AUBURN, Maine — Several months ago, Audrey and Nathan Tripp decided to get a pair of mini goats as pets for their children. They were friendly, gentle animals about the size of a Labrador retriever, and the Tripps were sure they’d make a great addition to the family.
Their only lingering question: Were the little goats allowed at their Merrow Road home? The city said in writing that, yes, yes they were.
So, to the delight of 7-year-old Adele and 8-year-old Elijah, the family got Pixie and baby Cecilly, who play chase, jump around on the playground Nathan Tripp created for them and, at least in the case of the baby, eat from a bottle held by the children.
The family also got something unexpected: a visit from Auburn police.
Months after a city official gave his OK for the mini goats, the city pulled permission, saying the deputy director of economic and community development failed to consider a second ordinance that clearly prohibits the animals.
“Once in a great while, these things happen,” Michael Chammings, director of economic and community development, said. “If it’s our fault, we ‘fess up and say, ‘It’s our fault,’ but that doesn’t mean we can look the other way.
“But we’re here to work with people.” he said. “We’re here to have people go in compliance. That’s the end goal.”
Auburn wants the rule followed — and the easiest way would be for the goats to go.
The family wants the goats to stay.
“We thought it would be a nice thing for the children,” Audrey Tripp said. “We didn’t expect they’d get taken away. If we thought that would happen, we wouldn’t have gotten them in the first place.”
The Tripps live in a single-family home on Merrow Road, not far from the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport. It’s unclear how large their lot is. Online property tax records say 0.27 acres; a letter to the family from the city says 0.39 acres, but whatever the size the Tripps were concerned it was less than the acreage required for livestock under city ordinance.
The family asked the department’s deputy director, Eric Cousens, whether they were allowed to have a pair of Nigerian dwarf goats, which grow no bigger than a Labrador retriever. He said they could since the goats were so small.
“Please accept this as your approval from this office,” he wrote in an email the family provided to the Sun Journal.
Cousens went on to note that, “if we receive a complaint then we would have to revisit the lot size and verify that they (the goats) are not larger than described.”
The Tripps got their goats, a mother and daughter pair, in January. For a time, they lived in the house. They now live in a pen in a backyard that’s surrounded by a tall wooden fence.
Then, this spring, someone in the neighborhood complained about noise and odor. The police knocked on the Tripp family’s door and advised them they weren’t allowed to have goats.
The family showed them the approval email from Cousens. They said it didn’t matter.
One ordinance allowed smaller livestock on smaller lots, but another expressly forbade goats on anything less than an acre.
Earlier this month, Cousens sent another letter to the Tripps letting them know he’d been unaware of the second ordinance and Pixie and Cecilly were not allowed to live on their property.
“I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and any disappointment associated with discontinuing the keeping of goats as pets,” he wrote.
Cousens was out of the office and could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Chammings said his department regrets the situation.
“They’ve been great people to work with,” he said of the Tripp family. “Unfortunately, bad things happen to good people once in a while.”
He said there are three ways to resolve the situation: the Tripps get rid of their goats, the family adds to their acreage or the City Council changes the ordinance.
Audrey Tripp’s father, Earl Bickford, who also lives in Auburn, brought up the issue to the council this spring, but councilors didn’t discuss it at the time and made no move toward an ordinance change or a waiver. He said city officials afterward did offer to reimburse the family for the $2,400 they’ve spent on the goats.
“As if that’s the issue,” Bickford said.
The Tripps declined the money.
Bickford has since collected more than 1,300 signatures in an online petition urging the city to make an exception for the Tripp family’s mini goats, including signatures from people living outside the area.
He also collected about 100 signatures from Auburn residents and people in the Merrow Road neighborhood.
“I believe I talked to 36 people (in that neighborhood). Thirty-three signed my petition. Two said they don’t get involved in politics and one told me to lawyer up,” he said.
Bickford plans to bring his grandchildren to the next council meeting and present his petitions. It will take two councilors to move any proposal forward.
Ward 3 Councilor Andrew Titus likely won’t be one of them. Titus, who represents Merrow Road, has spoken to neighbors who don’t like the goats.
“There’s a reason for this ordinance,” he said.
Unless neighbors and the Tripp family can come to an agreement, he said, he’s not inclined to support an exception for the family.
“Because a city official makes a mistake, does that mean we change the entire city ordinance?” he asked. “That’s not a good reason to chance a city ordinance.”
Audrey Tripp isn’t sure why someone would complain about Pixie and Cecilly. She said the goats don’t smell and are quieter than a barking dog.
“There’s a lot of traffic that comes by and airplanes fly over our house,” she said. “We have a wonderful day care behind our house and you can hear the kids playing all day and kids laughing. That’s a good sound, I think, but it’s still louder than the goats.”
Her children were home the day police knocked on the door. They know the officers were there about their pets and the goats may have to move.
“My son was like, ‘Is daddy going to go to jail?’ They were pretty upset and cried,” Audrey Tripp said. “I think it’s sad. I don’t understand why we can’t just keep them. It doesn’t seem like it’s hurting anything. We already had permission.”