The Post – Luckless Pigs, The Clifton Cow, and the “Gray Zone” of Compassion

I am a softie when it comes to animals. I love everything that comes through my backyard. I have a nature journal with 3 years worth of entries of the comings and goings of geese, ducks, babies, rabbits, snakes, baby racoons…if it came through my yard and I saw it, it’s in my journal, along with stick figure drawings, pond maps, and occasional photographs.

I collect news articles about animals. Even my husband, a computer person who never prints anything, prints out any news story he sees about animals and gives them to me because he knows I love them. (the articles and the animals 🙂 ) So suffice it to say, I love animals.

But…maybe not roaches. Or bugs. I honor their right to live in peace…I just don’t want them near me….. So, maybe when I say I love animals, maybe it’s not as perfect a love as I initially said? I try, but like any human endeavor, even though I say I love animals, and I do, there are no “absolutes.” You can say “I love “X” wholeheartedly” And maybe in that moment you feel that, a momentary seeping out of the eternal love in our souls. Yet sometimes the actual execution of that love falls way short of what we aspire to in our heart. Like me with bugs.

Life is full of grays. We try to soar to mountaintops, sometimes we can’t even make it past anthills. Still, I don’t think it’s wrong to “aspire” to mountaintops and even when we can’t make it all the way there, it can be a gift to someone to say “I wish to give you this, even if I can’t.” The reality of human existence is, we aspire to heaven, but we live on earth, so gray is where we end up. It still doesn’t make reaching for heaven wrong. And it still doesn’t invalidate that compassion and love are there.

So when I saw the CNN Headline this morning: “Luck runs out for pigs caught in flood,” I sensed there was another one of those gray moments. Apparently about a dozen pigs caught in the flooding in Iowa, “who escaped their flooded farm, swam through raging floodwaters and scrambled atop a sandbag levee in southeastern Iowa” were then shot by Des Moines County sheriff’s officials.

At first there is the awful pain you feel at what seems a cruel fate. And I imagine everyone who read that had an initial moment of outrage and “why did they have to shoot them?”

Even the local officials felt compelled to explain that the animals hoofs were puncturing the plastic sand-filled bags that made up the levee. They noted you can’t have that happening because it destroys the levees and puts thousands of people at risk. They went on to note that they consulted veterinarians and other state agencies in deciding what to do, and also stated that “out of about 36,000 pigs in the Oakville area, officials estimated that only a thousand or so were left behind when the floodwaters came through. ‘We trucked them as far as 200 miles away to other hog farms so that they would be taken care of.'”

I noted many things in their words – the biggest of which was compassion. They went to great lengths to save as many animals as possible. They went to great lengths to consult experts to find the best answer. Of course they wanted to avert animal right’s activists from condemning them, but there was tremendous concern showed too. They were caught between a rock and a hard place. These were not heartless people just killing off helpless animals for fun, these were men and women who really cared…about the animals, about the people they are sworn to protect. They were caught in a situation that had no good choices and sometimes, the best answer falls far short of what you want to do.

I suspect everyone was upset. Of course these animals are killed in a slaughterhouse everyday. Nobody argues that. I eat pork chops and chicken and steak. I think the reason people felt upset in this case, including the sheriffs is because these pigs demonstrated something we could identify with – These animals showed spunk, spirit…they SURVIVED. And in the face of such a heroic effort, your first inclination is to save them, honor them. Not shoot them. Again, that’s the eternal love coming through. If it were roaches and they showed that kind of spirit, I’d want to let them live. You just have to respect such an effort in the face of such vulnerability. And I think that’s the human heart feeling that connection with another living being, and wanting to help. I think it’s wired into us, it’s in our deepest natures, to want to be kind. I’ve heard it said that everyone loves something. I read an article recently that said the Mafia doesn’t do ‘hits’ on Mother’s Day because mothers are sacred and apparently, even Mafia hit men love everyone’s mothers enough not to kill their sons until the next day. Bizarre yes, but still, everyone loves something…..we may choose to follow a negative path in life. We may choose to deny the goodness within us. It doesn’t mean it isn’t there and it does seep out even when we think it’s not there.

In 2002 there was a runaway cow in Cincinnati, escaped from the slaughterhouse. Here’s how everyone reacted:

“Runaway cow a folk hero

By Barry M. Horstman, Post staff reporter

For days, it’s been perhaps the most mooooo-ving story in Cincinnati.

In a week filled with major news – the execution of a Cincinnatian for the first time in nearly a half century, black entertainers’ boycott of the city and the countless feel-good stories of the Olympics – tri-staters are preoccupied, of all things, with a missing cow.

No bull.

Since escaping from a local slaughterhouse by jumping a 6-foot fence at Ken Meyer Meats in Camp Washington Feb. 15, the 1,200-pound cow has become daily fodder for radio talk shows, TV newscasts and office chatter.

Curious onlookers peer toward a heavily wooded area in Clifton where an escaped cow is believed to be hiding. (MELVIN GRIER/The Post)

Dubbed Moosama Bin Laden by one DJ, the cow has evaded police and officials from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals while crossing Central Parkway and entering Mount Storm Park in Clifton, where it was last spotted by one TV station’s helicopter ”Cow Cam.”

”The problem is, this is a free-range cow that isn’t going to come to any human,” said SPCA general manager Harold Dates. ”And when you weigh 1,200 pounds, you can pretty much go anywhere you want to go.”

At City Hall and from coast to coast, where CNN and other news outlets have chronicled the four-hooved fugitive’s run for freedom, the cow’s fame grows daily.

