Edmonton

Flatulent fainting goats escape Fort McMurray in Ford

As John Paton fled Fort McMurray, not only did he confront a raging inferno but he had to contend with a pair of flatulent, fainting goats who had hitched a ride in the back seat of his Ford pickup.

'There is no way we're leaving these two goats ... and I sure wasn't going to put them in the box'

After a 10-hour drive down Highway 63, Bella and Diego are safely grazing at an acreage in Sherwood Park. (Supplied )

As John Paton fled Fort McMurray, not only did he confront a raging inferno but he had to contend with a pair of flatulent, fainting goats in the back seat of his Ford pickup.

"It was just the two of us and the goats, and the rest of the cab was just fumes, no oxygen. Just fumes," said Paton. "It's a good thing I had the extended cab for that extra room."

Bella, a white female, and Diego her tawny, long-horned companion, have been part of the Paton family for nearly seven years.

The miniature  "fainting goats," also known as wooden legged goats, spend their days grazing on the peaty fields outside Paton's acreage in Saprae Creek, about 20 kilometres east of Fort McMurray. 

"My granddaughter really, really wanted them, so we told them to bring them out here," Paton said, referring to the acreage. 
Diego and his companion, Bella, will be heading back to Fort McMurray as soon as the evacuation orders are lifted. (Supplied )
 
"And she was doing really well with them, until she discovered boys and kind of forgot about the goats, so we ended up with them."

As the massive wildfire enveloped Fort McMurray last week, and thousands of residents vacated their homes, the scene at the acreage was relatively calm.

It appeared as if the rural hamlet — and Paton's property — would be spared by the flames. Three generations of the family had taken refuge at the remote property, hoping they wouldn't have to join the throngs of vehicles fleeing down the highway.

But Tuesday morning, the winds shifted, the fire started moving east, and the Paton family was told to evacuate immediately.

Seven family members had gathered there, including  Paton and his wife Elaine, their daughter Lana, son-in-law Richard, granddaughter Morgan, grandson Bret and his girlfriend Denise. They had five vehicles, but only two with enough fuel to get them down Highway 63.  

Paton did the math, and decided there was room for the animals.

"And I thought, there is no way we're leaving these two goats," he said. 

He got to work rounding up the goats.

"Normally they follow you around just like dogs, but with so many people all around we had to run around after them. And they're so fat they were just waddling, "said Paton. "And one of them, I thought he was going to have a heart attack, but we finally got him." 

There was no time to hitch up the trailer. Instead, Paton put a tarp down across the back seat of his half-tonne Ford F-150, and hoisted the goats into the back.

"They're not very big until you try and lift them into the back of your truck, and realize that you've overfed them and they're too heavy for one person to lift."

After the goats were finally wrangled into the truck, Paton and his granddaughter — the one who wanted the goats in the first place — piled in.

It was going to be a long, strange trip.

Fainting goats, officially known as myotonic goats, are known, well, for fainting. When alarmed or excited, their muscles freeze, the animals collapse, roll onto their sides and remain stunned and immobile for a short period.

"If you walk out into the pasture and let out a yell, they'll just fall right over and go completely stiff for about 30 seconds before they can get back up," Paton said. "But they only do that when they are very young."  

Their affinity for collapsing like drunken sailors may not have been a huge concern. But Paton's nose alerted him to an additional putrid problem.

Goats make for ill-mannered travelling companions

Paton heard some unusual noises coming from the back seat. Diego and Bella, far from potty-trained, soon 'unloaded' all over the tarp. Even the thick black smoke from the approaching wildfire couldn't stifle the stench.

"And I said to them, the next one of you who poops, you're walking," Paton joked.

Through deadlocked traffic, they made a painfully slow escape from Fort McMurray down Highway 63.  Paton and his granddaughter were feeling uneasy as they watched the flames and smoke through the rearview mirror, but the goats seemed unfazed.

Diego and Bella jostled around in the back seat, bawling and burping and occasionally poking their long-horned heads through the tarp to get a better view of the highway. They finally sprawled out in the back seat for a long nap.

"And my granddaughter kept saying 'I hope we don't get pulled over by the cops because we'll never be able to explain why we have these goats.' " Paton said. 

Here is Diego, making himself at home in the back of Paton's Ford F-150. (Supplied )
 A few hours into the drive, they made their first pit-stop at a restaurant in Boyle, and stepped inside to grab some food, leaving the goats to doze in the back of the truck.

"There was this guy in there who kept giving us a dirty look, and we couldn't figure out why," said Paton."And then we went back to the truck and opened the door and it just reeked. And I said to my granddaughter: 'We must just reek of goat.' "

After nearly 10 hours on the road, Paton and his pets finally made it to their daughter's acreage in Sherwood Park.

Within minutes of arriving, the goats had made themselves at home.

Paton is thankful that his vehicle has recovered as well.  The smell in his truck, for the most part, has dissipated.

Paton, a retired oilsands worker, and his wife, a retired nurse, are staying at their cabin in Spring Lake for now. But they will head back to Fort McMurray as soon as the city is re-opened.

They have a home to return to. With the exception of a few sheds, everything on the Paton property, including the house, is still standing.

"We'll be back, we've been there for 43 years," said Paton. "And the goats will be coming with us. They have one more trip to make in the back of that truck."  

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