Definition of a pet

The Baltimore Sun

Robin Morrison grabs the leashes from a hook in the shed. She calls out to Nanny and Samuel, who are lounging in the shade on the back porch: "Come on, you two. It's time for a walk."

At first glance, Morrison might look like a typical pet owner taking a dog for a stroll through her Baltimore County neighborhood. But passing motorists sometimes stop, she says, when they realize she's leading a pair of goats down the suburban street.

"I know, I know, my daughter said the same thing: 'Mom? A goat?'" says Morrison, a 49-year-old former custodian with two grown daughters and three grandchildren.

Some neighbors have no problem with the pygmy goats - a breed that grows to about the size of a large German shepherd - living in the backyard of Morrison's Essex home. A woman who lives nearby often stops by so her children can see the creatures, which happen to share the youngsters' love for goldfish crackers and animal cookies.

But not everyone in the community is so approving. And county officials say the Essex woman must have permission to bypass zoning regulations that require property owners to have 3 acres of pasture for livestock.

The case goes before a zoning commissioner Monday.

Unusual pets in unexpected settings - it's a combination that often raises legal questions.

State Natural Resources police, saying they feared the spread of a disease that affects captive deer, raided three Anne Arundel County homes last year and seized and destroyed 18 of them.

This year, Baltimore officials proposed regulations that would require permits for chickens, pigeons and pot-bellied pigs, limiting the size of permitted iguanas and banning such animals as roosters and sheep.

Having evaluated comments on the proposal, city officials plan next week to unveil the regulations that they will impose.

Maryland legislators passed a law last year that bans certain animals - including crocodiles, bears and gorillas - from being kept as pets. In Montgomery County, a woman is fighting to keep a pet capuchin monkey in her Rockville home, according to police.

Many local governments deal with the issue of which pets are acceptable where through zoning regulations or under nuisance ordinances.

Baltimore County law requires residents to have an acre for chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese. Three acres are required for each horse, burro and cow. And 3 acres are required to keep smaller livestock, including sheep, goats, ponies and pigs.

The Morrisons' property is a little more than a tenth of an acre, according to property records. A letter to county officials signed "concerned residents" argues that the goats are better off on a farm.

Paul and Betty Marks, who live behind the Morrisons, are among those who object to the goats. In her letter to county officials, Betty Marks wrote that the animals' droppings add to a rodent problem in the area.

Paul Marks, in an interview this week, said he urged his wife to write the letter because, in addition to the rodent problem, he and his wife were becoming increasingly concerned about the Morrisons' feeding of ducks and geese. He said the Morrisons' feed has attracted rodents and wildlife such as foxes.

As for the goats, Paul Marks said the neighborhood's properties aren't large enough to provide the goats with sufficient room to graze. While he believes people should be able to do as they choose on their own properties, a line must be drawn when their actions affect neighbors.

"It's not personal," he said. "It's about having respect for wildlife."

Morrison says she called Baltimore County's animal shelter to make sure she could have a pygmy goat. Animal shelter officials said they could not recall the long-ago conversation. County animal control ordinances don't forbid ownership of a pet goat, according to county officials. But the zoning rules apply in Morrison's case, they say.

This spring, Morrison received a violation notice from county inspectors.

Until then, she says she didn't know the goats were a problem. Her younger daughter circulated a petition in the neighborhood, collecting more than a 100 signatures in support of the goats.

"She takes really good care of them," says Ella Allen-Huskey, a neighbor who says she thought Morrison was a little crazy the first time she saw her neighbor walking the goats down the street. "She loves those goats."

"I think they're cute," she says.

On its Web site, the National Pygmy Goat Association describes the breed as "hardy, alert and animated, good natured and gregarious," making a "docile, responsive pet."

Morrison has had Nanny, one of the goats, for about 2 1/2 years. She got her when the animal was sick from a neighbor of her sister, who lives in the Westminster area. The neighbor was planning to give the goat away, Morrison says, and she thought she could take good care of her.

"I was already feeding the ducks and the squirrels around here," says Morrison, who also has about 15 cats, many of them formerly strays. "That's what I like to do. If I had me a lot of money, I guess I'd live on a farm."

Growing up on a farm in Harford County, Morrison says, she had more traditional pets - dogs and cats. Her husband, Kenneth, a retired mechanic, was quite surprised when she brought home a goat. A backyard tool shed was converted into a home for the goats.

Robin Morrison says she became Nanny's constant companion, spending all day in the backyard because the goat would cry when she went inside. About a year and a half ago, Morrison says she bought her a playmate, another pigmy goat named Samuel.

The goats eat grain that Morrison buys from a farm in Bel Air and hay she gets from her brother in Pennsylvania.

"They're spoiled," she says, pulling out a package of Ritz crackers and feeding them the treats.

Sun staff writer Gina Davis contributed to this article.

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