On drowning goats.

Often, it takes stupidity-in-action to really learn my lesson. I blunder through life, I learn, I hope to blunder less.  If I’m lucky, the blunders don’t cost me too much. Recently, through a series of impetuous blunders,  I learned that melting ice will break under a grown woman’s weight.

Last month, during an unseasonable February melt, I was jogging with the hound when I came upon a pond filled with (4) drowning goats. Each had fallen into individual goat-sized holes in the ice, created by their not insignificant 40 pound selves. Having spent the frozen part of winter reveling in their ability to walk on water they awoke that morning, to the warm air, thinking only what a great day for a romp instead of the more urgent and human wouldn’t it be foolish to ice-skate today?

Their humans were away and given the total non-presence of neighbors in our parts, the hound and I were the first to happen upon their sickening cries. 

I didn’t know that goats could swim. I suppose most land mammals at least make a go for it when given the alternative of death, and these four creatures were doing their damnedest to live. I have never witnessed a drowning and I wish I could tell you that I kept my cool and Did What Needed to be Done. Instead, I panicked. I ran towards the pond, hound in tow; a pair of flame-bent moths. 

I proceeded towards the goats at a crawl assuming that if I spread out my weight thusly I would be less likely to fall in. Hawkeye followed my lead. Any sensible person could see that this didn’t work for the goats and thus was unlikely to work for a human but I was panicking, not thinking, so I missed that crucial bit of logic.

Predictably, we fell through almost immediately, many meters shy of the goats. It is a shocking experience and was my first time falling through ice. I panicked [again!] but quickly recalled that I could swim and broke the ice frantically back to the bank for the both of us. 

Sopping wet, I understood that it would be foolish to continue my half thought attempts at a solo rescue. Nobody knew I was here, in this remote pond in the woods. If nobody could hear the goats they were unlikely too to hear my cries for help should I continue to make idiotic decisions. 

I thought briefly [briefly!]  of abandoning the goats and continuing on my run. Just a half a second, but such is my selfishness and I would be remiss to not mention my wickedness. 

Fortunately the unearthly sound of the goats knocked me out of my selfish reverie. 

I would need to find help to save these goats who were still screaming and trying not to drown. 

First the dog and I ran east up the road to where I had seen a man parked on the side of the woods taking a phone call. He was gone. I tried yelling for help into the sugar bush but the trees remained ever passive. Next we ran west. I passed six homes over a mile before I found humans at home. The mile was uphill and my legs had an extra 10 pounds of winter over them. It took me so long that I got distracted with how much I hate running hills. I kept taking breaks to curse the incline and slow my heart and then I would remember the goats and heave my wet self forward.

The neighbors I found were capable and recognized the urgency of drowning goats. Perhaps they were unsettled by my muddied and frantic appearance but they were kind enough to come. 

By the time we arrived one goat was floating dead and the other three were washed in a sickening silence, still swimming but somehow slower. The man had a Vermonter’s sense of how to proceed. He walked to the far side of the pond and waded in. Breaking the ice before him, he dragged each of the goats out. Something, of course, I should have had the presence of mind to do 20 minutes earlier. He saved the remaining three and even went in to the furthest -the dead, fourth- to give it and the day the decency of removal. 

We carried their sodden bodies up to the homestead and lay them in the sun, toweling them off as best as we were able. They couldn’t stand, much less walk. They were tiny Nigerian Dwarf goats, ones that could sit in your lap if you were willing. I and the woman held them against our bodies, trying to steady their shaking.

There was an awkwardness to the conclusion. We had stopped the drowning but the goat’s humans were not yet back. A mother-in-law -hearing the commotion- had stopped by and was in the house making the necessary calls to the necessary humans.   

We wet three were most certain the goats would be dead from exhaustion or hypothermia within the day. There is a unsentimentality in rural life regarding animals that I am still fumbling with. The Kate I was before Vermont would have called the vet, no matter that they were not my animals. But here the austerity of life forces practicality. I followed the lead of the pair of seasoned Vermonters;  these goats will likely die, we reasoned, the most we could do was give them a dry, safe space to do so. No sense in spending anybody’s money on a vet who would tell us the same. We locked the three in an empty and warm duck house and went our separate ways. 

I was shaking. Cold, certainly, but also from the adrenaline of the situation and the shame of having not acted with intelligence when I first found them. I could have gotten myself into a whole lot more trouble and was lucky I fell in where I did and that I wasn’t wearing heavy boots or heavy clothes when I did. My uncertainty and panic cost the life of the little black goat. 

Later that night, I got an email from my female accomplice. She had a visit from the goat’s human, thanking her, naturally, for the work she and her husband did. She was happy to tell me the goats were recovering, the owner had carried them to the wood stove when she got home and the dry heat appeared to be the needed remedy.

I've run passed the homestead several times since as it is a loop to which I am devoted. There is no further sign of the goats. 


  1. Oh, your writing is always so good, as is the content. I dream of having a farm some day and I love the raw honesty that you share here and on instagram. Thank you for helping those goats and being a good human!

  2. Kate,
    You have such an eye for both the internal and external; I never tire of reading your stories.

  3. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but you did the very best you could for those little goats, and three survived because of you.

  4. My heart was in my mouth reading that, I was worried when you went on to the ice. So glad nothing happened to you. We'll done on saving the three goats and such a well written account.

  5. Holy wow! So glad you stumbled across this and it turned out as well as it did!

  6. I never tire of your writing either

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