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Animal Form

Inside the shocking and controversial practice of 'goat yoga'

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Initially, Morse attempted to trademark the term "Goat Yoga," but after spending more than $20,000 on lawyers, she grew tired of having her efforts denied. So instead, she trademarked the phrase "Original Goat Yoga," now the official name of her company. During the time it took to accomplish that, however, Morse watched as goat yoga blew up all over, breeding countless imitators, clones and copycats.

"I struggled with it for a while," she says. "It was a hard pill to swallow, that this thing I'd developed took off without me. Then, other people started trying to call their businesses 'Original Goat Yoga,' too. So I had to deal with that. I never dreamed that the world of goat yoga would become such a cutthroat, competitive business."

Morse hit another snag when she was told that she couldn't legally hold classes on her property because it was zoned for farming and not for business. That, ultimately, is why she developed her current business model of working with existing goat farms to use the Original Goat Yoga name, methodology and marketing muscle.

Today, she says she takes a lot of pleasure in seeing how widespread her weird little notion has become, and that so many people are reaping the mental, physical and emotional benefits of goat yoga. In November, she published The Little Book of Goat Yoga, and according to Morse, it's selling remarkably well.

"It's amazing to me that there are so many people around the world doing this crazy thing I started," she says. "I know its not exactly healing diseases or anything, but it's making people forget about their problems for a while, it's connecting them to nature, and that's worth something to me."

Which brings us back to Goatlandia.

This morning, the air is filled with the sounds of roosters crowing, dogs barking, birds singing and goats and sheep bleating. Goatlandia, somewhat rain-dampened and mud-slushy, is otherwise quiet after the morning feedings have concluded, thanks to Blum, Eckhart and a team of volunteers. Owned by acclaimed (and now retired) restaurateur Deborah Blum, the two-acre sanctuary—a certified 501(c)(3) nonprofit, largely volunteer-powered and funded almost entirely by donations—is devoted to the care, protection, resuscitation and (under the right circumstances) the adoption of goats, pigs, chickens and other farm animals.

"That's our mission," says Eckhart, "to rescue goats, sheep, ducks, chickens and pigs, give them a safe and loving home, and also educate people on a more conscious, eco-friendly lifestyle."

Many of Goatlandia's current 150 residents, spread between the Santa Rosa farm and another location in Sebastopol, were rescued from farms or ranches where they would have been euthanized—the fate three-legged Poppy avoided—or used for food. Some were abandoned or surrendered to Goatlandia after outgrowing their previous owners expectations. According to Eckhart, many of the current residents were taken in after the 2017 fires.

"We take a lot of pride in what we do," Eckhart says, "bringing home animals who would otherwise be killed."

In 2017, Eckhart, a trained yoga instructor, decided it was a no-brainer for Goatlandia to start offering goat yoga sessions of its own. The farm's open field with a wooden deck proved to be the perfect spot for classes. Goatlandia, she says, has about 20 goats at the moment, all of which are brought out whenever a goat yoga session is taking place. Each and every goat has an engaging backstory.

That definitely goes for Poppy.

"Poppy's original owners wanted to euthanize her, because she needed to have her leg amputated and it wasn't worth the money and effort for them," says Eckhart. "So we adopted her, we paid for the amputation. When she arrived here, that same day, she looked around and did a little three-legged happy dance, and we knew that she was supposed to be here."

Poppy even has her own Instagram page, the result of having been featured on Animal Planet, on the show Tanked, in an episode that aired last fall.

"Poppy's kind of famous," says Eckhardt. "And she loves doing goat yoga."

Unfortunately, somewhat echoing Lainey Morse's story, Goatlandia has butted up against land-use restraints. Due to zoning restrictions, the facility has had to heavily cut back on its public events, now offering goat yoga only as small, private gatherings for donors. As a result, Blum and the whole Goatlandia team are currently in the midst of a fundraising drive, with a dream of purchasing a new property where Goatlandia can return to doing public events, can establish an organic farm, offer bed-and-breakfast experiences, vegan cooking demonstrations and more.

When that happens, goat yoga will be a large part of the new facility's public outreach program. The farms supporters, not to mention the goats, will pretty much demand it.

"It's just such a joyful thing, doing yoga while goats are leaping all around you, climbing on you, curling up next to you," laughs Eckhart. "It's still physical, and it's still a good workout, but it's really all about the happiness of connecting with these creatures in a joyous way. And it's as good for your soul as it is for your body and mind."

To learn more about donations, volunteer opportunities or other ways to support Goatlandia, visit their website at goatlandia.org. To learn about Original Goat Yoga, and its classes in Morgan Hill and other locations, visit goatyoga.net.

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