Richmond City Councilmember Tom Butt makes no bones about the fact that he keeps a menagerie on the 5 acres that surround his property in Point Richmond. For a decade, Butt has shared anecdotes, sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, about his various goats, sheep, dogs and bees on “Tom Butt’s e-forum,” an electronic forum where he also posts articles about more pressing matters of concern to his constituents, such as preserving historic railroad crossings and investigating the Chevron fire.
Perusing these archives, readers learn that for years, Butt, now 68, has brought several members of his small goat herd to Point Richmond’s annual Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot, which involves downing shots of Wild Turkey, rather than shooting actual wild turkeys. That he continues to collect honey from his bees. And that firefighters once had to rappel down a cliff that backs onto Butt’s property and rescue one of Butt’s sheep and a neighbor’s dog, after the dog chased the sheep over the cliff.
But so far there has been no mention on Butt’s e-forum of a pygmy goat named Lil G, who is the most recent addition to his animal collection.
Maybe that’s because Butt is trying not to get too attached to Lil G, who was raised as a pet by a family friend, and has the stature of a small dog, but quickly wreaks a very goat-like havoc on her immediate environments thanks to a typically goat-like lack of toilet training.
This is compounded by Lil G’s refusal to hang out with other goats and munch on brush. Instead, Lil G has taken a fancy to nibbling with rubbery lips on the tomatoes that are ripening on Butt’s patio, and she treats Butt’s two Labrador rescue dogs, Tess and Chispa, like family, even though they are three times her size.
Indeed, when I first met Lil G, she was running along, kicking up her heels behind Tess and Chispa. The dogs were bounding towards us, barking, tails wagging furiously at Butt as he opened the gate that leads to his property atop Nicholl’s Knob, a brush-covered hill with dramatic views of San Francisco from its ocean-facing slope and the Chevron refinery on the other.
“In the ‘80s, we bought land on Nicholl’s Knob, which had a history of burning down,” Butt said, as he led me along a leaf-strewn path that winds towards the goat pasture. “Each year, people would go up there and shoot off bottle rockets, even though there’s not supposed to be fireworks at all, and typically the brush fires would be around July 4.
“So, when we bought the property and started building a house, we were concerned about fires,” Butt continued, as he unlatched the gate into the pasture. “A woman who had a couple of goats, had to get rid of them because neighbors were complaining. So we took them. They both turned out to be pregnant, so soon there were four.”
Butt extended a handful of leaves to Hans, a mellow-mannered white Angora wether, which means he is castrated and therefore is not aggressive and does not stink unlike “intact” goats. Hans was soon joined in his leaf-chomping activities by Fish and Trip, who, together with Hans, function as sustainable lawnmowers on Butt’s otherwise brush-covered property.
“We also got some sheep and they multiplied,” Butt said, as three sheep named Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and Pixie Dust wandered over to find out what was for lunch.
“When we first lived here, there was lots of poison oak and French broom,” Butt said, as he pointed out an electric fence that separates his upper field from the lower field, where his sheep and goats are currently being encouraged to graze. “Coyote brush and toyan do better if you cut them down. But one thing goats don’t do is discriminate. They eat everything.”
I asked if Butt ever has problems with his goats eating his neighbors’ everything.
Butt shrugged. “What happens sometimes is these fences, especially the ones that are exposed, rust out and goats rub against them and go through the hole and into the brush,” he said. “But goats aren’t really the problem. They are made for cliffs. It’s sheep that are dumb.”
Butt recalled how, one Tuesday, just as he was getting ready to go to a City Council meeting, someone was walking a dog, and the dog got through a hole in Butt’s fence and chased a sheep who crashed through a rusty place in the fence and headed towards a big cliff called Dead Mans Bluff.
“The dog’s name was Sparkle and the sheep was Peter Pan, so Sparkle chased Peter Pan over the cliff and ended up on the ledge,” Butt said. “Someone called me, late afternoon, so I came home. The firemen were called out with all their equipment and it became a huge media event.”
Butt remembered that the incident happened in February 2011, because it was just days after protests began in Syria and Egypt’s Tahrir Square and shortly before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned.
“My wife was waiting down at the bottom of the cliff, when one of the firefighters gives her the cellphone and says, ‘It’s someone from CNN’s newsroom in Atlanta, saying, ‘We all want to know what’s going on.’ And my wife is, ‘Are you kidding me? There’s the Egyptian uprising, the Arab Spring, and all you want to know is what’s happening with a sheep and a dog in Richmond?’”
Butt shepherds me back to the house, and let’s me have one more look, at Lil G, who the family rescued a couple of weeks ago.
“My son is taking her to a petting zoo next Saturday,” he said, and then, noticing how enamored I seemed with Lil G, “Want a goat?”
I declined, but the next day, after I discovered that all my photographs of Lil G were blurry, I returned to Butt’s property, this time alone, to shoot her some more.
“Did you get the shots you wanted?” Butt said, when he finally returned home from work.
“Maybe,” I said, noting how she tends to pirouette and jump unexpectedly.
Butt smiled. “Today, I was eating a BLT sandwich for lunch and she jumped up and grabbed it,” he said. “Just like a dog.”