Fugitive Cows On the Run Went Free For Months After Breaking Out of Dairy Farm
"A cow can hide pretty good."
A band of fugitives has been on the run in Canada since last summer, and they've become a new breed of folk hero, earning criticism from locals and praise from politicians as they continually elude capture. They are cows. The group of 20 escaped from a dairy farm near Quebec in late July. They hide in forests and cornfields by day, coming out at night to snack on farmers' crops. The Canadian winter hasn't curtailed their free-range lifestyle.
Four were captured in recent weeks, but the rest continue to roam through the snowy fields of Quebec, where some residents consider them a menace and others consider them heroes. Read on to find out where the hunt now stands and why activists and one Canadian politician says we could learn something from the escaped cows.
The cows escaped from a farm in Saint-Barnabé after being spooked by a thunderstorm in July when they jumped a fence and fled into the woods. The original group of 20 is believed to have grown—some of the cows were pregnant and had given birth to calves while on the lam.
Rounding the cows up was no simple rodeo. Government agencies couldn't decide who was responsible for their capture and squabbled. The cows' journey was documented in blurry photographs while some locals called them a menace to farmers and others rooted for their freedom.
Marie-Andrée Cadorette, general manager of the nearby village of Saint-Sévère, said she was contacted by police who suggested her village capture and slaughter the cows. "The municipality is me alone in my office," she told Radio-Canada. "I'm in a dress with stilettos, I'm not going cow hunting."
Cadorette hired eight cowboys from a nearby town that holds an annual rodeo. In October, they tried to round up the cows and drive them into pens. No luck: The cows escaped the trained lassoes and vanished into a high field of corn. "A cow can hide pretty good," Sylvian Bourgeois, general manager of the rodeo, told The Wall Street Journal. "They just lay down and you ride right past them."
Local officials considered sedation, abandoning the idea because they didn't have enough tranquilizer, Jean-Sébastien Dubé, a farmers' union spokesman, told the Journal. Such an operation would have been tricky: Getting close enough to shoot the cows with darts is difficult because cows tend to run when humans approach.
In the current cold weather, officials are trying to lure the cows with food—they set out hay and trap the snacking cattle by placing an enclosure around them. Four cows were finally captured this way last Saturday.
Yet not all citizens are rooting for the cows' capture. In a letter to the Journal de Montréal newspaper this month, a group of 190 animal activists said they should be allowed to run free. "These courageous animals have dared to dream of a freer and happier existence," the letter said. "They have preferred a life on the run in the fields of Quebec to a life on a farm, without a doubt because the green countryside attracts them more than metal enclosures and milking machines."
The cows have even been praised by a senator on the floor of the Canadian Parliament. "Usually, when we do tributes here, it is to recognize the achievements of our fellow citizens," said Julie Miville-Dechêne, who declared her "unbridled admiration for these cows that have found freedom and are still out there, frolicking about." "While we people too often get tangled up in small details," she said, "these cows have learned to jump over fences."