The War on Goat Yoga

D.C. cracks down on the fitness-and-farm-animals trend.


Anne-Marie Jackson/ZUMA Press/Newscom

No kidding: The District of Columbia is cracking down on goat yoga.

Goat yoga, for the uninitiated, is a form of exercise where gleeful yogis strike up poses next to (and sometimes underneath) cuddly animals. Classes have popped up at studios and barnyards around the country, from Los Angeles, California, to Roberts, Wisconsin.

But in D.C., the Department of Health (DOH) is aiming to end this menacing mixture of fitness and farm animals. D.C. Brau, a Washington microbrewery, had to cancel two sold-out goat yoga classes—which were to be followed by beer tastings—after the DOH warned that the events would violate a ban on spectators touching animals at public events.

"It would have been cool to do something that mixes three things that I loved: yoga, animals, and beer," says Cecilia Cervantes, a D.C.-area resident who had planned on attending the class. "It sucks that businesses can't use their creative liberties to bring in more customers and engage with the local community."

This is not the first time the D.C. Department of Health has shut down a goat yoga event. In June, the department also forbade the Congressional Cemetery from hosting a goat yoga fundraiser.

The cemetery already hosts a weekly yoga class in its chapel, and it has previously used goats to clear away poison ivy and vines, so a goat yoga class seemed like a natural fit, says cemetery director Paul Williams.

"We were going to have three hour-long classes," Williams says. "The yoga instructor would kind of build in a lot of education about goats and goat milk." He had hoped to raise $5,000 from the events to help run the cemetery.

When he first sought permission for the event, Williams was invited to a meeting at DOH, where he talked to the department's director, several lawyers, and even a veterinarian, all of whom had elaborate justifications for why his fundraiser could not go forward.

"They put just about every hurdle they possibly could have in front of me," says Williams. Health officials initially informed him that he would have to get a wildlife handling permit for exotic animals, which under D.C. law includes goats. Williams found this classification a bit ridiculous. "They're domestic goats," he says. "They've been domesticated for 6,000 years."

In any event, the prohibition on exotic goats includes an exception for educational events, something Williams thought would apply to a yoga class. But the city didn't buy this, saying they could see no educational merit in the event. Officials even expressed concern that participants might lose their balance and fall on the goats.

The officials also said the event would violate the city's "no touch" policy for animals at public events, as with the D.C. Brau classes.

As it happens, D.C. has public events where people touch animals all the time. The National Zoo hosts a regular kids' farm where touching is not only allowed but encouraged. "Every time a visitor grooms a miniature donkey or pats a cow's head, they are serving as living enrichment for the animals," reads the zoo's website, which also reminds visitors to wash their hands after touching the animals.

Pop-up petting zoos are not unknown in the city either. In August, while the Congressional Cemetery was fighting horn and hoof for permission to hold a goat yoga class, the D.C. neighborhood of Mt. Vernon Square was able to host its second annual petting zoo—goats included—without incident.

It's possible that the "no touch" policy makes some sort of exemption for these petting zoos, but I could find no text of the actual policy to verify this, let alone justify it.

Williams said he was never provided a copy of this rule, saying health department officials told him it was an "internal policy." The D.C. Department of Health did not respond to Reason's request for comment on the matter, and I could find nothing in the city's rules of prohibited conduct regarding animals, nor the city's general rules regarding animals, that dealt with the issue.

Whatever the provisions of this mystery policy, there will be no goat yoga in D.C. for the foreseeable future.

"There no legitimate, logical reason for it," says Cervantes. "We can do it literally down the street in Virginia, but we can't do it Washington, D.C. It just seems really bizarre."