most common in adult goats, while the encephalitic form is most common in kids. The chronic wasting form of the disease can occur either separately or in addition to any other form of CAE.

They were also tested positive for Coccidiosis which is the most common cause of diarrhea in goats between 3 weeks and 5 months of age.

A volunteer told me that they also have CL disease. Caseous lymphadenitis (CL) is a chronic, contagious bacterial disease that manifests clinically as abscesses of external and/or internal lymph nodes and organs.

CL is a zoonotic disease, meaning it is one that humans can contract. CAE and Coccidiosis are not directly harmful to humans but once the by products are released into the ground and water, all bets are off.

Animal Nation is a non-profit, all volunteer organization whose mission statement promises that they are dedicated to eliminating cruelty to animals while promoting compassion and respect for all living beings.

They were called in to help rehome the goats. Ms. Burton did all she could to hold up the process. Canceling appointments for prospective adopters, objecting to the state mandated ear tagging of the animals.

Ms. Burton is now suing Animal Nation.

Another concern is fresh water for the animals. What little they had froze in the winter. The goats are not protected from the elements. There are too many to fit under the small open sided wooden sheds.

One person cannot attend to the needs of the amount of goats she has on her property.

Volunteers tried to separate the goats to ensure that the breeding would stop. Ms Burton also stood in the way of these efforts. Now there are more goats than before and a current herd of baby goats has been seen on the property.

Years ago, Zoning Officer Aimee Pardee tried to involve the state to at least remove and quarantine the goats but their hands were also tied waiting for the court cases.

State Senator Will Haskell reacted immediately when contacted by Elinore Carmody and this reporter. He said…

I believe the state has a critical role to play in ensuring that animals are treated humanely and do not become a nuisance to neighbors. I’m pleased that the Department of Agriculture has been willing to collaborate with town officials on the best path forward, and I’m looking forward to continued conversations about how to resolve this troubling situation.

When I contacted Bryan Hurlburt, Department of Agriculture Commissioner, I received this message:

The Town of Redding commenced a criminal action against the animal owner residing in town. The town consulted with the Department of Agriculture regarding the matter, and the town continues to pursue their pending criminal matter.

Meanwhile the legal actions have caused the town of Redding over $40,000 to date. Not counting the time and energy of our town departments involved: Police, Zoning, Health, Social Services and the Selectmen.

David Mason said, “What really makes it frustrating, however, is that Nancy Burton has never expressed a shred of remorse or empathy or concern for what she and her goats have done. She never says thank you for herding the goats back onto her property. She never says sorry the goats got out again. Never a regret for the damage to the trees.

We would expect in a nice community like Redding – or really anywhere – that someone responsible for this sort of conduct would be apologetic to her neighbors. But instead, she bad mouths us in court filings. We file statements with the police documenting the goats and the damage they do, and she accuses us of conspiring with the police. Instead of taking responsibility, it’s blaming the victims.

All any of us want is the quiet enjoyment of property in lovely Redding.”

The whole situation is one where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Sometimes it’s both.

Note: I have spoken to dozens of people involved in this situation. Most asked not to have their names mentioned because they are concerned about Ms. Burton’s litigious nature and that they will be sued by her next.

This is Part one of a story I expect to be covering for awhile. I consider it an overview of the situation and plan to bring forth details as soon as they become available.

Are you concerned? Does this make you mad? Are you concerned about the health of these poor animals?

Here’s who to contact:

First Selectman Julia Pemberton First Selectman
(203) 938-2002 firstselectman@townofreddingct.org
Doug Hartline, Redding Health Officer
(203) 938-2559 health@townofreddingct.org
Aimee Pardee Zoning Officer
(203) 938-8517 zoning@townofreddingct.org
Redding Police (if you see goats in the road)
Stare Senator Will Haskell
Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan Hurlburt
860-713-2500 bryan.hurlburt@ct.gov
CT Dept of Health