01/06/2010 at 04:15 PM EST
A true sign that the holidays are over: discarded Christmas trees along the street. But did you know that those bristly branches are like Skittles for goats?
"It's like candy to them," says Ellen Felsenthal, founder of New Moon Farm Goat Rescue and Sanctuary
in Arlington, Wash., who feeds them to her animals. "They eat hay every day, so they get bored. The trees are a big treat for them."
Felsenthal typically spends the day after Christmas visiting tree lots to round up any leftover evergreens to feed to the goats at her sanctuary. But this year, she decided to make it a community event and asked people to donate their gently used Christmas trees.
"I thought it would be a way for people to make a contribution without spending money," she explains. "And a fun way to recycle trees and for people to pet the goats at the sanctuary."
Founded six years ago, New Moon Farm Goat Rescue and Sanctuary is one of the few organizations dedicated exclusively to rescuing and adopting goats. "They totally stole my heart," she says. "You'd be surprised how personable and intelligent they are. People who don't know anything about goats will meet them and say, 'They're just like dogs!' They know their names, they'll come when called, they walk on a leash and they love people."
Every single goat has its own personality, says Felsenthal. She should know; she's rescued some 500 goats, thus far, and counting. "We take in goats from any situation," she says. "Half of the goats come from people who can't keep them anymore, and others come from abuse or cruelty cases. In 2007, we took in 200 goats from one person who was hoarding them."
Felsenthal, a full-time photography professor, single-handedly runs the sanctuary with the help of a few dedicated volunteers on the weekends. She spends an hour in the mornings and evenings feeding the goats – 12 of which are permanent residents, and 43 who are up for adoption.
"We've got goats of all ages, shapes and sizes," she says of the breeds living at the farm. "There are pygmy goats, pony-sized goats, ones with floppy ears and ones with perky ears."
About 40 to 50 Christmas trees were donated by the community this year. After carefully screening the trees to make sure there weren't any yew trees or certain species of pine (which are toxic) and the branches were free of tinsel, decorations and flame-retardant spray, Felsenthal fed the evergreens to the goats – to the delight of onlookers.
"It's so cute, some of the goats will climb into the tree and chew and play," laughs Felsenthal. "They devour the trees and completely strip off all the needles, bark and small branches." But don't think the kids at this candy store eat as many trees as they want: "I put out one tree every other day in each of the eight pens. We've got enough trees for a couple more weeks," she says.
Thinking about adopting a goat? Goats are herd animals, Felsenthal says, and need to live with at least one other goat, or else they get depressed. It also helps to have at least a quarter acre of land. To learn more about the goats and how to donate to the New Moon Farm Goat Rescue and Sanctuary, visit their Web site. See more unusual pets on PEOPLEPets.com:Aussie Farmer Opens Home to 27 Orphaned Lambs – and Their PoopSkunks As Pets? Ohio Woman Says Yes, Indeed!