Sylvia Nyman’s goats have been known to wander.
But the 77-year-old Howard woman knew something was different when first six, then 20 simply disappeared from her rural home in northern Centre County.
Now state police are investigating, and neighbors are pointing fingers as the mystery of the missing goats deepens.
It’s not the first time Nyman’s animals have been at the center of controversy. Neighbors have long complained about roaming goats and cows that trample gardens and block the already tricky winding dirt road that connects homes on this mountain.
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Nyman has found herself on the losing end of three separate civil lawsuits brought by neighbors and by Liberty Township since 2009. In one suit, attorneys for Liberty Township said the woman was knowingly allowing the animals to run at large.
Centre County Judge Pamela Ruest ruled in favor of the township in October at a non-jury civil trial, prompting Nyman to have fencing put up along her property, according to court documents.
But less than two months later, the woman noticed six goats she raised from the bottle and kept as pets were gone. Then days later, while she was away getting hay, she said she 20 goats disappeared from a field on her property.
State police at Rockview said in a release that the reported thefts happened between Dec. 22 and Christmas Day on the farm on Upper Polecat Road in Liberty Township.
Police said they are investigating, but Nyman said she believes she already knows the culprit. The woman, who has lived on the property for 30 years and now raises her animals alone, thinks her neighbors are trying to run her off.
One neighbor, David Young, who police said is not a suspect, said he thinks it’s likely the goats wandered off, as they are known to do. The new fencing Nyman installed has not kept her animals off even his property, Young reasoned.
But Nyman fears the goats would have returned by now if they were able, especially the four young nannies and billies she kept as pets.
“I’m really sorry about my pets,” she said. “They would miss it at home.”
One of Nyman’s remaining goats nuzzled her Monday afternoon as she surveyed her land. Cows huddled together around her barn. Ducks sloshed in the water pooling around a stream, fat from recent snow-melt. Hens ran across the muddy ground between coops.
After a quick survey of her land, some would think the elderly woman has enough on her plate raising these animals. But Nyman said she is committed to finding her missing goats.
“I’m getting old, but I’ve been a pretty good goatkeeper,” she said.