• There’s More Than One Way to Stop a Loose Cow Than a Gun

    by Debra DeAngelo

    Everything you need to know about the difference between country folk and city folk can be found in the tragic story of a pregnant cow shot to death by a police officer at the California State Fair on July 27. According to a story on the Sacramento Bee website, the 1,200 pound cow was part of a UC Davis birthing exhibit and had just been hauled to the fairgrounds where she was expected to give birth imminently in the Livestock Nursery program.

    Those of us who have given birth can empathize with the cow’s reaction to being hauled anywhere in the last days of pregnancy. If the cow wasn’t in labor when she got into the trailer, she might’ve been after being hauled to a strange, noisy environment. And boys, there’s a reason it’s called “labor.” It ain’t easy, and it ain’t fun. Under those circumstances, what mother – even one with two legs – might get a little irritable?

    The cow became understandably agitated, got loose from her handlers and ended up on the midway where the loud noises and flashing lights surely propelled her from agitated to terrified. The Bee headline declares the cow was “rampaging.” She wasn’t rampaging. Rampaging implies she was hell-bent on running down as many people as she could, as circus elephants do when the stress from years of abuse finally makes them snap. This cow wasn’t rampaging. She was scared out of her wits.

    Fair and veterinary officials chased the cow around for an hour and a half, along with police officers. They corralled her with crowd control barriers, which are basically aluminum sawhorses and of course, she escaped again.

    Thankfully, the fair wasn’t open yet, because a terrified cow galloping down the midway could’ve been disastrous. However, the Bee story notes that “several thousand of the fair’s 10,000 employees were setting up shop on the grounds,” implying that the cow endangered them all. Bull.

    The cow couldn’t endanger them all at once unless it was armed with a nuclear warhead. Only the handful of employees in the immediate vicinity were potentially in harm’s way. Why didn’t fair officials simply announce over the loudspeaker, “Attention all midway employees: Proceed to the nearest exit immediately. This is not a drill.” Surely they’ve had fire drills. And even if they hadn’t, any employee too stupid to understand that message is too stupid to get out of the way when a frantic cow is barreling towards him and deserves to get run over anyway. It’s called natural selection, and it’s good for the gene pool.

    The story also mentions “youngsters nearby, caring for their own livestock” implying that the wide-eyed babes were in imminent peril. Now, these weren’t just any youngsters. Those kids are seasoned 4-H and FFA members. Any one of those kids from the cattle barn would’ve known immediately what to do, had they been asked. Loose animals are routine for them.

    I know this because I grew up around horses, clad in cutoffs and cowboy boots long before Ke$ha turned them into a fashion statement, and I know that horses are really good at getting loose, and often when frightened. It doesn’t take long before you learn how to deal with a loose, frightened animal when all else fails: herd it into a corral or pen.

    Now, in an entire fairgrounds full of animals, stables, arenas and a rodeo arena, do you suppose there was a better place to herd a cow than a makeshift circle of crowd control barriers that couldn’t contain a billy goat? And, with a stable of horses on the grounds, and surely a rider or two handy, mightn’t a few have been called in on horseback to assist?

    Beyond the showhorse barn (which includes professional cutting horses and riders, who chase cows for fun) there’s a rodeo arena on the fairgrounds, with professional rodeo riders who could’ve lassoed the cow in about eight seconds flat. It’s what they do for a living. Mightn’t one of them have been tapped?

    It gets worse. On the Cal Expo backstretch, there’s an entire world of racehorse stables. Besides the racehorses, there are “pony” riders, all experienced in escorting nervous, wild-eyed Thoroughbreds to the starting gate, and capturing them should they bolt and toss their jockeys off. One emergency announcement on the backstretch loudspeaker could have had several pony riders on the spot in about 10 minutes. But, as we’ve established, fair officials aren’t trained to work the loudspeakers.

    Let’s recap: Between the youth and professional livestock owners, equestrians, rodeo cowboys and backstretch horsemen and women, there was a grotesque abundance of country folk on site who know how to handle a large, loose, frightened animal. But the city folk decided to handle this situation their own way: Just shoot it. The Bee article says the cow was “euthanized.” It was not “euthanized.” It was shot dead. And its unborn calf died with it. Just one phone call to the backstretch or rodeo barn, and the story of a loose cow on the midway might have been funny rather than tragic.

    Besides the questionable practice of forcing an animal to give birth in such stressful situations (have you people ever heard of video?), the cluelessness of fair officials and the ham-headed police response, the other thing that jumps out from this story is that although veterinary staff and students learn all about animal biology and anatomy, and medicines and syringes, they’re poorly trained on handling livestock. Maybe the veterinary school should bring in a few kids in cutoffs and cowboy boots to teach them what to do when the livestock gets loose.

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