Share story

FEDERAL WAY — At age 12, Ava Anissipour’s mission might seem odd to some, but it fits with this region’s embracement of, shall we say, unusual causes.

She is intelligent, articulate and can put together a PowerPoint presentation that’d put a lot of adults to shame. She’s going into eighth grade at a Montessori school.

She certainly caught the attention of the Federal Way City Council and the mayor.

Ava wants to change this city’s codes so pygmy goats — which are considered livestock animals here and only allowed on property larger than 1.6 acres — are reclassified as household pets.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Ava and her mom, Kelly Anissipour, live in a planned-housing development with tiny lots less than one-tenth that size.

Ava already has one goat, which a pediatrician classified as a companion animal for what Ava says are her anxieties. She wants the return of a second goat, now boarded with a friend after the city issued a $100 citation.

The neighbors on either side of the Anissipour home are not happy with what one describes in an animal-service complaint as noise and smell that “has become unbearable … We can’t even enjoy our backyard for the smell of hers.”

The Anissipours also have three dogs, a small one and a St. Bernard they’re fostering but might keep, and a mastiff. The latter two weigh 130 pounds each. The dogs and goats live both inside and outside the house.

Western Washington has long been in the middle of the goats-as-pets movement.

In Snohomish, on five acres with several dozen of the goats, is the headquarters for the National Pygmy Goat Association, with 1,200 members nationwide. Dori Lowell lives there with her husband and is the business manager for the association.

She remembers getting her first pygmy goat in the late 1980s.

“They’re incredibly cute. It was so small, and it was unusual,” says Lowell. “They have a personality like a cat. They’re friendly and can be affectionate on their own terms.”

In the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle lives Jennie Grant, a stay-at-home mom, with not only a husband and teen son, but two goats (not pygmies, but small goats that produce considerably more milk).

She started the Goat Justice League and in 2007 got the Seattle City Council to change the code to allow goats under 100 pounds as household pets, as long as they were neutered and dehorned.

Says Grant, “We’re kind of a liberal city, interested in urban farming and sustainability issues. We are an animal-loving city.”

It’s not that goats have suddenly become the rage for the urban-animal lover.

Don Jordan, director of the Seattle Animal Shelter, says there are only 10 goats licensed in the city, and half a dozen potbellied pigs.

It might have something to do with the cost and effort of keeping a goat. Grant says she spends $750 to $1,000 a year on Purina goat chow, hay, alfalfa and vet visits.

And, as she writes in “City Goats,” a book she published about her quest, goats need upkeep seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“You may wake up on a winter morning to hear wind swooshing about the trees, rain drumming against your roof … You might be thinking how nice it would be to stay inside all day,” she writes.

“Goats will not allow such behavior. They will force you out to haul hay, empty buckets and attend to their milking.”

The Seattle goat legislation was sponsored by Councilmember Richard Conlin, who then was mocked by editorial writers looking for an easy target.

But, says Phyllis Shullman, his senior legislative adviser who put together the revised code, “Over the years I have probably gotten 12 to 20 inquiries from all over the country looking for advice on crafting an ordinance.”

And, she points out, at a public hearing on the goat law, “More than 100 people showed up, a lot more than for issues a lot more serious.”

At the Aug. 6 Federal Way City Council meeting, Jim Ferrell, a council member and deputy mayor, heard Ava make her case and said it was “most thorough” and “well-presented,” and for good measure added that “You have a future in some sort of government role.”

By September or October, a staff report is expected on whether the regulations should be changed, says Chris Carrel, a city spokesman.

Federal Way can then decide whether to join not only Seattle, but Portland, San Diego, Raleigh, N.C., and other cities in saying hello to goats.

There is just the one problem.

That would be the neighbors on either side of the Anissipour home in the 108-residence Brittany Lane at Regency Woods private community, which describes itself as “a quiet neighborhood where pride of homeownership is apparent.”

Says Pamela Maas, “I have lived next to them almost 11 years, and it has been a battle with them I’d say for nine of them. Let me put it this way, she’s the only neighbor I think about daily, because I’m reminded of her animals.”

With the second goat gone, says Maas, “It still smells out there, but not as bad. The smell was really bad, flies, urine, feces. It smells like the barnyard at the Puyallup Fair.”

Says Giselle Blanton, the neighbor on the other side of the Anissipour house, “I don’t feel she should have the right to chase me away from home and neighborhood.

“I don’t feel I can sell my home because she has brought down property values. If somebody went to our master suite and saw her backyard, they’d turn and run.”

On a recent visit to their home, Ava and Kelly Anissipour show off their home, backyard and pets.

“You’re welcome to bust in here anytime and smell the house,” says the mom.

The home and backyard are cleaned up, although the lawn shows burn spots from pet urine. The home is tidy and has a faint odor of the enzyme stuff used for pet cleanups.

Yes, they cleaned that morning, but if the smell was so prevalent, one clean-up wouldn’t get rid of it all, says Kelly.

The mom was a stockbroker, then started a massage school so she could have better hours after her divorce when Ava was 3.

Kelly tears up when talking about the complaints from her next-door neighbors and visit from animal services.

“I’m done. I wish I could sell my property and get property where no one would bother us,” she says, but she is underwater on her house.

About having pygmy goats as pets, the mom says, “Believe me, this was not my idea. I’m allergic to goats. I paid $2,000 to a naturopath to get over allergies to goats.”

She tells of asthma attacks and puffed-up eyes. Kelly says she can tolerate the pygmy goats they own because they’re bathed frequently.

But when she takes her daughter to a goat show, Kelly says, she takes an inhaler.

Ava is asked why she’d keep goats, knowing her mother’s allergic reaction.

“I love them too much,” she says.

Says the mom, “Her passion is goats.”

Ava says that since she was 3, when she saw her first goats on a family trip, she wanted one. The mom promised one when Ava turned 9 and kept her word.

Lillypad is the goat still in the home. She weighs 40 pounds and sleeps with Ava, resting her head on Ava’s leg.

At 4 each morning, Ava says, she wakes up and takes Lillypad outside to do her business.

Lillypad got classified as a companion animal because the mom says two things happened in her daughter’s life. Ava’s grandfather, “a father figure,” died. Plus there was the divorce.

“She had a hard time,” Kelly says about Ava. The goat calmed her down, she says.

The second goat, Juju, arrived as a foster goat baby in February. She now weighs 15 pounds.

The mom and daughter say they couldn’t let Juju go because Lillypad “really loved her.”

And so Ava’s quest to change the Federal Way code ensued.

If she does get to have two goats?

Says neighbor Giselle Blanton, “I hope rational people are the ones making decisions. We just want our neighbors to be law-abiding citizens and be good citizens. They’re not right now.”

Times researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237, or @ErikLacitis

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.