From Law Breaker To Law Maker: How Jennie Grant Helped Legalize Goats In Seattle
Back in 2007, Jennie Grant craved fresh goat’s milk. She got a taste of it in California and was surprised it wasn’t musty. She knew goats in Seattle weren’t legal. But she got one anyway, a white Mini LaMancha. She named her Snowflake.
“The rules said you couldn’t keep farm animals such as sheep or cows. But if you love your goat and take them on a walk periodically, aren’t they pets also?” asked Grant. She thinks of Snowflake more of a pet than livestock.
Snowflake stayed under the radar for a while in Grant’s Madrona backyard, until a young girl about a mile away became very sick with what doctors initially thought was Q fever.
“She was hospitalized. She could have died,” Grant recalls.
Q fever is a bacterial infection spread by goats and cows. It can make someone seriously ill if they have a weak immune system. The girl’s family started asking neighbors if someone nearby had goats. Officials from the King County Health Department soon appeared at Grant’s front door.
Grant says, “They saw that the goats hadn’t spread the disease — that my goats never had the disease. And then, later, they found out that she didn’t even have Q fever.”
The Initial Confrontation
Snowflake was innocent. But now the city was on to what was going on in Grant’s backyard.
“Once I got turned in I got a notice on my porch that said, ‘We understand that you have goats on the premises and you’ve gotta get rid of them.’”
Grant was not going to let that happen. Not only did she have Snowflake, she had Snowflake’s newborn kids to think about. She asked the city if it could exempt her small urban farm from the rules.
“But they said, ‘no, you’ve gotta change the rule,’” which Grant says made sense at the time.
Retracing The Path To A Goat-less Seattle
So, why was owning a goat in Seattle against the law?
City leaders started putting restrictions on farm animals 90 years ago, back when Seattle was growing and changing more than it is today.
Around the turn of the last century, urban and bucolic existed side by side. On the way to a performance at the Grand Opera House on Cherry Street, it would not have been unusual to see a child grazing cows on empty lots. Seattle had hundreds of cows, horses and a handful of goats.
“The city had city herders that worked under the Police Department,” says historian Fred Brown.
Brown is writing a book due out next year called, “The City Is More Than Human: An Animal History of Seattle.” Brown says, “There was a cattle pound which was the equivalent of the dog pound; and the cattle pound was where unattended cows and horses roaming around would be taken…”
Seattle’s quest to become a more sophisticated, and upper-middle class town led to laws banning all farm animals, unless you owned a sizable piece of property in town. By 1957, even chickens weren’t spared.
From Grant’s perspective, not only did these laws openly express dislike for the poor who lived off the land, they were also land grabs from real estate developers looking to cash in.
“So they came up with ideas that it was unsafe for women and children and they passed laws to get rid of the farm animals,” says Grant. “Because once you couldn’t keep a farm animal, you had to move out of the city and what did you have to with your land? You had to sell it to a real estate developer.”
The Goat Justice League
Over the years, a bit of the country has crept back into the city. Chickens, ducks and turkeys made it back first in 1982. It wasn’t until 2007 that goats got their day.
Grant got together with other goat enthusiasts and created the Goat Justice League. Their mission: to convince the Seattle City Council that people had a right to own goats.
The council said, “yes” unanimously, but with a few conditions: only two goats per household, they have to be 100 pounds or less, no horns are allowed, and the males have to be castrated.
Since her victory, Grant is now known as “the Goat Lady”.
“When people say, ‘Oh, you’re the ‘Goat Lady’!’ I always have to say, well, some people call me Jennie Grant.”
Grant went on to write a book called “City Goats: The Goat Justice League’s Guide To Backyard Goat Keeping”. Snowflake had her moment of fame too. The Stranger put her on its cover when Seattle voters approved gay marriage.
“Something about the anti-gay marriage people were arguing that if they let men marry men, that men would want to marry goats. So it was sort of a play on that. Apparently nobody got it, but Snowflake got to be on the cover,” said Grant.
’The Freshest Milk There Is’
Even though the door to goat ownership has been open for several years, not too many people are taking advantage of it. In the 83.9 square miles of Seattle, there are only 46 licensed goats.
Back in Madrona, in Grant’s backyard, Snowflake now has another goat, Eloise, to keep her company. All goats are herd animals and require companions. They live at the bottom of the terraced backyard. Lake Washington is just below. Grant lets my two children, Henry and Lucy, try out their milking skills on Eloise.
“Henry, don’t squirt your sister!” laughs Grant. “Alright Henry—here, open your mouth; get closer.”
Henry refuses the offer of having milk squirted directly into his mouth.
“You don’t want it in your mouth?” urges Grant one more time. “It’s the freshest milk there is!”
Eloise produces about a quart of milk. In the summer, she provides a gallon a day. Some of it ends up as delicious cheese.
It’s getting dark, so we round up Grant’s chickens and put the goats into their shed. There’s a deck at the top that Eloise and Snowflake like to hop up on. It has gorgeous view of the lake.
Grant says if you decide to keep goats, you should give them the best view possible so you can enjoy it too. She warns that you’ll be spending more time there than any other part of your garden—milking, feeding, watering, and sweeping. For Grant, the bond with the animals and the access to fresh food is worth all of the work.
While Grant is very proud of her work that led to making goats legal, she says the law does have some flaws.
Yes, you can own a goat or two, but walking them around the neighborhood on a leash, well, that’s still illegal.