By Jason Hribal (December 2006), historian and author of
Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance
Originally published April 2007 in CounterPunch
In November of 1995, Emily the cow escaped. The three-year old heifer had just arrived at a slaughter-facility in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Reaching the end of her employment as a dairy worker, Emily had one final and vastly profitable task to perform: to be ground into beef and bone-meal. Yet, this 1,600 pound cow had other ideas. Namely, she wanted out. Leaping over a five-foot fence, she made a dash for the nearby woods.
The facility staff tried to catch her but Emily was too fast. The staff tried for a week to trap her with cachés of hay but Emily was too smart. For forty days, she roamed about the rural community. There would be infrequent sightings sometimes she would be seen foraging with a herd of deer. During this six week period, Emily became a national celebrity and folk-hero. Many people cheered for the cow and supported her struggle against exploitation. In fact, the slaughter-facility sold Emily if she ever resurfaced to a local peace abbey for one dollar. In due course, she did emerge from the woods and, for the coming years, lived on a large pasture at the abbey. Sadly, "the Cow who saved herself," as Parade Magazine wrote, died from uterine cancer (a side-effect of rBGH) in March of 2004. In her honor, the Sherborn abbey erected a bronze statue of Emily the cow.
In actuality, escapes from farms, slaughterhouses, laboratories, etc. are not unusual. Most of these instances pass unnoticed, as the animals are quickly rounded up and sent back to work. But occasionally, they can elude capture for a significant amount of time. Among the more notable recent examples, there was Molly B. from Montana. In January of 2006, she jumped the fence of a Great Falls packing plant, ran in front of an on-coming train, plowed through police fences, withstood three tranquilizer darts, and swam across the Missouri river. "I watched her do things that are just not possible for a cow," the manager of the packing-facility later explained. Molly was eventually cornered, but her considerable efforts earned her a permanent reprieve. As the manager continued, "at this point, I have no desire to slaughter her." "If the owner insists, I’ll have to tell him to take her somewhere else."
There was the bull that fled from a Newark, New Jersey slaughter-facility in May of 2004. Running through these tough streets for several hours, he was later taken to a sanctuary to live out the rest of his life. This same scene repeated itself only two years later, as another escapee bull roamed the city of Newark for ten hours. After being taken into custody, he also would be moved to a sanctuary.
There was the cow that broke out of a Cincinnati, Ohio slaughter-factory in February of 2002. Scrambling over a six-foot fence and heading into the nearby park, the 1,050 pound Charolais rambled for twelve days. She was only trapped after authorities utilized three decoy cows, a banquet of hay and water, lassos, and two tranquilizer darts. But because of her elongated struggle and appearance on Good Morning America, the mayor granted her amnesty and a key to the city.
There was the pig from Green Bay, Wisconsin who in September of 2006 escaped while in route to a butcher and shrugged off two Taser hits from the police. Similarly, in December of that same year, a pig from Vancouver, Washington vaulted out of a truck and dodged cars, semis, and cops for several hours. Both were detained and sent back to their owners. Some pigs, however, have gained more public attention. One of those successful few was Babe. Headed for slaughter, she climbed a four-foot grate, leapt from a moving vehicle, and dashed into the woods. The Massachusetts police gave up after two days of searching. When she reappeared, Babe was sent to nearby Sherborn to live with Emily.
There was the two dozen sheep from Danielsville, Georgia. For a three week period in March of 2007, they out-hustled border collies, cops, and four-wheelers. Indeed, the age-old method for inducing sleep counting sheep is far more than just a folk-tale. It is a reality: sheep really can jump over fences. The Danielsville dozen hurdled over several of them and a police car for good measure. Picked off one by one, they were all caught and sent back to work. The sheep of Port Adelaide, England fared better. While being boarded on a ship for live export, they managed to get themselves out and, for ten weeks, hid in Mutton Cove (no joke). They would be placed in a sanctuary.
There was the rhesus macaque from the National Primate Center in Davis, California. In February of 2003, she vanished while her cage was being cleaned. Two weeks later, the Level Four facility remained stumped. No word on her fate. That same month, two macaques from the BPRC lab in the Netherlands broke out of their exterior cage and were able to avoid authorities till the next day. It was only five years earlier at the Tulane Regional Primate Research Center that two dozen macaques actually made it through multiple layers of security and off lab grounds. Some of them managed to hide out in a nearby forest for several days.
Yet, no escapees have garnered as much fame as the Tamworth two nicknamed by the British press: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Pig (although one was male and other female). Immortalized in their own BBC film, these two pigs made a run for it while being unloaded at a Wiltshire slaughterhouse in January of 1998. Slipping under a fence and swimming across an icy river, the two evaded capture for one week. A few local residents secretly aided the pigs by throwing out kitchen-scraps to them. But we should not think that humans are the only creatures to ever help in such actions.
While on an expedition in Northern Africa, the prolific 19th century animal-collector, Carl Hagenbeck, described how baboons would "battle" hunters in order to save their trapped brethren. "One little baboon, who had been injured by a blow from a cudgel," he remembered, "was picked up and safely carried off by a great male in the very midst of the enemy." "In another instance, a female who already had one infant on her back, picked up and went off with another whose mother had been shot."
