Animal shelters are more than just cats and dogs

posted by Julie Bank - President and CEO of Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA - 

Portrait Of A Cow On Landscape

Photo Credit: Getty Images

When we think of animals in Southern California, our minds generally conjure up images of domestic animals, like dogs and cats, wild critters and the occasional horse.  For communities outside the area, however, the picture often turns to farm animals as there are many chickens, pigs and cows living and being cared for in rural communities. Unfortunately, just like dogs and cats, we find these animals neglected and in need of intervention from rescue organizations.

Prior to moving to the area a year ago, I lived and worked in Oklahoma City where we saw thousands of farm animals that needed to be rescued. Now, as a person who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, I didn’t have much training around these types of animals. This was pretty apparent one day when the shelter I was working at received a call about a herd of wild cows that needed help. They were in an open field with no food, water, shade or medical care. Knowing that this situation needed all hands on deck, I offered to go with the animal control officers.  I was pretty confident about my handling skills and thought how hard it could be to wrangle a cow? We arrived on scene to find 40 Limousin cows who were pretty angry. They had never been handled and were stressed by our arrival. Like a scene out of the old TV show Green Acres, I tried to be of assistance in their rescue, but I was just getting in the way. When the lead officer caught me in the corner trying to lure one of the cows to me by snapping my fingers and making kissing noises, he politely gave me a paperwork job and got me out of harm’s way.  I was incredibly impressed with the skill of the officers as they safely and humanely loaded the cows up and transported them back to the shelter for immediate attention and care. The owner of the cows was charged with animal neglect and we ended up keeping them for over a month as the case progressed.

I would regularly visit the cows at the shelter and immediately realized that one of the cows was different than the rest. She looked different and certainly had a different attitude. While the rest of the cows wanted nothing to do with people and even charged the staff when they came near them, this Heifer wanted to be around people. Cow Dog, as the staff named her, followed the staff around like a puppy dog. All she wanted to do was to be near people, touched and hugged. More than once, I saw Cow Dog lick the face of her handler. Maybe she was part of a child’s 4-H project or was a family pet? Whatever it was, she was clearly happy around people. We will never know how she ended up part of a feral family of cows.

So when the time came to release the cows to their new owner, everyone was concerned about Cow Dog. We knew that the rest of the herd was probably going to be fattened up and sold for meat, but the staff had grown so attached to Cow Dog and they wanted her saved.  I figured it didn’t hurt to try to plead her case. I called all of the attorneys and remarkably they all agreed to leave her behind when the others were picked up and loaded on the transport vehicle.

“Now what am I going to do with Cow Dog?” I thought. Out of the blue, two days later, we received a call from one of our rescue partners who had just opened up a therapeutic- horseback riding center to work with at-risk and disabled youth. They happened to be looking for a cow that could be used for therapy work and wanted to know if we could refer them someone to help! Cow Dog was promptly transferred and began her job of making kids happy. It was a win-win for everyone concerned. A month or so later, I received an email from center titled, “Cow Dog Had a Puppy.” Apparently she was pregnant and gave birth to a bouncing baby cow. I knew I couldn’t save all of the cows that day from their future fate, but, that day, I was able to save two.

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