How many times has a cow been offered the key to the city by the mayor? Or offered a mascot gig at a bank and a part in a “holy cow” TV ad for prime rate equity loans? Or been the subject of an 11-day man- — er — cow-hunt?
Once, in early 2002. An athletic white Charolais cow escaped from the Ken Meyer Meats stockyard by standing on another cow’s back to leap a fence, then crossed an interstate overpass and ended up three miles away in a 57-acre park too thickly wooded to shoot her with a tranquillizer dart. The hunt was on, as it then was for Osama bin Laden. A local radio DJ dubbed this cow Moosama.
The sheriff flew a helicopter with thermal imaging cameras. TV stations set up an aerial “cow cam” to track her. SPCA workers, park rangers, police, and the Dept. of Natural Resources strategized. They set out food and water, installed a sharpshooter with tranquilizer darts, enlisted cowboys on horseback and unleashed the hounds. But Moosama fled whenever the law got within 100 yards.
The people were on her side. Residents in a high-rise overlooking the woods watched from balconies as she peacefully drank from a fish pond and foraged through the undergrowth. When they saw the law closing in, they chanted, “run, run, run!”
On day 11, cow decoys (including a bull) were installed in a makeshift corral with grain, hay and molasses. When hungry Moosama took the bait, two men lassoed her but she bolted, dragging them by the rope down a hill and through a neighbor’s yard until a tranquilizer dart finally got her. In her drugged state, she was loaded into a trailer.
Bowing to public opinion, officials declared she’d earned the right to live. Still, everyone wanted a piece of her. She was all set to be in the Cincinnati Reds’ opening day parade but went nuts when stuck inside yet another trailer. Opportunities abounded — Reds owner Marge Schott invited her to live on her estate; a “Survivor” TV show contestant wanted her on his farm.
But artist Peter Max offered the winning deal, won in part by giving the city some artwork and rewarding the SPCA for their compassionate work. He redubbed her Cincinnati Freedom and took her to his New York Farm Sanctuary where resident cows greeted her with face licks. She became besties with other slaughterhouse escapees — Queenie, Annie Dodge and Maxine. They whiled away days together grazing, lying in the sun and chewing their cud.
Finally in 2008, weak from terminal spinal cancer, unable to walk, she was comforted by the herd that gathered around her, one licking her face, another licking her back, keeping her calm as she was euthanized until she took her final breath. Then every member of the herd came to say goodbye.
There’s much to marvel at in this story, not least the ingenuity of a cow scaling a fence and running through city streets until finding a woods and ending up with cohorts who’d escaped similar fates. People cheered this fugitive for her heroic will to live, undefeated by the system that had pre-determined her fate, and with the courage and fortitude to outwit beings with way more resources than she had.
I think we’d all like to know people like that.