Late on Tuesday morning I received word from The Belmont Goats that Atho, one of the four goats born into the herd early in its existence, had passed overnight. This is the second goat to die this year, the herd’s tenth anniversary.
Readers here will know at least two things about me: back in February when the first goat died I penned one of the best things I’ve ever written, and just a little over a month ago I quit the nonprofit for the second time in four years, this time due to ethical differences.
In the message I received yesterday morning I was offered the chance to stop by but I demurred, saying I didn’t think I could handle it. In reality, for better or worse, what I knew I would not be able to handle anymore was the people. We’re just too far apart, and I would not have been able to keep things separate.
Atho was born to Duchess on the Winter Solstice in 2013, in the backyard of the president of the board, along with his sister Winter. They were the second pair born into the herd, after Clover and Precious that September, and the only ones to have been sired within it. Chester and Lefty each bears the sobriquet of Maybedaddy, although most everyone suspected, or at least wanted, Lefty to be the father.
Many of us got to be present for the birth of Clover and Precious, but most of us were late in getting to the birth of Atho and Winter. Atho spent most of his early days on his feet, earning him the nickname Standy McStanderson, and never stopped being something of a mama’s boy, at least as compared to his sister’s Duchess-like independence.
After my first departure in early 2019, Atho suffered urinary blockages akin to the ones previously encountered by Cooper. He underwent the same procedure Cooper did to reroute his urinary tract. This not being an especially common surgery, the veterinarians try to learn from each attempt. For whatever reasons, Atho’s went less smoothly than did Cooper’s and complications for a time put him in the “touch and go” category.
It’s been common for the project to receive urgent messages from passersby about a goat who seemed to be injured. Atho’s rerouting caused him to expel urine to the side and toward his right leg. The area from which this happened was forever engorged and swollen and bulbous, exposing either skin or the layer just beneath, and sometimes seemed or in fact was bloody.
He was subject to daily baths, if he’d submit to being wrangled for them. Volunteers regularly availed themselves of a number of alternatives if the bath just wasn’t in the offing, including medicinal sprays.
Many of us who were not around during Atho’s blockages never quite felt like we understood what was going on with his continuing condition. We never understood how his surgery would result in the enlarged, bulbous area whereas Cooper’s had not, nor what was causing his weight loss. We’d wanted to get answers in part because of those passerby concerns, but also because we’d simply grown tired of not really knowing the answers ourselves.
Before I left, the plan had been for a lead volunteer to call a veterinarian who’d been involved in order to ask these questions. It didn’t happen before I left, and I’ve no idea if it happened since. I’d also repeatedly urged a fecal exam to check for parasites, which might have accounted for his body condition absent an explanation somehow related to the past surgery. I’ve no idea if that ever happened, either.
I’m told that recently Atho was getting some sort of treatment and was “under vet watch” (although I’m not entirely sure what that means), but at some point he’d stopped eating and was discovered Tuesday morning by a volunteer.
Let me be perfectly clear: I’ve no actual, active reason to believe Atho’s death somehow was due to poor care practices.
Let me repeat that: I’ve no actual, active reason to believe Atho’s death somehow was due to poor care practices.
Every single volunteer of The Belmont Goats understandably will be devastated this week, especially with this being the second death in what otherwise simply would have been a year-long celebration of the project’s first decade.
It’s true nonetheless that a day like today precisely is why I am such a stickler for honest nonprofit communications, beyond it being in and of itself the proper, ethical behavior the giving public should expect. Since I’ve personally experienced that the organization doesn’t appear committed to that principle, a day like today agonizingly leaves me not knowing what to think.
I’d have loved today to sit down simply to write an ode to Atho like the one I wrote on the occasion of Phil’s passing. This death, however, for me is inseverable from my loss of faith in the communications of the organization.
That doesn’t mean any wrong was done. I’m not raising a red flag. It just means that personally I no longer quite can bring myself just to give them the benefit of the doubt.
I’m not sure where that ranks in comparison to Atho’s death itself, but it’s surely also a tragedy all its own.