An as-yet-unidentified goat rustler stole the better part of a Wasilla woman's herd this week, and now Alaska State Troopers and hundreds of Facebook followers are on the case.
Whoever took Rayna Fritcher's dairy goats -- 10 Nubians and 10 Nigerian dwarfs with unique tattoos in their ears, she said -- broke into Fritcher's barn sometime between 3 p.m. Sunday and 8 a.m. Monday, according to troopers.
The thief also took 15 chickens, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
"(It) appears someone gained entry by an unsecured barn stall and opened a roll-up door to herd the goats into a vehicle or trailer," Peters said.
Fritcher said she was away for much of Sunday night and did not notice her livestock missing until Monday morning. The goats are worth at least $9,000 altogether, some of them shipped up from the Lower 48, but the chickens will be easy to replace, she said. Adding insult to injury, four pregnant females that the thief left behind dropped stillborn kids, likely because of the stress of being chased, Fritcher said.
"It's bad enough to have 20 goats disappear, but to walk in and find six dead babies is pretty traumatic," Fritcher said. "It's heartbreaking."
Fritcher's friend, also a goat owner, created a Facebook page called "Find Rayna's goats." The page had about 700 people following it as of midday Friday, many of whom had shared Fritcher's story on their own Facebook pages.
Meantime, the official investigation continues.
Peters said troopers received the initial report on the goat theft Wednesday. On Thursday, a trooper visited Fritcher's barn, asked questions and took pictures of the crime scene. It was clear that the goats did not escape on their own, Peters said.
"While this isn't the first kidnapping case that has come across my desk, it is the first one involving this type of kids," Peters said. "We get a lot of interesting cases in Alaska. However, this is the first one that I can think of that involves someone stealing a number of goats and chickens."
Fritcher said she's worried that someone might have stolen the goats to eat. Fritcher has been checking with local butchers in case the thief or their accomplice brings in one of her goats.
"It would be devastating to me if those goats had gone to a slaughterhouse or were butchered for personal consumption, because their value is far beyond the meat on their body," Fritcher said. "And, I mean, not just monetarily, but most of them were very sweet goats, very friendly. Some of them were babies that are now 1 and 2 years old that I raised off of a bottle. I'm very close to them."
When she was young, Fritcher's family got a goat to keep their horses company, she said. Fritcher's fondness for goats continued into adulthood, so when she moved from Anchorage to Wasilla in 2004, she got two of them.
"I always thought they were interesting little animals. They're fun, they have a lot of character. They're a lot like dogs but they live in a barn," Fritcher said. "I have a saying, 'Goats are like potato chips -- you can't have just two.' "
Plus, Fritcher said, she wanted a herd big enough to produce enough milk to make cheese. (It takes about a gallon of goat milk to make enough ricotta cheese for a normal-sized lasagna, she said.) So Fritcher bought more goats and bred some, becoming more involved in the small Alaska goat-breeding community, she said. Many of her stolen goats have been on exhibit at the Alaska State Fair.
Fritcher's friend and the Facebook page administrator, Heather Fair, said she wanted to spread the word as quickly as possible. Fritcher would be busy helping with the troopers' theft investigation, and spreading pictures of the goats publicly could help, Fair said.
"It's amazing the reach you can get, for almost no cost except your time," Fair said. "Obviously, she's heartbroken. These are her babies. She's poured her heart and soul into these animals. It's devastating for her."
Peters, the troopers spokeswoman, said anyone with tips can call troopers in Wasilla at 907-373-8300. Fritcher has asked that any such information go directly to her, perhaps via the Facebook page, so she can check leads that might bog down the troopers' investigation. She has also offered to end her pursuit of the goat thief if her animals are returned unharmed.
There are not as many goat owners in Alaska as in other parts of the country, and it's highly unlikely that the thief will try to move the goats out of the state, Fritcher said. That many goats would not be easy to hide, she said.
"For somebody to take that many of them, it's hard to believe somebody hasn't seen something. I mean, 20 goats don't just up and disappear without somebody noticing something," Fritcher said.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
Facebook: Find Rayna's Goats
By CASEY GROVE