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Couple Helps a Cow Come Home

Local Matters


Published November 15, 2005 at 9:58 p.m.

SALISBURY -- In May, an uninvited intruder wandered onto Bill and Barbara Chamberlain's property in rural Salisbury, then returned every day at dusk -- until she was captured at the end of October.

The couple never feared the trespasser: a runaway cow that escaped from a nearby auction house in April. They even fed her daily. "No one knew where she went during the day," says Barbara Chamberlain. "We only saw her when she would stop by for dinner. She would kick her heels up and frolic in our yard for a time, then disappear into the woods." The couple's grandchildren christened her "Annie."

Late last month, the Chamberlains corralled Annie in their barn, then put her on a truck bound for Farm Sanctuary, the nation's largest farm-animal shelter. The advocacy organization has been rounding up renegade ruminants and other animals since 1986. They house 1500 critters in shelters in northern California and Watkins Glen, New York.

Though Farm Sanctuary also sponsors efforts to oppose what it considers animal cruelty -- including campaigns against veal and foie gras -- Tricia Ritterbusch, the group's communications director, says they only spirit animals away if they're allowed to. "We have had animals dropped off on the doorstep and we don't know how they got there," she admits, "but we're trying to curb that."

Barbara Chamberlain says she and her husband tried to find Annie's original owners, but the cow escaped without any tags or markings. When they finally located the auction house that lost her, no one there could tell who owned her. "They said for $500 they would come and shoot her," recalls Chamberlain, "and we could have the meat."

But the Chamberlains, who moved to Vermont from New York City in 1960, didn't want to kill the cow. They once raised and slaughtered their own cows, partly to feed their seven children. But they couldn't eat Annie.

They contacted Farm Sanctuary in June. But getting Annie there wasn't easy -- the cow was skittish, and wouldn't come near the barn at first. Ritterbusch says that's because the animals don't cotton to solitude. "When cows are on their own, and they're not in a herd," she says, "they tend to go a little wild."

It took months for Barbara Chamberlain to lure Annie into the barn. "We would take the food and move it a few feet each day," she says. "She got to trust me a little bit, as long as I had a pail in my hand." Not that they wanted to catch her during the summer -- in order to move her, Annie would have to be tranquilized, which might have been too traumatic in the heat.

Finally, on the night of the season's first snowfall, the Chamberlains laid a trail of wild apples into the barn, and Annie followed. They called Farm Sanctuary, which dispatched a placement coordinator and the shelter director in a transport truck. Veterinarian Annie Starvish met them in Salisbury, and together they coaxed the cow on board.

Annie the cow, who has been renamed "Annie Dodge" -- there was already an Annie at the shelter -- has since joined Farm Sanctuary's herd. By all accounts, she's doing fine. Barbara Chamberlain was a little sad to see her "summer project" end, but says everything turned out OK. "If I go out at dusk, I expect to see that white face looming up in the darkness," she says with a sigh. "But I'm glad she's safe."