The Girl and the Sheep Who Took the Town (and Homecoming Court) by Storm

Esther the goat was loved as a daughter and treated as a queen.

Editor’s Note: America’s Best Pet Pals is a nationwide search for the animal friendships that make you laugh, cry, and purr. Reader’s Digest will be honoring the best in pet friendship in print, online, and on social media. This is a finalist in our “People to Animals” category. Scroll to the bottom to cast your vote for Grace and Esther. To see our full list of finalists, go to rd.com/petpals and vote in each category.

I woke up at 3 a.m. the night Esther came to live with us. I stood at the top of the stairs listening to her bleating. Esther was a day-old, orphaned lamb. Bum lambs, as they’re called, only have a 50-50 chance of living through their first night. I grew anxious hearing silence from the basement.

“Oh no, oh no,” I thought, “Grace will be devastated.” Though new in our home, Esther was already very established in my daughter’s heart.

I zipped down the stairs, fearing the worst. I apprehensively approached the enclosure Grace built for Esther on our basement floor. There, nestled in the straw, sleeping peacefully with baby Esther was teenage Grace. No wonder the lamb was not bleating; she had found a mama.

Grace sleeping with the baby goatCourtesy Teresa Hislop

Grace and Esther slept together for the next month. They moved from straw on the floor to sheets on the bed, which Grace washed daily. Grace convinced her teacher to let Esther go to school with her, and her parents to let Esther go to Las Vegas with her on family vacation. Oddities are the norm in Las Vegas but seeing baby Esther strolling the boulevard was cause for more than one photo with a stranger.

Esther, biologically a Merino sheep, considers herself a human. Grace’s human, to be exact. She’d enter the house at will, jumping through an open window if no one was gracious enough to open the door for her. She was Grace’s shadow—and echo. When Grace left (heaven forbid!) and later returned, all Grace had to do was “baaaaa” and Esther would come running, bleating her response.

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Grace on stage with Esther the goat at HomecomingCourtesy Teresa Hislop

Little Esther soon became Big Esther, though she was always Grace’s baby. Once, Grace dressed her in a red cloak and took her trick-or-treating as Little Red Riding Hood. The neighbors invited both of them inside where Esther nibbled on their geraniums and headbutted their standard poodle.

Grace and Esther were a common sight on the streets of Roy, Utah—and the halls of Roy High. Most homecoming queen candidates choose boyfriends, brothers, or fathers to escort them across the stage. Grace chose Esther. As if bringing a wooly friend into the auditorium wasn’t risky enough, Grace left Esther with a student body officer on the other side of the stage, then instructed the officer to let her go. A sheep loose on a stage in front of 600 high school students—what could possibly go wrong? Esther performed like the queen she was. Grace “baaaa-ed” at Esther. Esther “baaaa-ed” back. The two happily met at center stage.

Big Esther became Mama Esther, and what a mama she was! Tough and tender, she was not afraid to knock any non-sheep, non-Grace thing that came too close. Still, she was gentle as a lamb when nuzzling her babies. During her second pregnancy, we almost lost her, but she rebounded the next year and had triplets named Sam, Sarah, and Sariah.

Grace hugs her goat, EstherCourtesy Teresa Hislop

Grace had moved to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah. Esther may have been out of sight, but she was never out of her heart. Grace would often tell me, “I came to Roy last night but didn’t go in the house. I just needed an Esther fix, so I went to the pasture and hung out with her for an hour.” Also, I say Esther was out of sight, but that’s only partially correct. Everyone in Grace’s apartment sports at least one photo, painting, or stuffed animal likeness of Esther.

Theirs was a love affair to remember, and in February 2021 it became just that. Their love changed from an active, hands and hugs-on relationship to a thing to remember when Esther died of birthing complications.

Families are forever, and Esther is family. She is waiting for Grace on the other side of the veil that separates this life from the one to come. When Grace passes through she will “baaaa” and Esther will “baaaa” and they’ll run to each other, happily meeting in the middle.