“Escaped Cow Still on the Loose!”; “The World’s Fastest Cow!”; “Cow Becomes Local Hero!”; “Cow to Get Key to the City!” These are just a few of the news headlines that a snow white Charolais cow inspired in 2002 when she took a courageous leap of faith, cleared a 6-foot-high fence at a Cincinnati, Ohio slaughterhouse, and engaged citizens in a dramatic 11-day chase that gained national attention and still has people talking today.
As she resisted capture time and again, staying hidden in a park where she foraged and rested when she could, the courageous cow demonstrated an unbendable will, and her tremendous fight for survival resonated with the public. By the time of her capture, she had won the hearts of so many that calls for mercy poured into the city from all over the country. In the end, it was a plea from renowned artist Peter Max that brought the brave bovine safely to our New York Shelter, where she was named Cincinnati Freedom and given the liberty she always deserved.
Though one of our most elusive residents, choosing the company of cattle over people, Cinci nonetheless received countless visitors through the years, each one eager to catch a glimpse of the valiant cow they followed in the news. While sanctuary guests were unable to touch her, everyone who saw her was affected by Cinci all the same, as even her posture and gaze spoke of the intense life force burning within her and an acute awareness of the special place she inhabited in the world. Most were awed in Cinci’s presence, as she was a living testament to the desire for life we — human or animal — all share.
Cinci’s effect on members of the cattle herd was equally profound. Forming a natural bond with other famous slaughterhouse escapees who came to the shelter before and after her (including Queenie, Annie Dodge, and Maxine), Cinci traveled with her strong, faithful female companions as an inseparable unit — the members of which moved gracefully and intuitively together as if all were of one body and one mind. But her spirit breathed life into the entire cattle herd, as well. While Cinci preferred that we humans keep a respectful distance, she connected with every cow and steer, treating each of them with the utmost tenderness and love.
The adoration and devotion the herd felt for Cinci in return was never more apparent than when she, after six years of living among dear friends at the sanctuary, suddenly lost use of her back legs and became immobile. As we anxiously awaited results of veterinary diagnostics, Cinci’s friends, Maxine and Robin, stayed by her side – and remained there constantly through that first difficult night. The next morning, we received the tragic news that Cinci had spinal cancer, a terminal illness that often progresses quickly in cattle and only becomes apparent when the size of the tumor increases and causes sudden pressure on the animal’s spine. With heavy hearts, we also learned that this cancer could not be kept at bay.
When it came time to say goodbye to Cinci, the herd gathered close around her. One of the eldest steers, Kevin, stepped forward to lick her face, while Iris, an older female, licked her back, soothing and keeping her calm up until she took her final breath. After our beautiful girl passed, every member of the herd approached to say goodbye, each one sharing with Cinci one last moment of affection. Though heartbreaking, the herd’s mourning ritual was also beautiful and comforting, as there was no doubt that Cinci not only lived, but also died knowing that she was cherished by all.
The brilliant light that radiated from Cinci burned out too soon, leaving a void that won’t be easily filled. Though it is difficult to reconcile the loss of one who lived so passionately, we are heartened by the lessons she taught all of us while she was alive. Most of all, we are grateful for the life Cinci led when courage and compassion set her free, allowing her not only to live, but to love with all her heart and be loved so fully in return.