Veterinary Medicine

Sign of the times: Pet goat inspires name change

August 16, 2013
By Sarah Ryan

Each time Wendy Tinkler and David Walters took their pet goat, Sophie, to the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, they followed "Food Animal" signs to reach her medical providers.

'Sophie Sue,' a pet goat, hangs out in her back yard on the outskirts of Fort Collins.The label grated on the goat-loving couple: Sophie does not produce milk, and she most definitely was not headed for the dinner table.

Tinkler posted a few jokes to Sophie’s Facebook page, and 55 human friends rallied around the idea of renaming the Colorado State University veterinary service from “Food Animal” to the broader moniker of “Livestock Medicine and Surgery.”

Sophie's supporters

Tinkler and Walters, who live on the outskirts of Fort Collins, successfully encouraged leaders of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital to install new signs, and Sophie’s supporters gathered at the hospital on Aug. 9 for a sign unveiling, reception and hospital tours.

“More and more people who own sheep, goats, alpacas, llamas, and other livestock see them as companion animals,” said Dr. Rob Callan, a large-animal veterinarian and head of the newly renamed Livestock Medicine and Surgery service. “Many of our clients request complicated surgeries and treatments that traditional food-animal economies just wouldn’t allow.”

That inclination is not surprising in the case of Sophie, whose story reads like a Fort Collins version of “Charlotte’s Web.”

Rescuing Sophie

Tinkler and Walters rescued Sophie – a 3-pound runt – after a doe on the Tinkler family farm gave birth and refused to nurse the little kid. Already busy with three teenagers, Tinkler didn’t need a family goat, but her daughter’s fell for Sophie. There was no going back.

Wendy Tinkler and David Walters brought their pet goat to the CSU vet hospital for surgery, then persuaded the hospital to change its 'Food Animal' signs.Sophie, a Nubian-Boer crossbred, proved to be smart – easily learning tricks, such as shaking and kneeling – and even seemed to express emotions.

In early 2012, when Sophie was 6 years old, she began to shed heavily and appeared pale. Tinkler and Walters took Sophie to CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where veterinarians discovered bleeding from the goat’s reproductive tract. A CT scan helped identify a growth consistent with cervical or uterine cancer.

The prognosis was not good, Dr. Tim Holt, a CSU livestock clinician, explained. The standard treatment—a complete hysterectomy through a large abdominal incision—is dangerous for a goat because of the size of the abdominal cavity and the challenges of recovery.

'The most amazing vet'

“Dr. Holt is the most amazing vet,” Tinkler said. “We asked him to think outside the box, and he did, while keeping Sophie’s well-being his primary goal.”

Holt consulted with Dr. Eric Monnet, a world-renowned laparoscopic surgeon, who agreed to perform the surgery laparoscopically. He completed the unusual surgery in less than an hour using only a 4-inch incision.

Sophie went home the next day, and soon she was once again playing chase and stealing roses. Even better, a pathology report indicated the mass was pre-cancerous.

Changing signs and minds

With help from a pet goat, new signs recently were installed at the CSU vet hospital.During the process of Sophie’s diagnosis and treatment, Tinkler and Walters turned to her Facebook community for support. Friends rallied with advice, prayers, gifts, and something unexpected – a Facebook group dedicated to changing signs and minds at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. They found a sympathetic audience.

Callan said he has seen a dramatic change in clientele during his 17 years at the hospital: An increase in small-scale producers raising animals for themselves or for direct market to consumers. These producers are interested in local, organic approaches and have close connections to their livestock.

'It's wonderful'

“I think it’s wonderful,” Callan said of the trend. “The closer we get people back to understanding livestock and how it’s raised, the better.”

The inclusive description “Livestock Medicine and Surgery,” Callan noted, encompasses a wide range of producers and a wide range of uses.

The change coincides with an emerging trend in backyard goat farming. Earlier this summer, the Fort Collins City Council approved a new ordinance that allows city residents to become licensed in order to keep up to two miniature or pygmy goats in their back yards as pets or for milk production. A handful of other cities across the country have taken similar steps. (Tinkler and Walters live outside the Fort Collins city limits, in an enclave of Larimer County, so the ordinance does not apply to them.)

Tinkler and Walters said they are excited about the new signs at CSU’s vet hospital, but they want to do more. They are leading an effort to endow a CSU fund called “Sophie’s Legacy for Goat Health Research,” which will support veterinary research.

Sophie's legacy

Gifts to Sophie’s Legacy for Goat Health Research may be made online. For more information about Sophie’s Legacy, or other giving opportunities to support the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, contact the Office of Advancement at (970) 491-0663 or cvmbs-giving@colostate.edu.