TEWKSBURY — Despite a state order issued earlier this month requiring the slaughter of Vilmaria Maldonado’s three pet goats, the animals are alive and safe at Oliveira Farm, though their future remains in question.
A statement from the state Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (OEEA) to The Sun on July 15 said multiple agencies continue to investigate the complicated matter, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is expected to make a final decision on the goats’ future within the next few days.
“The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) is coordinating with its federal partners at the United States Department of Agriculture to resolve this situation in accordance with federal law and in a manner that ensures the integrity of Massachusetts food system and protects public health,” Craig Gilvarg, a spokesman for OEEA, said in the statement.
“The USDA is conducting its own trace back on the goats’ origins to confirm MDAR’s findings before making a final decision on the matter in the coming days,” he added.
The state issued a slaughter order to Maldonado regarding her goats — named George Washington, Republican and Democrat — on July 9. The order was issued after an MDAR inspector observed the three goats at the farm. Due to the goats’ classification as “slaughter-only” livestock, it was determined the farm was in violation of federal regulations. The order gave Maldonado 72 hours to carry out the order.
That order has since passed, as Maldonado refused to kill her pets.
The goats were a gift to Maldonado from David Oliveira, the son of Dinis Oliveira, who owns Oliveira Farm. The farm specializes in fresh organic eggs and farm-raised steers for the production of meat. With Dinis Oliveira — a World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient — getting older, David Oliveira said he now manages the farm.
David Oliveira said he purchased the baby goats for Maldonado because she was having a tough time in her life. Maldonado deals with laryngeal stenosis, a condition that involves the narrowing of the airway. Heading in for surgery, she was told she could possibly lose her ability to talk. With a career as a lay advocate, Maldonado was concerned about her future.
Maldonado said the goats provided the cheering up she needed leading up to and after the surgery. According to Maldonado, she decided to allow others to enjoy her goats, offering them as therapy pets for her nonprofit, Advocates for Authenticity Charitable Fund Inc., based in Billerica.
According to David Oliveira, the goats live separately from the animals on the farm destined for slaughter and they have become domesticated.
“This is like someone asking you to kill your cat or your dog,” he said of the state’s edict earlier this month.
Katie Gronendyke, communications director for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, explained the July 9 slaughter order in an email to The Sun on July 11.
“The goats were imported into Massachusetts from other states with no Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (ICVI), which automatically deems them as ‘slaughter-only’ under federal regulations,” Gronendyke said, referencing information provided by the goats’ ear tags. “Slaughter-only is a defined term and means they must be slaughtered and processed within 72 hours. This designation cannot be undone.”
Gronendyke said the goats at the farm are in violation of federal regulations. The MDAR has a standing memorandum of understanding with the USDA to enforce violations, according to Gronendyke.
“Slaughter-only goats get commingled with other animals being shipped in for the purpose of slaughter, none of which have been examined by a veterinarian and deemed healthy, so they pose a significant risk of introducing and spreading infectious disease,” Gronendyke said.
She said that to import a goat to keep, the animal has to be examined by a USDA-accredited veterinarian and deemed healthy so they can issue an ICVI. The animal also has to have an official ear tag or other official means of identification and the identification is entered on the certificate by the veterinarian.
“Additionally, if the goats are from certain states they may also need a negative test result for certain diseases of concern,” Gronendyke said.
Maldonado said she had previously been told if they stay in violation of the order, the farm could face a shutdown and fines. There were also threats of possible criminal charges, according to Maldonado.
Though officials have backed off on the slaughter order for now, Maldonado said animal control officers and state officials continue to put pressure on her and David Oliveira.
“It’s been overwhelming for David and me,” Maldonado said.
According to Maldonado, she has been given permission by state officials to take the goats off the farm for visits to their veterinarian’s office, but the animals cannot be transported with other farm animals.
Maldonado also claims business has been interrupted at the farm due to imposed regulations. For example, according to Maldonado, MDAR officials have made housing orders for animals on the farm.
Maldonado also said she was told by animal control officers and state officials that no one should come in contact with the goats, an order Maldonado insisted she will refuse to abide by.
On Saturday, members of the community came to the farm to see the animals, including her three pet goats. Maldonado explained the family-oriented event is an activity they do at the farm twice a month.
“We are going to do what we usually do, I don’t care what they say,” Maldonado said.
With the USDA’s decision about the goat’s future pending, Maldonado started up a GoFundMe page, titled “Save Merrimack valley goats.” She said the funding raised will be used for any possible attorney fees if the case goes to court, as well as housing for the goats on the farm.
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis