C. Jarrett Dieterle is a fellow at the R Street Institute think tank in the District. Shoshana Weissmann is a policy analyst and digital media specialist at the R Street Institute.
DC Brau Brewing Co. announced last month that it would host a baby goat yoga class in December.
Yes, you read that right: Goat yoga is not only a thing but a craze that has been sweeping the nation as more and more yoga instructors seek to incorporate tiny goats into their classes. Some yogis swear by the therapeutic and calming powers of these rambunctious little furballs, which spend their class time climbing on students and cutely prancing around during vinyasa.
DC Brau's yoga class sold out almost immediately. Apparently, the mix of yoga, beer and goats was too much to pass up. But that was before the D.C. government got involved. In the wake of a recent goat yoga crackdown across the District, the Department of Health refused to issue a permit to the brewery, and organizers were forced to move the class to Arlington. The decision not only left the District's beer and goat enthusiasts devastated, but it also showed that the District remains mired on the wrong side of goat-loving history.
The Health Department ramped up its anti-goat-yoga enforcement efforts — it also rejected a similar goat class at the Congressional Cemetery earlier this year — for, purportedly, safety concerns for both goats and humans. The baby goat classes run afoul of the District's "no touch" policy, an internally created department guideline that derives from the D.C. animal control code and forbids contact between humans and animals not classified as pets. In the past, the Health Department has cited concerns that the goats might be hurt if a class participant fell on them. To underscore its seriousness, the Health Department even threatened to "impound" the goats if the brewery went ahead with the class.
While the D.C. government's concern for animal and human welfare is laudable, none of these justifications make any sense. The idea that humans touching livestock is inherently dangerous makes the District look hopelessly out of touch, as any person who has worked on a farm or visited a petting zoo can attest. In fact, the District has long allowed businesses such as Squeals on Wheels, a traveling petting zoo, to operate within District limits.
By and large, goats are friendly, sociable animals who enjoy interacting with humans. The goats used for yoga are given appropriate vaccines and veterinary care to ensure nothing goes awry. Goats are tough, durable animals. The Internet is full of videos featuring goats falling off roofs or harmlessly slamming their heads into inanimate objects. The chances of them being injured during a yoga class are next to zero.
Goat yoga classes are also carefully monitored by the farmers who provide the goats. They are never left with just instructors or students. There are residual benefits to goat yoga, too: Baby goats are occasionally abandoned by their mothers, meaning farmers have to hand-feed and watch after them, tasks with which yogis are often eager to assist.
In other words, no goats are hurt in the making of these classes. About the worst thing that could happen in a goat yoga session is a goat relieving itself on someone's yoga mat.
While the District escalates its crackdown, goat yoga is soaring in popularity around the country, including in Virginia and Maryland. Yogis insist that the benefits of doing yoga with baby goats are not trivial. Yoga instructors credit the goats with bringing "more joyful energy" to their classes by being therapeutic and de-stressing to the students.
Residents have started a petition to free the goats, but the D.C. government should seize the initiative here and recognize that it is far past time to make accommodations for this trend. After all, the District allows far more dangerous activities and businesses to exist within its borders, including bars with on-premise ax-throwing ranges. It's understandable if the Health Department is reluctant to allow animals such as goats to proliferate within the District, but the D.C. Code already gives the department the ability to issue one-off exceptions to its animal control policies for special events and educational purposes.
The Health Department should use this exemption authority to greenlight activities such as goat yoga that require the goats to be in the District for a few hours at a time. A spokesman for the department told us that the special-event exception could not be used for goat yoga because the classes still would violate the no-touch policy. But the department has the power to redefine the no-touch policy and the scope of exceptions.
If that's still not sufficient to assuage the D.C. government's goat fears, the Health Department could revisit its animal-control regulations to create additional safeguards for activities such as goat yoga, possibly with new rules regarding when and where classes can be hosted and what vaccines or health certificates the goats are required to obtain. All of these options would be more reasonable than a wholesale ban on goat yoga.
At a time when more Americans than ever report feeling stressed or anxious, it's important we maintain positive, healthy ways to enjoy ourselves. Goat yoga should be seen as one of life's many small pleasures, not something governments need to regulate out of existence. It's far past time to let people meditate and stretch with baby goats. In the meantime, the brewery has scheduled yoga with kittens in January.