Craig and Lisa Balunsat are weighing their options after losing a last-ditch effort to keep their pet goat Tuesday night.
The family, which under the law doesn't own enough land to keep farm animals, has two months to get rid of the goat or appeal the case to circuit court after the county zoning board denied the Balunsat's appeal Tuesday night.
Craig Balunsat said he is not sure what he will do with the goat called Snowbird, but mentioned that several people have offered to board the goat for the family.
"At least we have some options, and thank goodness we have a few months to deal with that because we don't want to have to make a rash decision," said Balunsat, who was also ordered to get rid of his chickens and ducks. "We want to choose the best place for her."
Under county zoning code, residents cannot raise or house animals other than dogs or cats unless they have at least one acre of property.
The Balunsats' property, on Basil Avenue near Bohemia Manor High School outside Chesapeake City, is three-quarters of an acre.
Before making its ruling, the zoning board heard more than an hour of impassioned testimony from 10 people, including five members of the Balunsat family.
"If we tell Snowbird she has to move, this is the only home she's ever known, so it will cause her a lot of pain," said Balunsat, who also owns 18 other animals, including ducks, chickens, cats and dogs.
The Balunsats have had the goat for less than a year and often allow her to come inside the house. A county code inspector cited the family last month for having the goat and other farm animals.
"It's almost like I'm losing part of myself or my family," Balunsat said.
The Balunsats' granddaughter, Sabrina Ricca, 11, described what Snowbird means to her and her sisters.
"We love her very much, and everything," Sabrina said "We love her like she's our new baby sister. We love her like she's our family."
Cynthia Levario, of Port Deposit, fought back tears as she described her own goats, which she was recently forced to give up due to zoning restrictions. She said she heard about the Balunsats' story and came to testify in hope they would not have to go through the same experience she did.
"This so bothered me when I heard this," Levario said. "I'm so emotional about this because they were my pets."
No one spoke in opposition to Snowbird, though the county's initial citation was sparked by a complaint from a neighbor.
The board deliberated for a little less than 10 minutes and returned a 3-1 decision against the Balunsats. Only Maria Mastrippolito voted in favor of the family.
David Willis, chairman of the board, said afterward that while he is sympathetic to the family, the board has to follow the law. He suggested the Balunsats talk to the county commissioners about amending the law
"It's black and white," said Willis, who did not vote because the chairman serves only as a tiebreaking vote. "You have to have an acre. If we allowed something like this, it would open a Pandora's box."
When the ruling was read, several of the Balunsat grandchildren in attendance began crying and were comforted by Craig and Lisa.
"But we're still going to fight," Sabrina said, choking back tears.
Balunsat said he hopes that he can find a way to keep Snowbird.
"It may not be anytime soon, but it's something worth fighting for," he said.
He said he does not have the money to pay for a court fight, but plans to ask county commissioners to amend the law.
Commissioners Jim Mullin and Tari Moore said Wednesday they would be willing to meet with the Balunsats to discuss amending the law, but could not comment specifically before examining the issue more closely.
"You have to look at why that (law) was put into effect and how to do right by everybody," Moore said.
Follow reporter Josh Shannon on Twitter: @Josh_CecilWhig