The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A girl asked to keep a unicorn in her yard. Animal control said yes.

The letter a first-grade girl wrote requesting permission to keep a unicorn in her backyard, right, and the “Permanent Unicorn License” tag issued by animal control officials, who attached it to a stuffed animal. (Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care)
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Unicorns are maddeningly elusive beasts. Although they have captured the human imagination for thousands of years, no one has yet captured one in return. Or even seen one.

But that’s no bother for one Southern California girl. A Los Angeles County first-grader recently won government approval to keep a unicorn as a pet in her backyard should she be the first to find and tame one of the magical and majestic creatures.

The girl, identified only as Madeline by the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, wrote to officials Nov. 14 with the request. She was polite but short and to the point.

“Dear LA County I would like your approval if I can have a unicorn in my backyard if I can find one. Please send me a letter in response.”

Two weeks later, the department’s director, Marcia Mayeda, wrote just such a letter. Her response, dated Nov. 30, said she was granting Madeline’s request — with conditions. To legally keep a unicorn, she would have to follow certain rules to ensure her magical-beast-turned-pet was well taken care of.

They include polishing the unicorn’s horn monthly with a soft cloth, treating it to watermelon at least once a week and giving it “regular access to sunlight, moonbeams, and rainbows.” And if Madeline decides to bedazzle her mythical pet, she must guarantee that any “sparkles or glitter used on the unicorn must be nontoxic and biodegradable to ensure the unicorn’s good health.”

Mayeda told The Washington Post that, before last month, she had never received a request for a unicorn license in her 21 years at the department — or for any other mythical beast, for that matter. When Madeline’s letter arrived, “everybody was just so touched and charmed and just thrilled with it,” Mayeda said.

But, she added, if she gets a request for a dragon license, “I’m referring them to the fire chief.”

Mayeda said that she and her colleagues regularly see the horrible things people do to animals — torture and neglect that sometimes proves fatal. They see the horrible things animals do to people — brutal maulings that are also occasionally deadly. And they often have to make tough decisions to euthanize animals when they’re deemed too sick or too dangerous.

“It can be very emotionally draining to deal with that sort of life-and-death stuff all the time,” Mayeda said.

So Madeline’s letter was a boon, one that’s buoyed Mayeda and her colleagues for weeks, she said.

Part of their joy comes from how impressed they are with Madeline, Mayeda said. Even though she’s in first grade, she didn’t assume she’d be able to keep a unicorn. When her mother told her that she might need some sort of government approval, the two of them went online to learn which agency was responsible for issuing pet licenses and how to get one. Within an hour, Madeline had written her request. Mother and daughter did more research to figure out where to send it.

“She put a lot of thought into this,” Mayeda said. “She was doing the right thing by contacting the licensing agency to make sure that it would be okay for her to have a unicorn. And we wanted to definitely respond and encourage that sort of behavior.”

“She’s got a bright future ahead of her,” she added.

Even though Mayeda dated her letter Nov. 30 and the department posted a photo of it on Tuesday, Madeline hasn’t received it yet, the director said. Mayeda consulted with the girl’s mother, who said that her daughter would get the most joy by learning about her unicorn license on her birthday.

So animal control has a few things waiting for her when she comes to the department late next week, including Mayeda’s letter, the actual unicorn license and a red, heart-shaped “Permanent Unicorn License” tag that they hung around the neck of a stuffed animal unicorn.

But that’s only a placeholder for the real deal. Now that she’s won animal control’s blessing to have a pet unicorn, Madeline must now find and catch one.

Happy hunting.