On a warm September evening, a dozen members of the U.S. Naval Academy leadership, including the Commandant of Midshipmen, were gathered on an expansive lawn, anticipating the arrival of the guests of honor.
Those guests? A pair of young goats, Bill 35 and Bill 36, the new mascots for the Academy football team.
At the precise moment the “mascots-in-training” were to make their grand appearance, Bill 36 was delayed. He was straining to urinate.
So in the midst of hosting the festivities, his caregivers started calling veterinarians. None could get to the Maryland farm quickly, and it was recommended Bill 36 be taken to a hospital.
“We left a house full of party guests, and headed out to New Bolton Center,” said the caregiver. “We took Bill 35 with us, too, as they had only been with us a few weeks, and we felt he needed his wingman.”
The caregiver and the location of his farm are Naval secrets, as the mascots are often the targets of high jinks, usually by prankster cadets from rival West Point. The Army-Navy Football Game is one of the most historic and storied rivalries in sports. The 116th meeting will be played Saturday, December 12, in Philadelphia.
New Bolton Center’s Dr. Holly Stewart, a third-year Surgery Resident, had a good idea of the diagnosis, given the symptoms described by the caregiver. “I suspected obstructive urolithiasis,” she said. Some feeds, such as grain, cause mineral stones that can block the urethra, especially in male goats.
Stewart greeted the goats as they arrived on emergency around midnight. An ultrasound showed Bill 36’s bladder was enlarged, but intact. A rectal exam revealed a pulsating urethra as the goat strained to urinate, another hallmark of urolithiasis.
“Emergency surgery is the only treatment option,” Stewart said. “This condition cannot be managed medically.”
During surgery, Stewart removed the necrotic tissue that had turned black at the end of the penis. She made an incision in the goat’s abdomen, opened up his bladder and removed mineral stones, flushing the urethra back and forth to make sure it was clear.
“As soon as we removed the stones, he was able to urinate,” Stewart said. “He recovered perfectly.” Bill 36 was given several medications, including an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory.
Both Bills are full of personality, “very interactive and curious, jumping up on the stall door to greet us,” Stewart said, adding that Bill 36 is “definitely the alpha.”
Three weeks after the emergency surgery, both Bills were castrated, and are now wethers. “They both did perfectly. All of the incisions looked great and we had no concerns,” Stewart said. “They were discharged without a problem.”
Continuing a colorful tradition dating back to the fourth Army-Navy game in 1883, these 18-month-old Angora goat brothers donated by a Texas rancher are destined to replace the current pair: Bill 33 and Bill 34, at nearly 10 years old, are near retirement. (All but three of the Navy goat mascots have been named Bill, the first in 1900.)
Before taking over, the young pair is going through training, including walking on a leash, learning to trust humans, and learning to withstand crowds, kids, and even ceremonial cannon fire.
Team Bill, a group of a dozen midshipmen, accompany the goats when they appear at home games, bowl games, and the famous Army-Navy Game. The goats made their debut, wearing blue-and-gold blankets, on October 3 at the Navy-Air Force football game, and were treated like “rock stars,” the caregiver said.
But a month later, Bill 36 had another medical emergency.
One evening in early November, he was hiding, drooling, regurgitating, and just “not right,” the caregiver said. “It was nearly midnight, and he started to have labored breathing,” he continued. “We realized we had to get him to New Bolton, so we called to say we were on our way.”
Awaiting them at 3:00 am was Dr. Holly Roessner, an intern, supervised by Dr. Louise Southwood, a surgeon and Emergency and Critical Care specialist.
“During the questioning, we discovered that Bill 36 could have possibly ingested azalea leaves, which are toxic to goats,” Roessner said, because the caretakers have an azalea bush at their house.
While under examination, Bill 36 went from quiet to lethargic, and vomited several times. IV fluids were started immediately. Blood tests showed electrolyte abnormalities and acidosis, consistent with azalea poisoning.
Roessner passed a orogastric tube into his rumen and poured in activated charcoal, which absorbs the toxins, preventing entrance to the bloodstream. “We put him in a stall to keep watch,” Roessner said. “A couple of hours later, he had stopped vomiting, but he still looked pretty sad.”
The kidney function was still not optimal, so they continued IV fluids. Other medications included an antibiotic to prevent pneumonia from possible aspiration while vomiting, and an acid suppressant to prevent gastric ulcers.
Dr. Raymond Sweeney, New Bolton Center Chief of Medicine and Ophthalmology, took over supervising the case in the morning. Because Bill 36 was grinding his teeth and clearly uncomfortable, they decided to administer a painkiller.
“The analgesic changed his attitude drastically,” Roessner said. Bill 36 perked up and climbed on his gate, clearly excited to have people come to see him.
Sweeney said azaleas, rhododendrons, and the Pennsylvania state flower, the Mountain Laurel, all contain grayanotoxin, which can cause not only gastrointestinal upset in goats, but also heart arrhythmia and seizures.
“The more they eat, the more likely they will die from it,” Sweeney said. If eaten in a larger quantity, surgery is required to remove the plants from the rumen.
Bill 36 recovered without incident just on medical treatment. “I was very happy with how quickly he rebounded,” Roessner said.
“We have been so impressed with the people of New Bolton Center. Everyone is so respectful, courteous, professional,” said the caregiver. “We felt like we were with family when we came.”
All the Bills are scheduled to appear in Philadelphia at the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia. “People love to see the four goats together,” the caregiver said. “Especially the young mascots-in-training in their special Navy coats.”