Sandy “The Goat Lady” Sawyer can tell by the sound of the bleat not only if the goat is young or old, but if its hoof is caught in a board, if it’s playing, if it’s hungry, or if it’s scared.
The fenced-in pasture Sawyer rents on Kilchrist Farms is a haven to 50 to 60 goats, one fallow (European) deer, a donkey, six ponies, one horse, Bob the snake (a bald python), five different kinds of tortoises, a bearded dragon lizard, rats, “a million” cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets, a wild pig, roosters, ducks, dogs and more — and Sawyer knows every single animal’s name.
She feeds them, births them, cares for them when they’re sick, and bottle feeds the babies when necessary.
And in a world in which many kids — the human kind — “don’t even know what animals are anymore,” Sawyer has enough animals to comprise a petting zoo.
The most important thing she tries to teach kids is how to treat animals kindly.
“They’re not toys,” she said. “They’re fun, but it’s all part of nature. The mommas, they love their babies, too.”
Sawyer grew up in Maine, moving to Florida and working as a waitress before deciding to go back to school — where she quickly dropped her originally intended subject of study, environmental science, for a degree in zoo animal technology.
“It was just a natural,” she said. “I used to be shy, until I started working around animals.”
Since that time, Sawyer has worked for three different zoos — two in Florida, and the Zoo of Acadiana in Broussard. She’s done an elephant show and cared for all kinds of animals, but discovered her affinity for the hoofed ones after bottle feeding a black buck antelope years ago, an experience in which “it was almost like I heard the angels singing,” she said, laughing.
Sawyer has also been the assistant director of the Iberia Humane Society for three years.
Shelter director Dayna Perry, who has known Sawyer for 10 years, said she is a “blessing” to the shelter.
“…I’m more of a dog person, and she’s definitely more of a cat person,” Perry said. “I knew together we’d create the perfect balance. I feel very fortunate to have her.”
In addition to having a “great” personality, Perry said Sawyer loves “all the other critters” as well, taking in snakes and birds when the shelter gets calls for them.
In many ways, caring for animals is both a calling and a labor of love. Income from the petting zoo doesn’t make up for the 150 pounds of feed a day the animals consume, Sawyer said.
And it can sometimes get overwhelming. When she has too many animals, she sells a few to people who want them for pets — not for food.
Every time she thinks she might be fed up with the around the clock demands of her caretaking, Sawyer said a baby goat will need to be bottle fed, or something will happen to make her fall in love with it all over again.
“I’d be bored … if I didn’t have all this,” Sawyer said. “I wouldn’t know what to do.”
She said the best thing about what she does, though, is inspiring young people.