A year ago, on a stretch of interstate in Indiana, a transport truck carrying 34 cattle crashed into another vehicle and burst into flames. Eighteen cattle perished in the wrecked trailer. Others found a way out only to collapse on the road and lie slowly dying from their wounds. A second truck soon arrived to take the survivors to their original destination – the slaughterhouse. All still on their feet were rounded up – all except one. A 2-year-old Holstein bull horribly burned but determined to live, took off running. He led authorities on a 12-hour chase before he was finally captured and taken to a local animal shelter. With area residents campaigning for his life to be spared, custody of the bull was relinquished to Farm Sanctuary, and our Emergency Rescue Team rushed him from Indiana to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals.
There he stayed for over a month. The bull, who we named Jay, was covered in burns from head to hoof, some down to the muscle. Having demonstrated tremendous will through his escape, Jay proved his mettle again during his long hospitalization, remaining in high spirits despite his painful injuries.
The affable personality of our new friend, now a steer, burgeoned further at the sanctuary, where we continued his treatment. Though he had to stay in a private stall to heal during his first months, he made many friends over the wall, exchanging sniffs and kisses. When he was well enough, we were able to give him some outdoor time but, because his skin was still so fragile, had to coat him with plenty of sunscreen. We let him out into the small pasture beside his stall, where he would run along the fence he shared with the other cattle, mooing to them and bucking playfully when he saw the whole herd.
Male cattle intended for beef are typically castrated (making them steers) at a young age. Since Jay and the others in the truck with him were still un-castrated males (or bulls) at around two years old, we suspect that they had been raised and kept as donors for artificial insemination, the predominant method of impregnation on dairies – and yet another manifestation of the industry’s reductive insistence on efficiency, which demands that participants isolate useful parts and products of an animal rather than deal with the whole creature and his natural behaviors. Likely raised in an artificial insemination facility, Jay was probably never allowed out on pasture before coming to us. He was clearly delighted to be outdoors.
Finally, after three months, Jay was well enough to join the herd. He immediately began rough-housing with the other steers, a way that cattle establish rank. His confrontations were mostly playful, and it appeared that he wasn’t interested in being high in the pecking order. He really just wanted to be part of the group. That group included another young Holstein named Lilli, who immediately caught Jay’s eye. He fell madly in love with her, and the two remain best friends.
During the winter, we keep the cattle off the high pasture, which can become precariously icy. In the spring, they are allowed to return. As Jay walked up the hill among his herd mates for the first time, he mooed with excitement, adding his voice to the chorus of our most outspoken cattle, Hazel, Travolta, Moo, and Ashley. Arrived in the wide, lush pasture, he began to buck and frolic with all his new friends. He was in heaven.
This week we celebrate the one-year anniversary of Jay’s arrival. He is an amazing animal. He persevered through terror and pain most of us can’t even imagine, and though he still has scars from his ordeal and requires daily sunscreen treatments to keep his skin from burning in the areas where hair will never grow back, he has came out the other side happy and generally healthy. I am awed not only by his escape from the devastation of the accident and his physical recovery from its profound wounds but also by his emotional resilience. Like many of his fellow rescued farm animals, Jay has overcome a traumatic past to live a rich life and to enrich the lives of those around him. He has come to be defined not by his vulnerability to pain but by his capacity for joy.