Pet Tales: Weed-eating goats beautify Frick Park and enchant visitors


A small group of people waited in Frick Park Thursday morning for the arrival of a brown horse trailer pulled by a red pickup truck. When 11 goats and a donkey stepped out, the cute critters from Allegheny GoatScape were greeted with enthusiasm — especially by the small children.

The excitement increased when the head goat herder announced that volunteers were needed to walk the leashed goats and donkey through the park’s beautiful wooded trails to the Clayton Hill area. The goats have been “hired” by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to eat bush honeysuckle, poison ivy, invasive vines and other weeds. 

I had doubts about how the goat trek would go, but it turns out leash-walking goats is easier than herding cats. Goats are herd animals, and they really just want to stay with the other goats, GoatScape volunteer Mary Lou Dixon explained.

Even in the hands of inexperienced handlers, Angel, Wimpy, Mae, Reuben, Butter Bailey, Cowboy, Ozark, Doc, Cinnamon Sugar, Kama and Roxanne all walked nicely on leash.

Roxanne, a floppy-eared Nubian, wasn’t happy about being last in line. I was her walker, and younger, fitter, faster goat handlers were steadily leading their goats farther and farther away from Roxanne. I picked up my pace to accommodate her, and Roxanne slowed down a bit to accommodate me. 

When we unleashed the goats in an area fenced in for their safety, they immediately got busy eating weeds. 

Hobo the mini donkey stays with the goats to guard them, said head goat-herder Gavin Deming, whose real title is founder and executive director of Allegheny GoatScape. He has seen Hobo in action.

One day when Mr. Deming was checking on his weed-eaters, a dog running loose jumped the fence to get in with the goats. 

“Hobo quickly cornered the dog, keeping it away from the goats,” he said, noting that he quickly removed the dog. “I don’t know what would have happened if I wasn’t there.”

Hobo and the goat herd will stay in Frick Park through the fall. Then they’ll go back to work in a city park on the South Side Slopes. They’ll return to Frick Park in 2021, because there’s never a shortage of weeds. 

Allegheny GoatScape is a nonprofit, but it takes money to transport, shelter, feed and provide veterinary care. A $38,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will pay for their work at Frick Park and other areas, said Phil Gruszka, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s director of horticulture and forestry. 

Propel schools had planned to participate, but it’s not clear what students and staff can do during the pandemic.

Though the Frick Environmental Center on Beechwood Boulevard is closed because of the pandemic, Frick Park is open to all. On Thursday, I saw many dog walkers, hikers and bird watchers. 

Two friendly “birders” pointed out a young red-tailed hawk perched atop a light pole. It was a rare treat to see a young raptor close up, calmly watching us as we watched him.

Though we were outside and easily able to practice social distancing, everyone wore face masks — park staff, Mr. Deming and his employees and volunteers and visitors, including young children.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064 or at PG Pets on Facebook.

First Published August 21, 2020, 8:00am