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The owner of a herd of goats under the care of Sonoma County Animal Control has filed suit demanding the return of the animals, but the county says all but a handful have been adopted by new owners.

Ken Zamvil, operator of Goat Rescue of Sonoma County, insists that the goats were taken to the shelter without his permission — "stolen," he alleges in the lawsuit — in the wake of a dispute with the property owner where the animals were being kept.

"I just want those animals back," he said Wednesday. "We're worried about their lives."

But a Sonoma County judge on Tuesday denied his request to halt the adoptions, which were featured in a July 29 article in The Press Democrat. The county said that 21 of the 29 goats have been placed in new homes. Seven others remain under medical treatment and one died, although it is not yet clear why, said Sandra Lupien, communications and outreach manager for the county Animal Care and Control Department.

While the herd was in generally good condition when it arrived, county Shelter Supervisor Cathy McCafferty said, four proved to have the parasite coccidia and were suffering from diarrhea. It was one of the infected animals that died and the body was sent to U.C. Davis for testing to determine the precise cause.

The other three have recovered and will be put up for adoption when they have regained some weight.

One other animal is suspected of carrying the caprine arthritis encephalitis virus and is undergoing tests.

Three other animals are the offspring of the goats still under treatment and are being housed with their parents, McCafferty said.

Animal control intend to put all seven up for adoption once they are healthy and strong enough.

Zamvil vehemently denies that he neglected the animals, saying in his lawsuit that they were being fed regularly and treated with various medications, including one for the parasite.

Lupien declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit, but said animal control officials had a "long history" with Zamvil and wife Nancy Brotman.

The pair founded the animal rescue at their home in Penngrove in 2007 and the herd at times included more than 100 animals. Neighbors complained about noise, smell, and occasional loose animals. County officials visited the home dozens of times, according to Zamvil, though he said the neighbors' complaints were exaggerated or fabricated.

The couple subsequently lost the home to foreclosure in 2012, at the same time the county ordered them to stop keeping livestock on the property.

Since then, Zamvil said, the rescue operation has continued, with goats kept in various locations. The herd that was adopted out this week was part of a group of 73 that since mid-May had been at a property on Inverness Road near Santa Rosa, where the owner wanted them to graze and keep down brush and tall grass.

According to the lawsuit, the owner began asking Zamvil to remove the goats in June. Zamvil removed some but was unable to find an alternative home for the last 29 animals.

On July 2, the property owner, who could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, contacted county Animal Control complaining that there were sick and unattended goats in the herd. County officials visited and removed four goats — three that appeared to be ill and a newborn that needed to remain with its mother.

Several days later, the property owner delivered the remaining goats to the shelter.

County officials told Zamvil that he could have the animals back if he paid $2,449 in fees, plus the cost of veterinary care. When he did not do so by July 23, they moved to find new homes for the goats.

The case is now set for a hearing on Dec. 5, but Zamvil said he will return to court soon and seek quicker action.

(You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or sean.scully@pressdemocrat.com.)