Washington State mom fights to keep rare, iconic pet in wake of husband’s sudden death

Posted at 4:08 PM, May 06, 2015

PARKLAND, Washington — With the propagation of crowd funding sites, there’s no shortage of people who have fallen on hard times seeking money. Cancer. Deaths in the family. Sick pets and owners who can’t afford a vet bill. Many find that appealing to neighbors and friends for cash is the only thing that can get them through.

And in many ways, Tammy Merkle’s story is no different from dozens of others on GoFundMe. She has an ailing animal that she’s trying to hold on to.

A 1-ton, freakishly-horned animal imported, decades ago, from Africa.

How Chief Came to Town 

Chief is a 21-year-old African Watusi; an animal not often seen among the comfortable homes and small plots of farms in the Parkland area. He’s big, moody and loves his goat friend named “Jacob.”

Well, he’s loved all three Jacobs that have been his friend, Merkle said.

“Chief keeps outliving all of his goat friends,” Merkle said. “This is the third Jacob.”

Merkle’s father-in-law was a construction worker at county fairs decades ago. Somehow, he made friends with a rare animal breeder and importer at one of the fairs, they talked shop and BOOM, Chief was brought home to the small Parkland Washington farm.

Raised by Merkle’s father-in-law for 18 years, the care of the mercurial Chief fell on Merkle’s husband after her father-in-law died. This worked out fine, Merkle said, as her husband was handy on the farm and knew his way around all kinds of livestock. Chief quickly became his best friend.

In February, however, Merkle’s husband suddenly passed away.

“It was unexpected,” Merkle said.

The death, understandably, left Merkle reeling. She was thrust into position as the sole caretaker of not only her 9-year-old son, but also Chief and Jacob, animals she knew little about. Not only that, but the financial burden of taking care of Chief on a single income was quickly realized.

“If you combine all his care, he probably costs $200-a-month,” Merkle said. “He’s not cheap.”

Give  him up, or keep him at home? 

Of course, after the death of her husband, Merkle thought about giving up Chief. But she feared the death, along with the recent death of the family’s two dogs, was already too much for her son. Giving up Chief would just add to the mourning family’s grief.

“To see Chief go away, it would be devastating for (my son),” she said.

Rather than give him away, Merkle started a GoFundMe page called “Keep Chief Home.” She hoped that many of the people who stopped in the neighborhood often to take pictures with Chief could donate a few dollars, and donate their time, too.

“I can’t even clean the stall,” Merkle said, reiterating that Chief’s care was her late husband’s responsibility.

Quickly, the neighborhood reached out. A livestock expert offered to donate his time twice a week to help look after Chief, giving him his required shots. The GoFundMe page quickly raised more than $3,000–enough to buy Chief a new water trough and pay for months of care.

Merkle is glad for the help, as it has given her time to look after more pressing priorities.

“I have a 9-year-old son,” she said. “He has to come first.”

Merkle is hoping to raise a few thousand dollars more, to ensure the care of the large African animal as she works her way through this tough transition period in her life. And maybe, after things settle down, she can persuade Chief to come to love her just like he loved her late husband.

“He’s very emotional, like a dog,” she said. “You can tell sense my husband died he’s been very down.”

To donate to Chief’s GoFundMe page, click here.