Kris Kapsner thought he had the city's blessing when his family acquired three pygmy goats to keep as pets at his Duluth Heights home.
Before adopting the animals, he consulted with city officials. Kapsner said three different people in the city's building and zoning department told him he could keep goats on his 4-plus-acre property, and two different people in the city clerk's office told him no license was required.
For 14 months, the Kapsners kept their three male goats - Merlin, Mocha and Latte - without incident. Kaspner said his daughters, ages 5 and 7, have become quite attached to the animals.
"They're cute as heck, and they follow you around. My girls play with them all the time, and they're wonderful little animals," he said. "They don't run around in the neighborhood, like dogs do, or bark like dogs do or anything like that."
But when the animals came to the attention of local animal-control authorities as the result of a complaint about potential odors from the property, Kapsner was informed that goat-tending is not allowed within residential areas of the city.
That could change if an ordinance now before the Duluth City Council garners sufficient support. As written, the ordinance would allow people to keep up to three domesticated hoofed mammals each weighing no more than 30 pounds on a properly fenced property larger than two acres in size, so long as a minimum setback of at least 75 feet is maintained from all lot lines.
But At Large City Councilor Barb Russ said she plans to table the ordinance to allow for more time and study of the matter. She cited concern about the enforcement burden the proposed ordinance would place on the city if staff will be required to measure properties and weigh individual animals to ensure compliance.
Ron Tinsley, the Duluth Police Department's public information officer, described the current staffing level of the city's animal control unit - equivalent to 2½ full-time employees - as already stretched. He said staff in the unit is "at capacity" and would be "unable to handle any additional responsibilities."
Tinsley went on to conclude: "Additional staffing would be needed to handle the requirements set forth in the ordinance."
Animal Control Officer Carrie Lane suspects increased goat ownership in the city would come with some challenges.
"Goats are escape artists, and when they escape, they can do a lot of property damage," she said.
Kapsner said he has never had problems with his pygmy goats escaping from the 6-foot-tall enclosure he has erected.
The proposed goat provision comes on the heels of other measures that have opened Duluth to urban agriculture, including chicken coops and beehives.
It remains unclear to 1st District Councilor Jennifer Julsrud how far residents want the city to go.
"Do people want miniature farms in the city of Duluth? I'm curious to know what people's thoughts are," she said.
Keith Hamre, Duluth's director of planning and construction services, turned to the city council for direction, telling its members: "First off, it's a policy decision - Do you want to have these kinds of animals within the city of Duluth? And then the second piece is the enforcement and licensing."
Given the noise that goats can make, 5th District Councilor Fosle questioned whether a 75-foot setback from a property line is sufficient.
"If I lived next to one of these, 75 feet is not far enough," he said at a recent city council meeting.
Kapsner said his pygmy goats generally are not noisy.
"They're quiet, as long as you have more than one. But they do get lonely, so you want to have more than one," he said.
Russ said she's also concerned the proposed ordinance restricting the weight of animals to a maximum of 30 pounds may be too strict.
Kapsner said a mature pygmy goat can weigh in at around 45 pounds.
Tabling the proposed ordinance should provide the city time with an opportunity to fine tune it, Russ said.
"There's no big rush on this thing, so I'm going to send this back to administration and have them look at all of these issues. And other councilors might have other issues they also want considered," she said.
With the city still reconsidering its stance on goats, the Kapsner family will be allowed to keep their pets for now.
Kapsner said he will abide by whatever the council decides, stressing that he has always sought to follow the city's rules.
"It certainly was not our intent to just get some goats and then see if anybody finds out. So it's pretty frustrating to be in this position now," he said.
Lane said she continues to have reservations about allowing goats into residential areas of Duluth.
"I've got nothing against goats. I like goats ... but I also like order," she said.
Russ remained optimistic reasonable accommodations can be made.
"Hopefully we can work something out here," she said.