HOUSTON (AP) — Willy the rodeo goat, who has lassoed the hearts of residents in a rural South Texas county ever since she escaped from an arena enclosure July 15, has been found.
The elusive goat had hidden in sugar cane and corn fields, avoiding capture for weeks in Willacy County, about 300 miles (483 km) southwest of Houston. Residents searched for her on horses, all-terrain vehicles and by drone. Local businesses aided the search by donating 90 prizes and gifts worth $5,000 in total — including brisket, bales of hay and beef jerky — to be given to whoever found her.
Ricardo Rojas III didn’t have to go far to find Willy. He and a friend caught the slippery goat on Monday in his backyard, about 1 mile (1.6 km) away from where she escaped.
The 16-year-old high school junior and family friend Sammy Ambriz were fixing animal stalls on the teenager’s 10-acre (4-hectare) family property located between Raymondville and Lyford in deep South Texas when there was a Willy sighting.
Neighbors had possibly seen the goat, so Rojas’ father told him to grab some ropes. Rojas used one of his family’s goats and its cries to try and lure Willy out of the heavily wooded area behind his family’s property.
They soon spotted Willy coming out of the woods and chased her when she ran back into the trees, Rojas said. They cornered her, and both Rojas and Ambriz unsuccessfully tried to lasso Willy.
“And then she started to run again. But luckily, we had a fence that was there, and she tried to hop the fence, but then her head got stuck in the fence,” Rojas said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Me and Sammy jumped on top of her. At that point, she wasn’t going nowhere.”
Alison Savage, president of the Willacy County Livestock Show and Fair, said they believed Willy was getting enough to eat and drink while she was on the lam but worried that predators, including coyotes, might get her.
“We had her checked over just to make sure that she is getting healthy,” Savage said. “We plan to let ol’ Miss Willy lead a very sweet life going forward.”
When Willy first escaped, she hadn’t yet been named. During the search, the livestock show had been posting updates on its Facebook page, and an online poll on the page christened her Willy. Officials had not been sure whether Willy was a boy or girl, Savage said.
People from around the U.S. had reached out asking for updates and sending their wishes for Willy’s safe return.
The search also brought together many of Willacy County’s 20,000 residents, many who grow crops and raise livestock, as families went out to search for Willy.
“I think it was very awesome that everybody was working together to try to find her,” said Rojas, who is splitting the prizes with Ambriz.
The search has also been a boon for the livestock show; residents and businesses donated hundreds of dollars to make improvements to the nonprofit’s arena and other facilities.
“Even a little rodeo goat is important and has shown us and taught us that we need to look after each other,” Savage said, “and we need to take care of one another, and together, there’s pretty much nothing we can’t do.”
Follow Juan A. Lozano on the X platform: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70