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TEWKSBURY – Vilmaria Maldonado sits in the gravel driveway at Oliveira Farm on Sunday afternoon as her three 6-month-old domestic goats gather, including one relaxing on her lap comfortably.
Maldonado has owned the goats – George Washington, Republican, and Democrat – since February when they were only a few weeks old. She estimates they weigh about 35 pounds today and are about a foot and a half tall.
When the goats were much smaller, Maldonado bottle-fed them, bathed them three times a day, and even made them wear diapers when they lived in their Lowell apartment.
“You make me so happy,” said Maldonado. “These are my babies.”
Given their gentle nature and kindness to people, the goats now serve as therapy animals for Maldonado’s nonprofit Advocates for Authenticity Charitable Fund Inc., based in Billerica.
As Maldonado sits in the driveway, Democrat pats her arm. She describes these leaks as goat kisses.
It may seem like a pastoral scene, with cows mooing in the background and chickens scurrying across the grounds, but Maldonado says it was a tearful week at the 12-acre Oliveira Farm.
The future looks bleak for Maldonado’s domestic goats – the state Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) has ordered that the animals be killed because they are classified as “cattle only”.
“They gave me 72 hours to kill her,” Maldonado said, noting that she had until Monday to obey the order. “You’re making me kill my own goats.”
72 hours to go
The goats were a gift to Maldonado from David Oliveira, son of Dinis Oliveira, who owns the Oliveira Farm. The farm on Marston Road specializes in fresh organic eggs and farm-raised ox for meat production. As Dinis Oliveira – a WWII veteran and recipient of Purple Heart – grows older, David Oliveira said he now runs the farm.
After the goats grew out of Maldonado’s apartment, David Oliveira built a stable for them on the small family farm. The goats live separately from the animals at the slaughterhouse and, according to David Oliveira, have become beloved pets.
“It’s like someone asking you to kill your cat or dog,” he said of the state ordinance. “They’re pets now.”
Katie Gronendyke, communications director for the state executive bureau for energy and the environment, explained the slaughter order in an email to The Sun Sunday morning, noting that the decision was made last week after an MDAR inspector inspected the three goats on the farm had observed.
“The goats were imported into Massachusetts from other states without an Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (ICVI), which automatically classifies them as’ slaughter only ‘under federal regulations,” said Gronendyke, referring to the information on the goats’ ear tags. “Slaughter only is a defined term and means that they must be slaughtered and processed within 72 hours. This designation cannot be reversed. “
Gronendyke said the goats on the farm violated federal regulations. According to Gronendyke, the MDAR has a standing letter of intent with the USDA to enforce violations.
“Goats that are only slaughtered are mixed with other animals that are transported for slaughter, none of which have been examined by a veterinarian and found healthy, and pose a significant risk for the introduction and spread of infectious diseases,” Gronendyke said .
She added that in order to import a goat, the animal must be examined and found healthy by a USDA-accredited veterinarian in order for them to issue an ICVI. In addition, the animal must have an official ear tag or other official means of identification and the identification is entered on the ICVI by the veterinarian.
“Also, if the goats come from certain states, they may also need a negative test result for certain diseases of concern,” Gronendyke said.
Inspector David Oliveira asked for papers for buying the goats when he was at the farm last Wednesday, according to a cease and desist order and an animal health order issued on Friday and delivered to Maldonado by an MDAR representative.
The order states that he did not have the papers because he bought the goats from a livestock trailer “down the street” from the Farmer’s Livestock Auction and Market Exchange in Littleton, which “sells mostly slaughter animals.” The order added when the inspectors asked who sold him the goats he said, “I don’t remember.”
The order states that Maldonado and David Oliveira must immediately stop and refrain from removing only slaughter cattle from approved slaughter channels; at no time may (they) only transport, accept or otherwise accept animals for slaughter for purposes other than direct transfer to an approved slaughterhouse with slaughter within 72 hours; and in the future (they) must comply with all regulations.
As for George Washington, Republican and Democrat, the Order concludes that they must either be slaughtered or humanely euthanized.
More than just goats
When David Oliveira stood next to the goats on the farm with Maldonado on Sunday afternoon, he confirmed that he had bought the animals from a person directly from a trailer prior to the auction.
“But these animals never came out of the trailer,” he said. “You never touched the property of this auction. He said he would meet me down the street if I was looking for some baby goats and he could show me the goats and we could go from there.
David Oliveira said he bought the baby goats for Maldonado who were having a tough life. Maldonado deals with larynx stenosis, a condition in which the airways become narrowed. On the way to the operation, she was told that she could possibly lose her language skills. With a career as a lay attorney, Maldonado worried about her future.
“I have to talk for my career,” she said.
The goats provided the encouragement she needed, according to Maldonado, who has since been operated on. She decided to allow others to enjoy her goats and offer them as therapy pets. Maldonado said war veterans and school children visited the goats and other animals on the farm.
Maldonado and David Oliveira insist that the goats never mix with animals for slaughter. Maldonado presented papers from the SRIH Veterinary Services in Ipswich showing that her goats were examined and vaccinated in May.
The couple also referred to another goat that was destined for slaughter but escaped death and became a well-known animal in the Greater Lowell community in the process.
What came to be known as The Lowell Goat escaped its owner in Lowell in late December 2014. As it turned out, the owner of this goat was Dinis Oliveria. The roughly 200-pound animal was on the run in four jurisdictions before being caught in Westford about a month after escaping.
During the Lowell goat’s escape period, the animal attracted the interest of the community and several animal sanctuaries, which offered to take it in when it was caught. With the public’s growing fondness for the animal, Dinis Oliveira decided that he would be delighted if the goat would rather go to a good home than a butcher.
The Lowell goat now lives in the Sunny Meadow Sanctuary.
“It was an adult goat that was meant to be slaughtered, but it ended up in a sanctuary,” said David Oliveira. “What is the difference?”
It’s a question Maldonado and David Oliveira said that state officials didn’t answer. David Oliveira claims The Lowell Goat also had no papers, much like the goats of Maldonado.
An email to Gronendyke asking for an explanation of the difference between these two circumstances was not returned immediately.
Meanwhile, Maldonado said she would not kill her beloved goats.
According to the couple, they were told that the farm could be closed and fined if they violate the order. There is also a threat of criminal charges.
“I will refuse to slaughter them and I want them to bring me to justice,” said Maldonado. “I think a judge should make a decision.”
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis