Why can’t they just leave him and his goats alone?
That’s the question Dorchester resident Bill Steele continues to ask after receiving official notice this week from the village, ordering him to court over his steadfast refusal to remove his three goats from his property.
Steele, who was “shocked” when he received the 500 pages of court documents this week, said he is disappointed the village has decided to pursue these charges against him instead of letting them drop.
“It blows my mind,” he said of the lawsuit.
The documents state that Steele has failed to remove the goats as he was ordered to do last summer and is in violation of the village’s zoning bylaw, therefore prompting court action. Steele said the village is also seeking legal costs to be recouped and requesting he be banned from ever owning animals again.
Steele said he isn’t sure why village council would spend thousands of dollars to take this to court, rather than trying to work it out face to face. He claims he has approached several members of village council and staff, and even attended a council meeting, to work with them to resolve this issue but has gotten nowhere.
He said he has no intention of finding a new home for what he says are his pets.
“I have the three goats and they’re staying here,” he said.
“They are accusing me of running an agricultural operation with farm animals. I am not running a farm. I do not have farm animals. I have three goats and they are my pets, they are my support animals.”
The dispute over the backyard goats began last summer when Steele acquired the animals 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.”
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.
That deadline passed and Steele said he heard very little on the issue – until this week.
“This is ridiculous. I didn’t think I’d have to get a legal contract just to have a few goats.”
Village officials are remaining mum on the issue, saying it’s now a legal issue that will be decided on by a judge.
“We have no comments to provide at this time as this matter is currently before the courts,” said Dorchester Mayor Jerome Bear.
Last summer, however, the mayor had explained the village is simply following bylaws that are in place, which include zoning requirements – although residents are free to request amendments to those bylaws. He said the village staff and council have worked with others in the past to make those amendments, through the proper challenges.
Steele had argued at the time that the village was being unreasonable and says council could have easily voted to approve a simple variation to what he called an antiquated bylaw rather than go through a lengthy and drawn-out process.
He still feels the same.
“They’re making a huge, giant deal out of nothing.”
Steele pointed out that although the village has claimed there have been a number of complaints lodged against him and his animals, he said he has spoken with all of his neighbours who he says have no problems with the goats. And he said there is not one complaint listed within the entire 500-page document he received this week.
“I have three goats that aren’t hurting anybody. So I don’t know where this is coming from.”
Since moving to Dorchester from Toronto last spring, Steele said he has been doing what he can to promote the village and to bring tourists here – and he has been successful thanks to his jail-turned-bed and breakfast and his goats, which are also an attraction.
The court date is May 6 and Steele said he will represent himself in court if necessary because he doesn’t have the money for a lawyer.
“They can go ahead and sue me. I got nothing … so I have nothing to lose,” he said. “I’m not getting rid of them, it’s as simple as that.”