Don’t Let the Government Get Your Goat

Cedar, the Caprine Captive Caught in the Middle of a Fatal Legal Battle, Has an Important Story to Tell

The latest Connecting California comes straight from the goat’s mouth. From caprine heaven, Cedar the Goat tells all to columnist Joe Mathews. Photo of an unnamed Boer Goat by Andrea Stöckel. Public domain.

I, Cedar, may be as dead as the narrator of the film Sunset Boulevard. But from my warm and dry pen in caprine heaven, I can still hand down a hard lesson for my fellow Californians:

Never, ever, let the government get your goat.

I’m not one to brag, but the story of my short life is a parable of these head-spinning times, when cruel is the rule, and mercy is as rare as affordable housing. The circumstances of my death, still the subject of legal inquiry, also raise questions about the responsibilities of children, the harsh realities of animal husbandry, and the excesses of law enforcement.

But the hardest question about me is the most straightforward:

Who killed me?

There are many suspects in this hiricide.

Did I die because of the young child who raised me?

Until shortly before my death, I was under the care of a 9-year-old girl in Shasta County, who decided to enter me in last year’s Shasta County Fair. What she didn’t seem to understand was that county fairs aren’t all and fun and games and fried dough. Entering me into the fair put my life at risk, because it meant I could be auctioned off for slaughter.

And that’s what happened. I looked so meaty that I was purchased, for $902, by State Sen. Brian Dahle, a Lassen County rancher who was the Republican candidate for governor in 2022. When it was time to hand me over, the 9 year old started to cry and held onto me, refusing to let me be taken away.

Was my death the fault of fair officials and their inflexibilty?

Sen. Dahle, as purchaser, was willing to cancel the sale—he knows what it’s like to get slaughtered, having lost to Gavin Newsom by 19 points. And my former owner’s mother begged for my life, saying she was willing to buy me back.

But fair officials insisted that rules were rules, that farm animals aren’t pets, and that I had to be carved up. My death, they insisted, would also teach that little girl, and all children, life lessons. In an e-mail, the fair’s CEO said that “making an exception for you would only teach youth that they do not have to abide by the rules that are set up for all participants.”

They also seemed afraid of surrendering to criticism on social media. “This has been a negative experience for the fairgrounds as this has been all over Facebook and Instagram,” the fair CEO wrote in an email to the mom.

OK, but it was an even more negative experience for me, I assure you.

When the authorities come for your goat, or someone else you don’t want to give up, don’t get got like me.

Was it the long (and rights-violating) arm of the law?

I used to stare across the pasture and wonder about life as a sheep. After the fair, I finally went on the lamb.

Instead of handing me over for slaughter, my owner’s mom took me away, and placed me at a farm in Sonoma County that could care for me.

The fair insisted this was grand theft, and called the Shasta County authorities. Crime levels are high in that county, but somehow, the sheriff’s department managed to devote resources to getting a warrant for me, and sent two deputies well outside of their jurisdiction, more than 200 miles southwest to Sonoma, to find me.

When they located me, they didn’t read me my rights. They just grabbed me and took me back to Shasta County, without so much as an extradition hearing.

Was it another failure by Gov. Newsom to enforce his own edicts?

The governor has declared that the death penalty will no longer be carried out in his state. But his office didn’t stop my execution. When the sheriffs got me back to Shasta, they turned me over to fair officials, who had me slaughtered, without a trial, before a jury of my fellow goats. I was not given an opportunity to appeal, or ask for a commutation.

Are top state legal officials, and our dysfunctional courts, not to blame?

Not only did the courts and the attorney general fail to protect me, they’ve stood in the way of justice for my death. After my execution, the 9-year-old girl and her mom sued the fair, claiming a violation of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. A law firm specializing in animal cases is representing them. Their case turns on state laws that generally allow minors to change their minds about contracts.

You might think state officials, for PR reasons, would settle the case quickly, perhaps with an apology that emphasized their supposed commitments to children and to the right to choose. Instead, California Attorney General Rob Bonta—who needs to increase his name recognition in advance of an expected run for governor in 2026—recently countersued the girl’s mother, demanding that she pay all legal costs associated with the case.

When government officials are willing to treat a child and mother like that, you can’t back down. You have to be even more stubborn than a goat, and cultivate a fierce gruffness. Looking back, I wish I could have behaved like the big third goat in the children’s story “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” who, when a troll tries to gobble him up, doesn’t negotiate. Instead, he pokes the troll’s eyes out with his horns.

When the authorities come for your goat, or someone else you don’t want to give up, don’t get got like me. Think of me, Cedar the Goat, and keep defending the rights of children, the rights of animals, and your right to poke the eye of anyone who would punish you for holding on to another living thing.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column and is the democracy editor of Zócalo Public Square.
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