More recently in 2003, there was the case of a herd of antelopes being held in a boma in Empangeni, Zululand. Conservationists watched as eleven elephants encircled the enclosure. In time, the matriarch, named Nana, came up to the main entrance, opened each of the latches, and swung open the gate. After the antelopes fled, the elephants marched into the night. As one of the ecologists wondered, "elephants are naturally inquisitive but this behavior is certainly most unusual and cannot be explained in scientific terms." But to return to the fate of the Tamworth two, they would be detained but, due to overwhelming public demand, their lives would be spent in a sanctuary.
Sometimes, the escapees are never caught. Takoma the dolphin, for example, was a soldier in the US military. Serving in Iraq as a mine hunter, she slipped off one day in 2003 and never returned. As a matter of fact, the term cimarrones (or maroon) first applied, not to humans, but to other animals. In contemporary Anglo-America alone, there are countless autonomous communities: horses in Utah, cows in Georgia, sheep in Hawaii, burros in California, goats in Southern Illinois, and pigs in Pennsylvania. Ranchers hate them. Conservationists plot against them. Suburbanites hire people to kill them. Yet, these creatures continue to survive. Indeed, the idea of paternalism as applied towards other animals is a political invention. Cows can take care of themselves. Consider the cities of India. Here, cows can be found living on the streets. But don’t let their placid image fool you. As one Counterpuncher who resided in India for several years wrote me, "they are sneaky thieves when they have to be, beggars when effective, and conniving hustlers when they can pull it off." These cows are "a joy to behold (even though somewhat emaciated), and a very different entity than the repressed victims of western style farming."
Whether from the thoughts of the owners or the print of the media, the language used to describe these "escapes" (their term) is most illuminating: "captured," "fugitive," "amnesty," "outlaw," "criminal." These words, in reality, reflect a hidden truth a truth that is only exposed when actions are taken by other animals against human domination. In other words, when the curtain is pulled back, our fellow creatures emerge as active beings each of whom has the ability to shape the world around them. Agency is not unique to the human animal. Cows, pigs, monkeys, and elephants can also resist their exploitation. Over the centuries, humans have learned to deal with this.
Farmers, ranchers, factory owners, and managers have tried a multiplicity
of methods to deter or prevent escapes. Wooden-post fences were erected.
Cows leapt over them or crawled under them. Taller, stronger metal fences
were developed. Cows found their weak points and busted through them. Barbs
were put on the wire to cause pain. A few cows still got over them. The wire
was then electrified to cause even more pain.
Humans have used tethers, clogs, and yokes to lessen movement. They have used bull-whips, bull-hooks, and electrified cattle-prods to scar and frighten. They have cut tendons, pulled out teeth, blinded eyes, ringed noses, and muzzled mouths to punish. They have castrated testicles, removed ovaries, and chopped off horns to control aggressiveness. These techniques are not called "breaking" because their targets are mindless, spiritless machines. Quite to the contrary, they are deemed as such because turning autonomous, intelligent beings into obedient, productive workers is difficult.
If these methods failed, humans employed specialized bounty-hunters. They constructed pounds for the detained. Local, state, and federal laws were written. Fines and penalties were levied. The death penalty has always been the final option for those chronic troublemakers. FEMA itself has detailed strategies on how to deal with animal escapes. For this form of resistance can have serious consequences for owners, businesses, and governments. The run-away macaque from Davis, CA, for example, almost brought about the closure of the entire research center. The Tamworth two incited spot inspections and steep fines for the Wiltshire slaughterhouse. But more than bad press and possible loss in profits, these escapes can produce a public awareness of exploitation and resistance. This combination of struggle and recognition then ultimately forces such industries their operators, executives, scientists, and engineers to adopt animal-welfare legislation and practices.
On 20 August 1994, the city of Honolulu entertained its last circus for Tyke the elephant came to town. This 20 year-old performer had enough of her employer, the Hawthorn Corporation. She was tired of being leased out to circuses and amusement parks. She was tired of the dismal and dangerous working conditions: the routine beatings, untreated injuries and wounds, the constant travel. She was through with the lack and poor quality of food. She was through with the lack of sanitation and basic health-care. But most of all, she was through with performing day in, day out.
It was only one year earlier that Tyke stormed off stage in Altoona, Pennsylvania, ripping off the building’s doors in the process. Three months after that in Minot, North Dakota, she trampled her handler during a show and darted into the fairgrounds. In both instances, trainers were eventually able to calm her down. In Honolulu, though, Tyke was finished with her job. In front of hundreds of spectators, she killed her trainer, mauled her groomer, and ran out of the arena. On the street, Tyke chased down a clown and stomped the circus promoter. The police, true to form, wasted little time – firing 89 shots into the elephant. Ironically, in March of 1933, the Honolulu police similarly gunned down another recalcitrant pachyderm entertainer, Daisy.
Yet, contrary to what some readers may be thinking, Tyke’s actions that day were anything but futile. In fact, hundreds of lawsuits were filed against the city, state, and Hawthorn Corporation. Public discussions intensified. Private individuals, who beforehand never thought about circus performers, were engaged and moved into activism. Animal-rights organizations were fueled. Outrage was voiced. Protests and boycotts were staged. The US Department of Agriculture (who oversees the industry) was consequently spurred into increased vigilance, enforcement, and prosecutions. In 1994, the federal government confiscated sixteen circus elephants from John Cuneo Jr. the owner of Hawthorn. Indeed, Tyke’s resistance that August day propelled the development of social change. She made history.