If this was a children's story, it might be titled Goldilocks Meets Billy Goat Gruff. But the story is true, however bizarre, so instead it must be titled something more straightforward, like Goats Trash Chilmark Home. And the subtitle? Only on Martha's Vineyard.
The interior of a summer home off Tea Lane in Chilmark was severely damaged last week after it was discovered that two runaway goats had taken up residence inside the house. The nubian goats, named Jekyll and Hyde, had been missing since Jan. 19. When they were found inside the home of Stephen and Ellen Levine, they had knocked over furniture, destroyed carpeting and jumped onto beds and kitchen counters.
The destruction was first discovered by the caretaker, Jay Guest of Edgartown, last Friday morning. Mr. Guest was alerted that something was awry in the house when an automatic furnace alarm went off, activating a connection to the communications center. A dispatcher notified him.
Arriving at the house at about 5:45 a.m. while it was still dark, Mr. Guest said he found the premises occupied by two goats and in total disarray. He immediately telephoned the Chilmark police.
"I called, saying I am reporting a breaking and entering by goats. This is not a hoax," Mr. Guest recalled.
Police arrived a short time later. "Basically the goats had used the house as a barn for a week. The destruction is unimaginable," said Chilmark police chief Timothy Rich.
"I picture it as a beer party that went bad," Mr. Rich said, except in this case there were goat droppings everywhere. "They were on the counters on the kitchen. They knocked things over. They opened drawers. They pulled utensil and utensil separators out of the kitchen drawers. They were inquisitive, exploring for food," the chief said. Furniture in the living room was turned over and soiled.
"Picture three different beds. I am assuming they slept in all of them on both floors. They were definitely on them. The goats made multiple visits. My guess is that they got access to the house and continued to come and go," Mr. Rich said. He added:
"In my 30 years of being a police officer, I have never encountered anything like this before."
West Tisbury animal control officer Joan Jenkinson agreed. "I have never seen so much damage to a home by animals," she said.
Mr. Guest said he had a hard time getting the goats out of the house when he first arrived: "You chase one out of the house, and the other one would come in and go upstairs. This is beyond imagination."
Chilmark's new dog officer Chris Murphy was at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital working out in the cardiac rehabilitation department when he received the call. "All I got was a message: They found the goats," Mr. Murphy said.
Mr. Murphy had been looking for Edward Stahl's goats for a week. Mr. Stahl lives in Aquinnah in the summer and caretakes a house off Meetinghouse Road in the winter. "I had three different calls that someone had seen goats on the road. I would go and I never quite found them," Mr. Murphy said.
The two goats have a long history of wandering, Mr. Murphy said. He said the goats were in the care of house sitters when they escaped. He described their fencing as "shaky."
He also said he knew Jekyll and Hyde. "They are both very nice. They'll come right up to you and have a conversation with you. They are nice animals." But he agreed that what Jekyll and Hyde did was not very nice.
"The devastation in that house was amazing . . . . The office looked like somebody had ransacked it and had occasionally for good measure taken a bite out of the papers for good luck," Mr. Murphy said.
Mr. Rich said no crime was committed. "There was no forced entry. There wasn't any felonious intent. They were doing what goats do," he said.
The goats apparently gained entry through a French door that had not been secured.
Mr. Guest said when he arrived he saw how familiar the goats were with the door; he watched them push against it when it was closed.
Reached by telephone yesterday in Paris, the owners of the home said they were stunned and incredulous when they heard what had happened.
"I can't believe this. My house is ruined. Everything inside is apparently ruined. I have to get new carpet. It is an unbelievable story. When I first learned of it I was in shock. I didn't sleep for nights," said Ellen Levine, a child psychiatrist and art therapist. Her husband Stephen Levine is a professor emeritus at York University in Toronto. The Levines are longtime seasonal residents of the Vineyard.
Mrs. Levine said the next step is to deal with insurance adjustors, and she said it is still unclear who, if anyone, carries responsibility for the incident. The owner of the goats is away and she said she has not been able to speak with him.
Fortunately, she said nobody was hurt, and she has recovered her sense of humor. "My friends are sending me goat jokes through the Internet," she said. "I never thought much of goats before."