If and when the runaway 7-year-old cow is captured, Mayor Charlie Luken plans to give it the key to the city. In the meantime, WLW-AM talk-show host Bill Cunningham, never shy about doing anything to beef up ratings, will continue referring to it as Charlene Mooken, while his counterparts have settled on nicknames ranging from Heidi to Bessie.

Everyone from Marge Schott to Fifth Third Bank has offered to do whatever it takes to prevent the cow from ending up on a hamburger bun, the latter by offering the cow a starring role in its next ”Holy Cow” home-equity loan ad campaign.

Similarly, Chick-Fil-A, a fast-food restaurant that features a cow in ads urging people to steer clear of red meat, is offering 100 free chicken sandwiches to whoever catches the cow.

Frustrated in their repeated attempts to lure the light-colored Charolais out of Mount Storm Park’s thick underbrush, officials Thursday devised a new strategy: using three other cows as bovine bait to draw the cow into a corraled area.

Today, officials – professing no fear that the scheme could backfire and leave four cows on the loose – plan to truck in the new cows and place them in an area contained within about 30 10-foot temporary fence sections. Water and food also will be set out to make it look like there’s a big cow party going on inside.

If the cow falls for the trap, officials will swing the gate on a happy ending to the saga. If not, they’ll move on to Plan B: trying to bring her down with a tranquilizer dart, a far less attractive option that requires carefully hauling a 1,200-pound animal out of a hilly, brush-covered site.

Until the cow is captured, police plan to close Mount Storm Park to the public. In recent days, the cow has been spooked not only by the joggers and dog-walkers who routinely use the park, but by dozens of gawkers who have come to watch the man – er, cowhunt.

The major concern of Cincinnati police, said Lt. Kurt Byrd, is preventing the cow from wandering onto nearby Interstate 75. ”If a 2,000-pound car runs into a (1,200)-pound cow, it might be pretty ugly,” Byrd said.

Assuming the cow is safely recovered, it will have earned a permanent reprieve from the grim fate that awaited it last week at Meyer Meats.

”There’s no doubt this cow will be living the rest of its life in the most comfortable situation that can be provided,” said the SPCA’s Dates.

Whether that is on Mrs. Schott’s estate or some other farm remains to be determined. Regardless, it’s an udderly satisfying way to wrap up the story.

As Byrd pointed out, contrasted with the decidedly unpleasant local, national and international stories that have dominated the past year, the missing cow tale comes off as a welcome respite for Greater Cincinnatians weary of bad news. ”If this is our major news story,” he said, ”it speaks pretty well for Cincinnati.”

Publication date: 02-22-02″

The mayor wants to give the cow a key to the city. Chick-Filet was giving away chicken sandwiches. A loan company wants to use the cow in a commercial, and even Marge Schott, the contentious, controversial former owner of the Cincinnati Reds offered it a home on her farm. And Marge Schott’s personality was well characterized by someone’s comment that they weren’t sure what was worse: to be killed at the slaughterhouse, or to have to live with Marge Schott.

So why is it that an animal who 24 hours later would be transformed into something for a weekend cookout, caused such an outpouring of support? Why does everyone want to save THIS cow and not the others? Or that Chick-Filet will give away free CHICKEN sandwiches, and somebody had to kill the chickens, to the person who saves the runaway cow that was supposed to be a beef sandwich?

I think it’s that moment of recognition that something we usually view as food, can have spirit…a dignity, just like us. It’s a heroic fight by an underdog. We ourselves are often life’s underdogs. So when we see something fighting back against their fate, we want to save it. The momentary shut down of the rational left brain which gives way to the expansiveness of the heart and soul calling for us to love unconditionally, even to love an escapee bovine. I guess there is that place deep inside of all of us that loves in spite of us. It’s that well of compassion that sometimes surprises us, and shows up at odd and usually illogical times.

I feel compassion not just for the pigs, but for the sheriffs and the people in the flood in Iowa. So many have their lives and homes disrupted or destroyed. Heroic pigs were killed. And good men and women had to do it, because they were caught in the imperfect situation of life, where you sometimes have to do painful things when you’d rather soar to heaven, because the only choice life gave you is between bad and worse.

My wish for all in Iowa is for a quick recovery from floods….and peace of heart. I’m sure the pigs are in a place where they understand and are even better off now.

To the rest of us, I wish peace in those moments where you want to offer another the world, and your reality comes up short. Welcome to gray. It’s okay. Heaven is still there in your heart.

Remember, it’s the intention that matters…that moment of one’s heart full of love….not the execution of the wish. It’s no less of a gift to say “I would give everything in my heart if I could, even as I know I can’t.” Or to slightly alter a line from Yeat’s poem, (He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven): “but I being mortal, have only my dreams.” Dreams can be nice gifts too.

By the way…the outcome on the runaway cow? She was saved. At artist Tom Lohre’s website where I got the above story, there’s a whole series of stories about this, along with video and a picture of the rescued cow, who was renamed “Cinci Freedom.” Tom, who usually paints important national events like shuttle launches and Mount Saint Helens, did a painting of the “Clifton Cow.” Cinci now resides on the Farm Sanctuary Shelter in Watkins Glen New York. To visit Tom’s website, click here.

One Response to “The Post – Luckless Pigs, The Clifton Cow, and the “Gray Zone” of Compassion”

  1. karen Says:

    thankyou for your comments, the pigs were heroes they proved their intelligence to survive. we humans failed them. the men just wanted target practice, that is what it was all about.

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