Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 2, 2019

MA Court finds that Keeping Pet Goats was “Animal Husbandry” and was Therefore Prohibited in Town Residential District

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.

The Massachusetts Land Court held in November that the keeping of two pet goats violated a town zoning bylaw that prohibited animal husbandry in residential districts.

It was undisputed in the case that the goats, Dean and Deluca, were pets, as they were used “for pleasure rather than utility.” Although the court noted that the keeping of pets is often permissible as an accessory use even where not specifically allowed, it also noted that “the goats’ status as pets does not mean that the keeping of goats cannot also constitute ‘animal husbandry’ under the bylaw.”

The definition of “animal husbandry” in the zoning bylaw was stated as “the raising and keeping of animals,” and the property owners argued that this meant “the breeding and raising of domestic animals for commercial use, such as meat, milk, or eggs.” This interpretation would have excluded their goats, as they were neutered and had no commercial uses. The court acknowledged that this argument had some merit, but it was nevertheless outweighed by two other considerations. First, goats tended to fall within the common meaning of “animal husbandry,” as evidenced by dictionary entries for “animal husbandry” and “domestic animals,” as well as the traditional understanding that goats are farm animals. Second, and more significantly, the bylaw’s definition of “animal husbandry” specifically referred to goats in its classification for “larger animals,” which required a special permit.

The court ultimately concluded that both the property owners and the town offered reasonable interpretations of the zoning bylaw. Faced with these competing interpretations, however, the court was bound to give deference to the zoning board’s position. As the court explained, the zoning board “read the bylaw as addressing not how the animals are used, but instead as regulating the keeping of large or disruptive animals outdoors on residential property in order to prevent nuisances created by such animals. This reading, tied to the prevention of nuisance, is substantially related to the “public health, safety, convenience, morals or welfare” of the community and neighboring properties.”

Raesly v. Boughner, 2019 WL 5842961 (11/7/19).

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