Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

2 families, two goats, one smelly standoff


PUT YOURSELF IN Cathy and Rodney Holden's place -- but hold your nose while you're doing it. Picture yourself at their new house, on Oella Avenue off Frederick Road, where they saved all their money, and sacrificed convenience, and finally built this lovely split level brick home to raise their two daughters.

And now they all have to share it -- with goats.

This is not what they had in mind -- not in all the years the Holdens were saving their money, not in those 15 months Rodney Holden was building the house in Oella, not in those months when the family lived in a trailer to save money while Rodney finished construction.

"Thank goodness it's winter," Cathy Holden was saying the other morning, as she rushed her two daughters, Allyson, 5, and Amanda, 8, for school. "At least the girls want to stay inside from the cold. When it's warm and they go outside, they get nauseous from the smell. Sometimes even the house doesn't block it. If the wind blows in the other direction, we get a break. When it blows our way, with the goats, with their droppings, the smell gets in everything."

On Tuesday morning, it was the usual sight (and smell) to behold. The Holdens walk out their front door, and 45 feet directly ahead, are these scruffy pens. One has ducks and geese and various junk. The other has two goats, a metal oil drum the goats butt their heads against -- and a large painting of a Christmas manger scene.

Here's what's particularly galling to the Holdens: The pens sit next to a wire fence that separates the beginning of their narrow front yard with the last few feet of a large property owned by their nearest neighbors, Kelly and Mark Clark, who own the pens and refuse to move them.

They did move them once. When the Holdens first settled on their property, the goat pen was near the Clarks' house. But the Clarks moved it about 250 yards away, to the edge of the Holden property.

"We asked them to move it," Cathy Holden says. "They told us, 'Why don't you move your house instead?' "

"Yes, we did move it," Mark Clark acknowledged yesterday. "It was too wet and too shady near our house for the goats' health. Our veterinarian said, 'You've gotta move them to a drier place.' It's a large property, yes, but most of it's wet, especially in summer. That's the sunniest, driest place we have."

"Satchmo and Ella," added Kelly Clark, referring to the goats, "came here with pneumonia and conjunctivitis. The doctor said they needed a place that was dry and sunny. The only place to put them was where we did."

So, for two years, there has been this smelly standoff, with the two families grinding their way through Baltimore County's bureaucracies, no longer talking directly to each other, and each side believing itself victimized.

Last month, Hope Jacobson, a county code enforcement officer, ordered the goats removed from the property by Jan. 16, citing a zoning ordinance requiring at least 3 acres needed to keep goats on residential property. The Clarks have 1.8 acres.

But such county orders seem to lack impact. In November, Jacobson sent a letter to the Clarks, advising them they were violating laws on "an open dump" for keeping "junk, trash and debris that must be removed, including but not limited to the old tub, furniture and worn padding that is located on top of the duck pen. These items must be removed by Nov. 16." They were not.

As for the goats, "The county thought they were fine, and now all of a sudden they seem to find some new rule," Kelly Clark says. "We don't want to get rid of them. We're animal lovers. We're not bad people. This isn't a feud. Our children love the goats, and their friends come over and play with them.

"We plan to plant trees this spring, and maybe the trees will help solve the problem. We've looked into putting up a privacy fence, but you can't put it up in front of a residential home. But we don't want to remove the goats."

And there it stands: two nice suburban couples, with children, and a couple of goats getting in the way of the contented life.

"This is our dream house," says Cathy Holden. "But we look out our living room window, and there's this mess. And my kids come in the house crying and say, 'Can't Daddy build a big fence to keep the smell out?' "

Says Kelly Clark: "We don't think there's a smell. And anyway, what about Satchmo and Ella? They're the real victims."

Pub Date: 1/07/99

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad