This is the story of a 9-year-old girl and the goat she loved. But it is also the story of hard and broken hearts, of county fairs and lost innocence. Finally, because of the political power of American agribusiness and the meat industry, this is the story of a dead goat.
Last April, a Shasta County, California mother named Jessica Long purchased a young goat for her daughter’s 4-H project, the youth organization. The little girl, whom we will call by the first initial E., since the case is pending, named her goat Cedar.
Every day, E. fed Cedar and practiced showing him for the county fair in June. They became close: Soon Cedar was running to the gate to greet E., and Long says her daughter was walking Cedar like she was a pet dog.
E. showed Cedar at the Shasta County Fair, but the fair required 4-H members to turn in meat animals at the end of the fair for slaughter. On the last night of the fair, E. sat in the straw pen next to Cedar and sobbed as she tried to say goodbye. A video taken that night shows the girl hugging Sider, stroking him and appearing to kiss his forehead as he subdues her.
Long couldn’t bear her daughter’s grief, so she and E. drove away with Cedar and drove it to a place in faraway Sonoma County for safekeeping.
The fair leaders were displeased. They insisted that Cedar should be slaughtered.
“The fair industry was created to teach our youth responsibility and for future generations of ranchers and farmers to learn the process and effort required to raise quality meat,” Melanie Silva, the fair’s CEO, emailed Long.
The fair reportedly accused Long of committing a crime by stealing a goat her daughter no longer owned; Long claims ownership never passed to anyone else, so Cedar was always E’s.
So the fair apparently brought in the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, which helpfully sent two deputies to make a 500-mile round trip to capture Cedar. When E. learned that her pet had been taken and slaughtered, she ran to her bed, pulled the covers over her head and cried. It’s a story reminiscent of EB White’s classic Charlotte’s Web, but with an even more heartbreaking conclusion.
Long’s lawsuit alleges that sheriff’s deputies improperly seized the family’s goat and then apparently turned it over to fair authorities. In their response to the lawsuit, the county and sheriff acknowledged that deputies “drove to Sonoma County to pick up a goat” and argued that “a warrant was not necessary to retrieve Cedar at the Sonoma farm because they had the consent of the owner on the property.” The county declined to comment further, citing the lawsuit.
I’m amazed that the best use of taxpayer money in Shasta County was to send two deputies on a day trip rather than to fight crime or addiction (fentanyl overdose deaths increased fivefold in Shasta County in 2021 , the latest year for which data is available), but to ensure the slaughter of a girl’s domestic goat.
This story moved me because I had goats on our family farm when I was about E.’s age, and later showed sheep in 4-H and FFA at county and state fairs in Oregon (4-H and FFA are, between the other, two of America’s top youth organizations). Maybe it’s because we had a flock of sheep, I never really got attached to any of them as a “pet”, but I certainly recognized their personalities and grew to love some of them.
Cedar is also a reminder that the bright line we draw between farm animals and our pet dogs and cats is arbitrary. When I raised pigs, I found they had stronger personalities than many human beings. And our geese! Geese mate for life and are devoted and supportive partners, making them among the most adorable two-legged creatures.
So I don’t eat meat anymore because I remember too many sheep, goats, pigs and geese that were family friends. It’s the same reason I don’t eat beagle.
This is the truth that industrial agriculture tries to hide. We accept the slaughter of cattle and birds, sometimes with great cruelty, because the animals are an unknown and undifferentiated mass, “beasts” kept in stables. This is the veil that E. pierced when he fell in love not with a cat, dog or guinea pig, but with Cedar.
Factory farming, perhaps especially of pigs and poultry, is extremely efficient and sometimes painfully ugly. It thrives because it operates behind the veil of secrecy imposed by “observation laws” that criminalize the undercover videotaping of factory farms. Abuse an animal and you can be charged with a crime; you abuse a million and have a business model.
E. is shy, but she put together a quote for me: “If they knew Cider the way I knew Cider, they wouldn’t.”
She may be right – not just about Cedar, but about society as a whole and its consumption of abused animals.
Future generations may look back on our era and wonder how we pampered our dogs while at the same time mistreating farm animals. Seeing her beloved Cedar as more than a piece of meat, E. may have been ahead of her time.