(NYTimes) - Scout Raskin owns three dogs, a cat, turtles and a pair of hermit crabs. Still, she longed for a country pet to round out the menagerie at her home in a semirural neighbourhood in Los Angeles County. A horse was too big for the backyard, a chicken impossible to cuddle. That is why in March she found herself at a Jack in the Box in Lancaster, California, a desert town on the western edge of the Mojave Desert, where she met a goat breeder with two Nigerian dwarf kids in the back of his Honda Odyssey.
Raskin had picked out Spanky and Pippin online weeks earlier and was taking them home. She was inspired, in part, by the goat yoga craze popular among Lululemon-wearing Hollywood women and actresses like Rebecca Romijn.
"Goats are hot these days," said Raskin, a former child actress. "Adults mostly want to get down on all fours and let the goats jump on them."
Goats have long been a popular subject of videos and online memes. There are fainting goats, screaming goats, goats in pyjamas and goats with anger issues. There is a virtual game where the sole purpose of a goat is to wreck stuff and even a Tony Award-winning play by Edward Albee, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?, in which the lead character has an affair with the pet in question. But in the past few years, a swell of fun-loving billys has moved offline and into people's backyards, living rooms and hastily-built barns. Indeed the number of registered Nigerian dwarf goats, beloved for their size and frisky good nature, has increased 7.5 per cent in three years, according to the American Goat Society.
Instagram has become a popular place for owners to share their goat tales. They are spotted on walks, taking dips in the pool and snuggling. Goats of Anarchy, a New Jersey rescue for goats with special needs, is a mecca for softhearted goat lovers, with 499,000 followers and a line of books, socks and calendars.
"I know there are stereotypes: They eat cans and smell bad," said William Kowalik, a representative of the American Goat Society. "That's not true. They are very much like dogs. They are great pets. The goats know what kind of mood you are in. They can get a person to open up."
Angela Bailey lives a 20-minute drive from St. Paul, Minnesota. A friend suggested she get a goat, saying their milk was easy to digest. In May, Bailey's husband gave her two kids for her birthday. "They wag their tails when they are happy," she said. "They like to be scratched and petted, and they love to be around all of us."
Equally appealing, she said, "their poop does not stink". Bailey's city friends weren't as thrilled. "It felt like they were rolling their eyes a little," she said. Her six children, though, have warmed up to the goats, especially her girls. "There's a lot of hugging going on," she said.
Goats have a defined social caste, despite their laid back goofiness.
"Everyone has their own spot," said Kowalik, who has goats and lives in San Antonio. "They learn the order, and if you don't follow it, they will pout." If a goat sniffs another goat's food, "they'll walk off and refuse to eat", he said. "If a piece of watermelon touches the ground, they won't eat it. They also get into: 'That's not my bowl. I am not going to drink from it.'"
Despite those peccadilloes, goats are, for the most part, tolerant of humans. That was the appeal for Quinn Edwards who works in technology and lives in Draper, Utah. He has four Nigerian dwarf goats who have 35,000 followers on Instagram. "I had a friend growing up who was into mules and he would say, 'This one has a good personality,'" Edwards said. "To me, it was just a stupid mule."
Well, that was until he got Kevin. "He's the best," he said. "When he came home, the other goats were a bit bigger, and he never left my side." They took walks. They cuddled. Then the calls started.
"A guitarist in H20, a popular punk band from 1990s, called and wanted to come by and see the goats," said Edwards, who obliged. "I'm thinking, 'You guys were my favourite band.'" Another time a family from Pennsylvania went to his house to visit Kevin and company. And last year, Edwards got a message from a college friend in Los Angeles who wanted to visit his goats after seeing photos on Facebook. She was getting a divorce, Edwards said. He was single. They texted for months. She came to see the goats, then moved back to Utah. In April, they got married.
"Goats bring people together," he said.