Cows Gone Wild

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Cows Gone Wild

[Ed. Note: Please also read Yvonne the Runaway Cow Has Good New Home, Kayli's Story and A Bovine Sophie's Choice.]

By Jill Howard-Church, Animals & Society Institute (ASI), September 2011

Yvonne eluded capture for three months, which to me indicates either an abundance of hiding places in the Bavarian countryside or a searching strategy with more holes than (dare I say it?) Swiss cheese. She even had her own “wanted” poster.

She became, quite frankly, a badass bovine. You gotta cheer for that! Bulls (usually under the duress of a rodeo or bullfight) occasionally get some respect, but cows? Hardly ever.

This is an epilogue to a previous article I wrote about slaughterhouse escapees (Great Escapes), who always seem to capture the world’s attention in a way that other, more generic farmed animals do not.

Recently added to the list of famously frisky farm fugitives is a 6-year-old cow named Yvonne, who escaped from a German farm last May just before she was to be shipped off for slaughter.

Yvonne eluded capture for three months, which to me indicates either an abundance of hiding places in the Bavarian countryside or a searching strategy with more holes than (dare I say it?) Swiss cheese. She even had her own “wanted” poster.

Electric fences, road traffic, helicopters, infrared cameras, hunters (who for awhile were given permission to shoot her on sight), police officers and other searchers were no match for Yvonne. She even resisted the lure of the masculine musk of Ernst, who was called “the George Clooney of bulls.” (But given Clooney’s famous aversion to commitment, maybe Yvonne knew instinctively that it wouldn’t work out.)

Even when she was finally found near a group of cows on another farm, Yvonne didn’t surrender quietly; it took several men with tranquilizer darts, ropes and a truck to move her to the Gut Aiderbichi sanctuary that had purchased her safety, as well as that of her 2-year-old son, Friesi. She now has lifelong comfort – and her own webcam.

But my favorite part of this story isn’t just that Yvonne was ultimately saved from slaughter – it’s the characterization of her during three months on the run.

Modern action heroes have nothing on Yvonne. She jumped in front of a police car, and then eluded the officers. She dodged a helicopter with heat-sensing cameras. German authorities declared her a security risk.

NPR called her “an incandescent symbol of freedom and animal dignity.” A hunter who came face-to-face with Yvonne told sanctuary owner Michael Aufhauser that “he looked into her eyes and she looked back like a wild animal, not a dairy cow.” The Der Spiegel newspaper reported that the same stalker “reported that she now looks more like a buffalo than a cow, and has evidently turned into a wild animal in her months on the run.” (She escaped him unharmed.) Yvonne was called “an increasingly shaggy wild beast.”

She became, quite frankly, a badass bovine. You gotta cheer for that! Bulls (usually under the duress of a rodeo or bullfight) occasionally get some respect, but cows? Hardly ever.

[I should note, however, that “Far Side” artist Gary Larson did a great service to cattle when he depicted them in many of his cartoons. One of my favorites shows several cows in a field standing up and talking; when a car approaches, they drop to all fours and pretend to eat grass. When the car passes, they resume standing and talking. Another shows a farmer walking into a dark barn where two cows are studying a diagram of a man divided into “shoulder chops” and “spare ribs,” with the head delightfully designated as “throw away.”]

Yvonne helped demand more respect for cows. She wasn’t going to let her life get thrown away. Whatever consciousness she has of her existence, she made deliberate choices that put her pursuers to shame.

What should shame the rest of us is any acceptance of animals as disposable commodities. Yvonne’s former owners wanted to convert her from being a milk machine into being a meat machine, which is the ultimate fate of most dairy cows. The vast majority of these animals don’t get freedom or Facebook fame, they just get used and killed by the millions.

So even though Yvonne lost the battle for total independence, she won a moral victory and recruited an army of supporters. May she not be the last of the cows gone wild.


Yvonne, safe at the sanctuary but perhaps still wild at heart


Jill Howard-Church is a writer and editor who specializes in animal issues. She serves as the part-time communications director for the Animals and Society Institute, and is the volunteer president of the Vegetarian Society of Georgia.