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Rm 220 Presents: Remembering Chauncey, Post-Katrina through the lens of a goat

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Editor’s note: The goats of Y’Herd Me, a goat-powered landscaping operation run by Morgana King, will be on hand for a winter solstice event, Christmas with the Goats, from 5 – 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 22, at Clouet Gardens (Clouet St. between Royal and Dauphine Streets). The goats and others will celebrate the shortest day of the year, with a bonfire, song, mulled wine, Santa hats, hiding a rubber chicken, and other merrymaking.

By Taylor Murrow

Anyone who’s ever had to evacuate for a hurricane knows that, usually, it’s a huge pain in the ass. Packing your car (if you even have one), dealing with traffic, transportation, finding a place to flee to … it’s a goddamn mess. Throw a pet in the mix, and it often gets trickier—more expensive, more inconvenient. When your pet happens to be a young male pygmy goat, things get a bit more interesting.

Michael Patrick Welch and his wife Morgana King bought Chauncey Gardner, a pygmy goat, as a newborn on a farm on the Westbank of New Orleans in 2004. In Transport Instinct: The story of Chauncey the goat in post-Katrina New Orleans, a recently-released collection of essays written between 2005 and 2015, Welch documents his life with Chauncey, who passed away months before the tenth anniversary of the storm. In addition to learning new things about goats (I won’t spoil it here, but male goats have some really weird sex-driven behaviors, and there are some barbaric methods of castration), we also learn what life was like for Welch and King post-Katrina. Turns out that goats are not always the most ideal house pets—after evacuating to Texas, Chauncey gets them kicked out of Welch’s mother’s house by urinating on her carpet—but Chauncey was a member of the family, who even led Welch and King to start their own goat-powered property maintenance business (another goat fact: they really do eat a lot, which proves extremely useful when you’re dealing with overgrown, blighted spaces in a city like New Orleans).

Welch released Transport Instinct around the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, when the blitzkrieg of storm-related media spotlights, interviews and thinkpieces was intense. But reading this collection of essays was somewhat of a breezy escape from all that. Sure, Welch writes about hurricane-related experiences that many are familiar with—the experience of evacuating and being a refugee, what the outsider reactions were, what it was like coming home, and how New Orleans has changed since the storm (“Turns out in the new New Orleans, gentrification arrives with neck and face tats,” Welch writes). The difference here is that a pygmy goat turns out to be a wonderful framing device for storytelling. It’s about Katrina, sure, and change and how neighborhoods and communities evolve after disasters, but it’s also about a guy, his girlfriend, and their goat. It’s a classic tale, really.

Chauncey became somewhat of a local celebrity—when I mentioned to a friend that I was reading this book they said, “Oh, is that the Bywater goat guy?”—but as Welch illustrates, Chauncey was much more than a quirky sideshow attraction. He was a beloved mascot of NOizeFest, the noise music festival held in Welch’s Bywater backyard for many years, and of course, was a cherished member of the family and goat “brother” to Welch and King’s two young daughters. Over the course of ten years, Chauncey’s fame spread beyond New Orleans’s Ninth Ward and caught the attention of national (and international) media, but it’s those in New Orleans who remember and miss him the most.

This article was reposted from Press Street: Room 220, a NolaVie content partner.