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Goat Paradise Becomes a Place of Peril and Predators

October 19, 1986|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

When Mama, Papa, Sissy and Bitchy moved to El Segundo from a farm in Sun City three years ago, they had it made.

They had an endless supply of weeds and plants to eat, constant companionship, fresh water every day and acres of isolated storm-drain basins where they could kick up their hoofs, bang heads and watch the funny Hughes Aircraft workers stare at them through chain-link fences.

If there were ever a goat paradise, the city of El Segundo's eat-'em-as-they-grow weed-abatement program most certainly would be it.

But like most country bumpkins who venture into the big city, Mama, Papa, Sissy and Bitchy have had some hard lessons to learn. Folks in the big city just aren't like those back home. Paradise is never what it seems.

Last year, the four cud-chewing pals narrowly escaped a kidnaping attempt when a passing motorist discovered four abductors coaxing the goats into a station wagon. Police arrived in time to save the animals, who in the words of one city official were "15 minutes away from being burritos." They arrested two of the kid-nappers, but two managed to escape. A year earlier, Mama's two kids were chewed to death just a day after they were born when a wild red fox--probably just as surprised to find goats in industrial El Segundo as the goats were to find him--skirted beneath a fence and mauled the newborns.

A second kidnaping attempt was foiled several weeks ago when police caught four students from El Segundo High School. They had cut through the fence at a storm basin where the goats were grazing across from Los Angeles International Airport, city officials said. The students had planned to sneak the goats back to the high school for a photo session, the officials said, but a watchful resident on Imperial Avenue spoiled the caper when he called the police.

But last week, the goat herd from Sun City learned its hardest--and saddest--lesson yet.

Early Wednesday morning, as the four were working diligently on a patch of vegetation in a sump on Hughes Way near the Manhattan Beach border, a German shepherd and a pit bull terrier penetrated the six-foot-high fence and attacked Sissy.

No one is sure exactly what happened, but when sanitation crews arrived at the sump at 7:30 a.m., the dogs fled--one over the fence, and one through a small hole--and Sissy lay dead on the ground, her body still warm, and her face and abdomen severely bitten.

No Horns

"The only way a goat can try to protect itself is to butt with its head, but Sissy didn't have horns," said city Sanitation Supervisor Hank Schoenmeier, who came up with the idea of using goats to keep the storm-drain basins free of brush and ground cover. Schoenmeier estimates the four goats save the city $15,000 a year by giving his six other employees--all humans--time to do other city work.

"It is a real tragedy." he said. "She was the friendliest of them all. She was one of my employees."

Charlie Bell, who works for Schoenmeier and helped him pick up the goats in Sun City in 1983, said Sissy, who was 5 and weighed 125 pounds, was the favorite of the sanitation crews because she was so amiable. He said the goat was named after a former waitress at a coffee shop on Main Street.

"Both the person and the goat were friendly," Bell explained.

Officials from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles are investigating the killing, and late last week they had two suspects from El Segundo, authorities said. But Sgt. David Fulbright said initial reports from investigators don't point to a criminal case.

'A Civil Matter'

"What we have are two stray or loose dogs that took on a goat," Fulbright said. "It would be a civil matter."

Sgt. Douglas Buck, of the Hawthorne branch of the SPCA where Sissy's remains are being kept pending the investigation, said special traps have been set near the Hughes Way sump to catch the dogs. As of late last week, though, the trap had yielded only a single red fox, which was freed near Saugus. The goats, meanwhile, were moved to the Imperial Avenue sump near the airport for safekeeping.

Bell speculated that Sissy's gentle manner may have been her worst enemy when she confronted the two dogs. When Bell arrived at the storm drain Wednesday morning, Mama and Papa were on a ledge away from the dogs, and Bitchy, who has horns and was named for her temperament, was alone on a hill.

"They were used to dogs," Bell said. "When we got them (in Sun City) there were four or five dogs in the pen with them. They weren't afraid of dogs. Sissy probably didn't know better."

Chris Hansen, another Sanitation Department employee, said the three surviving goats have been afraid of everything--including familiar human co-workers--since the attack.

"We tried to go and comfort them right after it happened, and they were shaking like you can't believe," Hansen said. "They were terrified."

If the dogs are found, Schoenmeier said the city will go after the owners for retribution--at least for enough money to replace Sissy. Three years ago, the spotted goat cost $50, but Schoenmeier was hard pressed last week to come up with a replacement cost.

"They are considered part of my work force," he said. "How do you put a monetary value on an employee? It really is a homicide."

Sissy's death came just as she and her friends made their acting debut on local television. Crews from the Channel 2 program "Two on the Town" filmed the four goats for several hours two weeks ago for a feature on the unusual municipal work crew.

If it weren't for her brief flirtation with Hollywood fame, though, Sissy might be alive today, Schoenmeier said.

"She was at the Imperial sump for the filming, but we didn't want the publicity to bring out people with crazy ideas, so we moved her and the others to the other sump," he said, "and that is when the tragedy happened."

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