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Goat dispute elevated to the legal realm

A trio of goats, owned by Dorchester resident Bill Steele, who is owner of the former jailhouse property, are visited by tourists recently.
A trio of goats, owned by Dorchester resident Bill Steele, who is owner of the former jailhouse property, are visited by tourists recently. - Katie Tower

Dorchester resident remains adamant about keeping his flock of three

DORCHESTER, N.B. – A dispute over backyard goats in the Village of Dorchester is now in the hands of lawyers.

“The deadline has passed and the resident is still in violation of the bylaw and it is now a legal matter in which we cannot comment on,” said Dorchester Mayor Jerome Bear.

Bear said he’s not sure what specific legal action might be taken at this point. He did point out the village is simply following the process set out when someone refuses to follow a municipal bylaw or has not made a request to amend the bylaw.

“That’s the next logical step,” he said.

The issue began earlier this summer when Dorchester resident Bill Steele acquired three goats to house on his property. Steele, owner of Dorchester’s historic jail which he has turned into a bed and breakfast, said he purchased the goats and five chickens in hopes of attracting more visitors to his Airbnb.

But a couple of weeks after the purchase, Steele received notice from the local planning commission and the village, ordering him to remove the goats from his property. The letter from the Southeast Regional Service Commission (SERSC) explained keeping farm animals is an agricultural activity, not permitted in the village centre zone.

According to the village’s zoning bylaw, the goats – Rhea, Princess and Deputy Mayor – are not considered household pets. The bylaw states “a household pet is defined as a domestic animal customarily kept within a dwelling or in an outside pen or accessory building for the sole purpose of pleasure rather than utility, and includes dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents and small birds and other animals, but excludes cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, poultry, bees, goats, and other animals normally raised on farms as well as exotic animals such as snakes, lions and llamas.”

And although Steele can apply for amendment to the village’s zoning bylaw, he previously stated he would not take that course.

The SERSC letter advised Steele he had until July 20 to find alternative accommodations for his goats, either outside the village centre zone on a property that has an existing agricultural operation or outside village limits. Otherwise, he could face legal action.

Nearly three weeks after the deadline, however, Steele said he has yet to receive any further notices or orders from the village or the planning commission.

“It’s been very quiet,” he said. “And I don’t anticipate anything else right now.”

Steele claims he approached several members of village council and staff over the past few weeks to work with them to resolve this issue but has gotten nowhere. For now, he said, they seem to be leaving him alone but added he won’t back down if they do decide to take legal action.

“If they do something that I have to react to, then I’ll react to it.”

He continues to be adamant about keeping his goats and believes he has plenty of community support to back him up.

“I won’t be bullied,” he said.

Steele said if his case does go to court, he is confident a judge would rule in his favour as it his “legal right” to have companions or pets, as he refers to his goats.

Bear said the village remains open for discussion with Steele on the issue but noted there are procedures to follow, outlined in the Community Planning Act and the zoning bylaw.

“The ball’s in his court if he wants to come talk.”

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