There is a goat that lives on a farm that is thousands of acres. The goat’s purpose is to serve as a roping practice animal for a teenaged girl who does rodeo. When he is not doing that, which is not very often, he is housed in a horse stall, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The stall has a concrete floor with no bedding. There is food and water. The goat is protected from the elements. He seems afraid of people when he is approached.

OK, let’s pause a moment. What do you think about this goat? Here is a picture of him to look at while you consider his living situation.


What do you think?

For me, this situation is heartbreaking and intolerable. I am so sad for this goat. I can’t stop thinking about him. I contemplate trying to rescue/steal him. I consider calling the authorities for goat cruelty. I don’t understand how someone can think that this is ok, how someone can drop goat food into his dish and not pause to look into his goat eyes and see sadness and fear.

I don’t understand how someone can rope him like a sawhorse and then put him away again like an inanimate object. I feel genuine rage that his caretakers are so lazy that they cannot make him a little pen on this massive farm so that he can run and jump and feel the grass, or that they can’t get another goat for him, so that he is not so unbearably lonely.

Obviously not everyone sees it this way. For example, the owners of this goat. The law also does not see it this way (yes, I checked, it’s rural north Florida, good luck with that). As long as an animal is provided with food, water, shelter from the elements and can stand up and turnaround and is not lying in its own urine and feces, there is not much legally that can be done to free this goat or punish his caretakers.

Is this willful ignorance or do the owners of this goat just have an inability to consider that this animal has needs beyond physical ones? Is this a true inability to empathize with animals? Does an inability to empathize with animals transcend how we perceive animals to an inability to empathize with other people too?

I think that there are three types of people when it comes to our relationships with animals:


  1. Animal people: The animal people who read this will feel truly sad to read about this goat. They will want to do something to free him. They will see that keeping an animal in solitary confinement is cruel. They will look into this scared goat’s eyes and feel something. These people likely have pets or want pets and they have a deep sense that animals feel emotions similar to ours. They love animals and feel considerable joy in their company. I am one of these people and, as a veterinarian; I surround myself with animal people as my colleagues, clients and friends. Sometimes I forget about the other types of people.
  2. Indifferent people: These are the people that will assess this goat’s lot on life and see what is good. The food, shelter and protection that his life offers him. They will not feel that anything is particularly sad about his situation. They don’t wish the goat any harm, but they can’t see that the goat is/may be suffering emotionally.
  3. People who willfully hurt animals: These people are not a part of this goat’s story. These are the people that are willfully cruel to animals. The people that post pictures of themselves on social media doing hideous things to animals. This is worse than a lack of empathy or inability to see the emotional needs of animals, these people may see that animals have feelings and they choose to be cruel and even find pleasure in their cruelty.


It is nearly impossible for these three groups of people to connect with one another. They have such vastly different worldviews. It is impossible to bridge the divide between them. The next question is how did we turn out this way? Although I grew up in a household that loved animals, I don’t think I was taught to love them, it was always in me.

Are we pre-programmed for empathy, indifference or cruelty to animals? Does this influence how we treat people? Is this just the way your brain is wired? Think of champions for animals like Jane Goodall, Temple Grandin or Ricky Gervais. Were they made or born that way? It is really hard to explain to someone why this goat is not having all of his needs met if they don’t feel it intuitively.

Try to find the words that will make the indifferent animal caretaker or someone who hurts animals for fun see your point of view. And this is just one goat. There are thousands of animals that are chained outside or waiting for slaughter and living in pens, all for some utilitarian purpose. Some are provided with the bare minimum for survival, but nothing more. This breaks my heart.

The goat is like a Rorschach test for how you see animals. Some can not or will not see why this goat is a very sad goat indeed.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.

Boston_140911_022-retouchSarah Boston is a veterinary surgical oncologist and public speaker. Sarah is also a cancer survivor and author of the best-selling, hilarious memoir, Lucky Dog: How Being a Veterinarian Saved my Life.

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