The owner of the herd of goats clearing vegetation from Leesburg’s waterways says it was not the heat, but perhaps snakes or humans who caused the death of two of her goats last week.
On Friday, July 19, two of Mary Bowen’s goats unexpectedly died while working along the Town Branch clearing brush. The Town of Leesburg entered into a contract with Bowen’s business, Prosperity Acres, this year to clear the town waterways after the previous practice of using herbicides came under scrutiny from town residents. Leesburg must meet regulatory mandates to keep the stream channels clear of vegetation.
Loudoun Nowwas informed of the goats’ death earlier this week. At the time, Renee LaFollette, director of the town’s Public Works and Capital Projects Department, said she understood the goats’ deaths to be the result of extreme heat. But both she and Bowen, with more facts now available, said the cause of the deaths is inconclusive. However, Bowen believes it could have been the result of either a snake bite or an individual feeding the goats something they were not supposed to.
It’s been a difficult week for both Bowen and the town’s Public Works Department, which oversees the contract. They’ve received flack from the public after news of the goats’ death was made public, and Bowen had also been reported twice to Loudoun County Animal Services for allegations of animal cruelty last week while on site in Leesburg, even prior to the goats’ death. Those claims were determined to be unfounded by animal control officers who reviewed their care.
Michelle McGregor, who lives near Town Branch, was on site with the goats last Friday when one of them died. She and her daughter Aila, who was also present, were two of the most vocal proponents of doing away with the use of herbicides on town waterways. It had been a great week spent with Bowen and the goats for the McGregors, who found a willing teacher in Bowen for the eager-to-learn and assist Aila. Although she had been spending 14-hour days on site with the goats, when the two died Bowen had left for a short time to go feed the rest of her herd back home in Maryland. McGregor called Bowen upon discovery of the dead goat, who in turn phoned both the Town of Leesburg and Loudoun County Animal Services.
“We knew these goats to be in good health because we had been watching them all week and we knew how Mary carefully checked on them throughout the day, making sure they had access to shade, water, minerals, and electrolytes,” McGregor said.
An official statement from Loudoun County Animal Services noted that, upon arrival to the scene it was “determined that the goats had adequate food, water (as required by law) and shade available to them. Virginia state law does not require formal shelter for agricultural animals. The other goats on scene were observed behaving normally with no indication of distress. The [animal control officer] that responded to the scene did not find any indication that a crime was committed or that foul play was involved,” the statement read.
Some in the public had also questioned why Bowen did not remove the goats from the site each night via trailer. But she points out that could have made her a negligent owner because the combination of the goats’ body temperatures and the temperature inside the trailer could have jeopardized the health of the entire herd.
The official cause of death for the two goats could not be determined without a necropsy, although even those can be inconclusive with goats. Bowen said a necropsy was not possible in this case, because she did not have access to a large enough refrigerator to store the dead goats from Friday night until Monday morning.
However, Bowen believes it may have either been a snake bite, as some in the area had previously viewed copperhead nests on the site, or an individual, whether well-meaning or not, feeding the goats. Bowen said the day before the goats’ death a fence along the work site had been either pulled down or cut. The older goat of two goats, who was 2 years old, had copious amounts of blood coming from its mouth, while the younger one had diarrhea. Both can be evidence of poison from food, Bowen said. She further explained that some types of food suitable for humans or other animals can have deadly consequences for goats.
She also did not find any evidence to support heat exhaustion as a cause of death for the goats, noting that they are boer goats from South Africa, which are very heat resilient.
Bowen said she does not hold the town responsible for the goats’ death, as the town government cannot be responsible for the actions of outside individuals. She does wish, however, that the goats’ death could be used as public education opportunity to share the warnings of not feeding goats, if that was what happened.
With this tragic episode behind her, Bowen reports that the rest of her 47-goat herd is alive and well, and ready to get to work on the next town work site along Plaza Street.