Every morning, Bill Steele finds peace sitting on the fire escape of his former New Brunswick jail-turned B&B, where he sips coffee beside his three emotional support goats and looks out across his eight acres.
He says Mama Goat, Deputy Mayor and Princess are his best friends. Although they’re not “regular” support animals, like dogs, they help him cope with depression and the sudden death of his 25-year-old son, Billy. They come when called and go for long walks on their leashes, eating apples along the way. They make him laugh.
“They’re so amazing. They’re beautiful animals, and healthy as heck,” said Steele, 52.
But the Village of Dorchester, where he lives, doesn’t see it that way.
The village is taking him to provincial court Thursday for violating a zoning bylaw, arguing he’s prohibited from keeping any animal that’s not considered a “household pet” on his residential property in the village core. Goats are used for “utility” rather than pleasure, and are grouped with other animals forbidden from homes, such as cows, sheep, horses, pigs, chickens, llamas and lions, according to the local bylaws.
Dorchester officials have served him with about 1,500 pages of disclosure — documenting his outspoken social media posts, in particular — and want him to cover all legal fees associated with the case, and either spend $1,500 to apply for a zoning bylaw amendment to run a livestock operation, get rid of the goats, or move.
However, he would rather lock himself and his goats in one of his jail cells than meet these demands, he said.
Steele will represent himself at court and he’s confident the judge will listen. He’s also filed a complaint with the province’s human rights tribunal.
“I firmly believe if you go and tell the truth you’ll win, and here’s the truth: I suffered a great loss, these animals help me out. That’s all I care about,” he said. “If you don’t like my goats, don’t look in my jail. Mind your own business. They’re not hurting anybody.”
On behalf of the village, Mayor Jerome Bear declined to comment while the case is ongoing.
Originally from Toronto, Steele moved to the village on the eastern side of New Brunswick in 2017 after his son died from complications related to a heart transplant.
Steele bought the jail for about $150,000 and converted it into a B&B, where he rents out cells to curious tourists for $99 a night, and offers tours. Built in 1875 and the location of New Brunswick’s last double hanging in 1936, it’s most definitely haunted, he said.
Around the village, with a population of about 1,000 residents, he quickly became known as the “jail guy.”
Then, he got the goats.
“It was kind of a dream of myself and my son — to have some goats when I retired. Now it’s in memory of my son,” Steele said.
Mama, Deputy and Princess easily fit into Steele’s quirky life — entertaining guests, and amazing him with their intelligence (they know what the word “walk” means, for example, he said). The goats live in a renovated Harley Davidson camper trailer along with a chicken named Fred who takes care of fleas and bugs, and they spend their days grazing outside.
“I don’t have a regular car — I drive a 1946 Rat Rod. I don’t live in a regular house — I live in a jail for god’s sake. I don’t have a regular bunch of pets — I have goats. Nothing’s regular.”