Simply being around animals has a profound effect on our physiology. Need a boost in those mood-elevating hormones serotonin and oxytocin? Pet a dog. Need to bring your anxiety down a notch? Get to know a horse. Need an uplifting experience? Walk a goat.
You read that right. And a new local business, Muskoka Goat Away, can hook you up.
Almost everyone loves goats. But what is it about them specifically? Is it their social nature? Their playfulness? That gentle, inquisitive stare?
Some would say its their similarity to another beloved human companion: dogs. Like our canine friends, goats respond to human cues, show evidence of preferring ‘happy’ human facial expressions, and will stare at a human companion when they need help with a difficult task, like retrieving a treat that they can’t reach.
While dogs were domesticated much earlier in human history—there’s evidence that our partnership with canines goes back more than 30,000 years—goats, which were domesticated as livestock about 10,000 years ago, are making up for lost time.
Long a farmyard favourite for their silly antics, in recent years goats have been used for animal therapy, goat yoga sessions have sprung up across the country, and now right here in Muskoka you can take a goat for a walk.
Muskoka Goat Away is the brainchild of Stephanie Brooks.
Brooks got her first goats two years ago and now has six—Trouble, Posie, Penelope, Piper, Hunter, and Honey. All but Honey are Nigerian Dwarf goats. Trouble came from Backyard Blessings in Port Sydney, and two are from a local rescue organization, Patch of Heaven.
“Each one has a different personality and they are just so fun,” she says.
When she lost her job at Stoneleigh Farms during the pandemic, like many in the same situation Brooks wondered what she might do next.
She and her two children had been walking their goats for fun—they are family pets, after all, although Brooks wasn’t sure how they’d take to a lead. Recently, people began telling her they wanted to walk goats, too, and Muskoka Goat way was born.
“It’s almost a dream come true,” she says. “When they say find something you’re passionate about, this is what it is.”
So what’s it like to walk a goat? It’s easier than walking a dog—they rarely pull on their leads—with frequent pauses while the goats munch on trailside foliage.
“Anybody can do it,” insists Brooks. “A five-year-old child can walk a goat. Grandma who is 84 can walk a goat. It’s for everybody.”
The approximately hour-long goat walks meander along the trails at Morgan House Bed and Breakfast, east of Huntsville. You go at your own pace.
The wooded trails are cleared but the ground can be uneven. For people with reduced mobility, there are other, flatter options on the Morgan House property.
The goat walks will happen year-round, in almost all weather except during thunderstorms and extreme cold. Brooks can accommodate up to six people at one time, ages six and up. For now, walks are restricted to one family group at a time due to the pandemic.
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