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The promise of a pound of brisket for the safe return of a missing goat has ballooned into a full-scale search effort, capturing the attention of many throughout the Rio Grande Valley and throughout the state.
Willy, as the goat is affectionately called, has been on the run since the early morning hours of Sunday, July 16 following a Willacy County Riders N Ropers competition Saturday evening.
The event is a youth rodeo that features barrel races, pole bending, breakaway roping and shoot roping, as well as goat tying.
Veronica Herrera, who sits on the Willacy County Livestock Show Board and produces the Riders N Ropers organization, had picked up the goats Saturday afternoon for the goat tying event and brought them to the arena.
Coincidentally, her son tied Willy when he competed in the goat tying event.
“Our youth rodeo event went till 1:30 in the morning that Saturday, and so after that we started packing up, you know, loading things,” Herrera recalled. “My kids were on goat-loading duty and they noticed there was four goats instead of the five that we had brought.”
She explained that the holding pen that held the goats is actually meant to hold cattle.
“There’s like one pen that has a fence small enough to house goats in it, but I guess he slipped through a door or gate or something, and he escaped,” she continued. “He saw his chance and took off and we didn’t notice till the end of the night.”
A search ensued for the runaway goat, which was sighted running down the I-69, then back at the showgrounds before disappearing again.
“There’s a couple of patches of tall grass and little trees and stuff that are bunched together, so I don’t know if it was just hiding or maybe it had slipped back out while we were driving around in the dark or whatnot, and it was gone,” Herrera said.
Since then, volunteers have joined in the search for the missing goat, with some individuals even utilizing drones with infrared capabilities.
The search really blew up when Los Gordos BBQ, a local barbecue team, offered a reward of brisket and a slab of ribs for whoever finds Willy.
“They put it on Facebook, we start sharing it, the stock show shares it, Willacy County Riders N Ropers shares it, Los Gordos share it, and from there it just went nuts,” Herrera said.
“It was my sister-in-law’s idea to do the reward,” Los Gordo’s BBQ Owner Cody Nieto said. “We had asked her, ‘Well, if we put a reward on it, you think somebody would help you catch it?’ And she’s like, ‘Well, that’s a good idea.’ We tried it and more people got involved. The prizes kept piling up.”
Over seven dozen businesses have pitched in to incentivize volunteers in the hopes that Willy is found and returned safe and sound. So many rewards have been offered, in fact, that the Willacy County Livestock Show had to put a cap on the number of reward donations.
“The prize pool is amazing!!! And it was super cool to see it grow to the size that it is… and we can’t wait to see all those amazing things awarded to the finder of Willy,” a post on the livestock show’s Facebook page read. “However, our wise goat advisors alerted us that some folks were talking about finding Willy and holding him while the prize pool continued to grow.”
The search for Willy has captured the attention of folks in and out of the Rio Grande Valley, with memes and stories being shared throughout social media platforms, as well as state and national news outlets picking up on the hoopla surrounding the missing brown goat.
“A lot of people have been going and liking our Facebook page and stuff like that,” Nieto said, describing the effect Willy is already producing for his upstart business. “We just appreciate everybody’s help and all the small businesses that got involved to increase the reward and stuff like that.”
Herrera added that on top of the support and interest generated by the search for Willy, there has also been an influx of support being offered to the Willacy County Livestock Show, which until recently has begun to expand outside of Willacy County.
“We have businesses reaching out saying, ‘Hey, we want to help y’all fix the arena. We want to help goat-proof the holding pens so future goats don’t get loose,’” Herrera said. “We’re so overwhelmed.”
“All of a sudden, this little goat shows up and is kinda like, ‘Watch this’ and just takes us to a whole other level,” she continued. “We’ve gotten so much attention and the stock show has gotten so much attention, and I don’t know, everybody’s just like, so invested in this goat.”
Anyone who happens to find and capture Willy, safely, is encouraged to contact the Willacy County Livestock Show Facebook page.