Both Scott Carhart and Helen Flaster are undoubtedly animal people.
Their family pets number 26: seven dogs, seven cats, three horses, two goats, two tortoises, two turtles, two birds, a miniature horse, and a few tankfuls of fish.
Many of these animals are rescues, as Carhart works as a veterinarian and Flaster as a veterinary technician.
“Occupational hazard,” says Carhart, with a smile.
Their enclosed patio, adjacent to a spacious, brightly painted kitchen, is the center of the animal action. This is where the dogs and goats spend most of their time, playing in the grass strips that border the concrete floor. The dogs jump and whine for attention, which Carhart and Flaster administer lovingly.
Beyond the dogs are the goats, Gomez and Lurch, who have taken up residence under a round outdoor table. Gomez has managed to stuff himself under an overturned chair. His white nose sticks out, while Lurch stretches out by the table legs.
“Gomez is a Nigerian dwarf [goat], and he’s the one that I walk,” Flaster explains. “I also give him a bottle two times a day, just with water in it, but it’s something he really likes, like a child likes a blankie and pacifier. It’s calming for him. It’s very cute.”
Two kids on horseback pass by their backyard, most of which is dominated by a horse corral, and wave. In Poway, where Flaster and Carhart live, trails cut between ranch-style homes and wind behind backyards. It’s not uncommon to see people riding or walking horses past houses and down the sidewalk.
On the patio, Gomez emerges from under his chair. He’s an all-white goat, his flanks protruding like two pannier bags. His ears twitch and his tail bobs, but he’s quiet, watching as the dogs carry on around him.
Gomez and Lurch, like the dogs, spend their nights indoors. “They’ll lie right here,” says Flaster, pointing to a carpeted spot in front of the living room coffee table. “We’ll put a towel down and get diapers on them — thank goodness for Depends — and they’ll come in and they’ll lay very quietly while we watch TV.” Before going to bed themselves, Carhart and Flaster tuck the goats into oversized dog crates in the garage to sleep, for fear of coyote attacks.
In addition to walking Gomez, Carhart and Flaster also walk Buckaroo, their white-and-tan miniature horse. Considerably smaller than a pony, Buckaroo, as his title suggests, looks just like a horse, only about a third or so of the size. He is perfectly proportioned from head to hooves, with a classic, slightly buck-toothed, horsey grin.
Buckaroo walks with a harness, Gomez with a collar and leash.
“When I walk Gomez, more than when I walk the horse, people just kind of think he’s a dog,” says Flaster. “If they’re driving by, they just see an animal, and for all intents and purposes, he could be a dog. When he walks he just…toddles along.”
And he does, stepping carefully on the asphalt with his small hooves, slipping only once. In the distance, mountains rise, miles of scrub brush and ruddy dirt. The heat, which is considerable, beats down on the roofs of the two-story houses and pristine lawns on either side of the street.
Buckaroo walks along, all knees, just like a horse of a larger size. Carhart and Flaster walk side by side, Buckaroo to Carhart’s right and Gomez to Flaster’s left. Occasionally, the two animals will cross paths, Gomez skittering lopsidedly out of Buckaroo’s way.
“Oh, Buckaroo, leave Gomie alone,” admonishes Flaster.
Carhart tugs gently on the leash attached to Buckaroo’s harness, and Buckaroo shakes his head slightly in defiance.
All in all, both animals walk well, minding their respective handlers.
Few neighbors are out and about, but when they are, says Flaster, they are largely nonplussed by Gomez and Buckaroo.
“Some of them do [say hi],” says Flaster. “And if there are kids out, of course the kids like to come over. For the most part, because this area is an area where people do see other people riding horses and walking horses and what have you, it’s not…I mean, if it was in my father’s neighborhood, it would be different. He lives over by the university, and there are no animals like this.”
On the street, Gomez and Buckaroo shuffle positions, keeping an almost steady pace with one another, Gomez a few inches behind.
“They seem to walk really well,” says Flaster. “I mean, Buckaroo always wants to pull us over to eat everybody’s grass.”
“He’s a character,” adds Carhart.
Back at the house, Gomez returns to the patio and Buckaroo to his personal pen, adjacent to the corral.
Indoors, it’s spotlessly clean, the living room floors sparkling and the furniture immaculate.
“We work hard to keep it clean,” Flaster says. “I can’t stand smells. It’s just the way I was raised. My parents would just die if they saw all this. They’d love it, but it would be too much, for my mom especially.”
“She’d say, ‘Oh, my God! Goats in the house?’ She would think I’m crazy.”
Kiki and Melanie, Shannon and Spanky
In the beginning, Melanie Ariessohn could only admire Kiki the macaw from a safe distance.
“[At first] I could just pick her up with a stick,” says Ariessohn. “I tried to get my hand near her and she’d just lunge at me like she was going to bite me and she has a pretty big beak so…I got a few bites. Then one day she lifted her foot up, and Kiki’s owner Bonnie said, ‘That means she wants to step up on you.’ And I put my hand out, and she stepped up onto it.”
Kiki is an inquisitive bird, cocking her head as though in question. Almost entirely blue and green, she’s a magnificent 12-year-old macaw with brilliant blue and emerald-green feathers, her belly as yellow as a sunflower. She warbles off a string of nonsensical sounds with the distinct cadence of language.