Law enforcement

Police Traveled 500 Miles To Seize Girl's Pet Goat for Slaughter

A 9-year-old backed out of a deal to sell her pet goat for slaughter. Local officials and sheriff's deputies used the power of the state to force her to go through with it.


A federal civil lawsuit alleges that sheriff's deputies from Shasta County, California, traveled across the state to seize a little girl's "beloved pet goat" for slaughter. New reporting details how they may have violated the law in doing so.

According to the lawsuit, in June 2022, Jessica Long and her daughter, who was 9 years old and only referred to as E.L., attended the Shasta District Fair. The fair includes a junior livestock auction, in which members of 4-H youth programs exhibit farm animals they've raised. At the end, the animals are sold to the highest bidders to be slaughtered for meat. The fair takes 7 percent of the sale, and the kids get to keep the rest.

In April, Long purchased her daughter a goat, whom she named Cedar. From then until the fair, E.L. "fed and cared for Cedar every day." She "bonded" with the animal just as she "would have bonded with a puppy" and "loved him as a family pet."

At the fair, state Sen. Brian Dahle was Cedar's highest bidder, pledging $902. But by then, E.L. had second thoughts about sending her new four-legged friend to die. She and her mother tried to withdraw Cedar from competition but were told that the rules forbid it. After the auction, E.L. refused to leave Cedar's side, sobbing next to him in his pen. At this point, before money had changed hands, Long and her daughter sought to terminate the contract: California law allows that "a contract of a minor may be disaffirmed."

Long told representatives of the fair that she would happily pay the 7 percent fee that would have resulted from the sale (in this case, $63.14) and took Cedar home. Anticipating controversy, she later took the goat to another farm in Sonora County, more than 200 miles away.

But in the following days, B.J. Macfarlane, livestock manager of the Shasta District Fair & Event Center, the state agency that runs the fair, called Long and told her that if she did not return Cedar, he would have her charged with felony grand theft. Long offered to let the fair association keep the entire $902, but Macfarlane would not budge. She also reached out to Dahle, who agreed that he "would not resist her efforts to save Cedar from slaughter."

In an email to the Fair Association, Long wrote of her efforts to "make it right with the buyer and the fairgrounds," mentioning Dahle's support and offering to pay for the goat "and any other expenses I caused." But Melanie Silva, CEO of the Fair Association, was unmoved. Silva wrote back that while she was "not unsympathetic" to E.L.'s plight, "please understand the fair industry is set up to teach our youth responsibility and for the future generations of ranchers and farmers to learn the process and effort it takes to raise quality meat. Making an exception for you will only teach [our] youth that they do not have to abide by the rules that are set up for all participants."

She concluded that it was "out of my hands" and that Long would "need to bring the goat back to the Shasta District Fair immediately." According to records received by The Sacramento Bee, Silva then emailed an official with the state's Department of Food and Agriculture, saying that an organizer of a local community barbecue "has contacted her lawyers regarding the theft of the goat donated to the bbq."

Two weeks after the fair, Shasta sheriff's Detective Jeremy Ashbee sought and received a search warrant, directing two officers to drive more than 500 miles in order to seize Cedar and return him to Shasta County. The warrant authorized a search of a goat rescue in Napa County, but Cedar was not there. After searching the rescue, the officers drove over to Sonoma County and took Cedar from the farm, even though that property wasn't listed on the warrant. (In a court filing, the officers contended that "no warrant was necessary to retrieve Cedar at the Sonoma Farm as they had consent from the property owner to retrieve the goat.")

In an amended complaint filed in February, Long claims the officers were then "required by law to hold Cedar or deliver him to the Magistrate" so the court could determine Cedar's ownership. But instead, they "independently deemed unknown third parties…to be the owners of Cedar" and delivered him back to the fairgrounds.

Perplexingly, Long is not certain what actually happened to Cedar: "At this time we don't have that specific information and we can only speculate," her attorney told the Bee. "While it hasn't been confirmed as a factual matter, we believe the goat Cedar has been killed."

Long filed a federal lawsuit in September 2022 against all three officers, alleging violations of the Fourth and 14th Amendments and seeking damages.

While Long and her daughter admittedly sought to terminate a contract, it's hard to imagine a worse state response at any stage of the process. If both Long and Dahle agreed to terminate the contract, and Long agreed to reimburse the fair for its share of the purchase, then who was harmed?