A Glimpse of Sanctuary Life From Animal Care Director Kelly Mullins:
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
“Sanctuary time” isn’t like time anywhere else. So much can happen here in a single day that it feels like a week has passed. Sunday was one of those days.
Late in the afternoon I got a call from health care manager Kellie Myers, who was at our Route 32 property with Russell, a 7-year-old steer rescued with three others from a dairy when they were infants. Their fate was intended to be veal; life had other plans.
“Russell is down. He can’t get up— his leg is dislocated or broken.”
I raced over to see our sweet boy lying at the bottom of the hill behind the barn. His leg was dislocated and possibly broken—in virtually all situations, a broken leg is a death sentence for a cow or horse. A vet from Rhinebeck Equine agreed to come over to euthanize him, but first administered a mild sedative and pain medication. With Russell calm and comfortable we took time to analyze the situation.
The vet took radiographs in the field; Russell’s leg was indeed dislocated. Matthew Rapp, our Animal Care Coordinator who cares for Russell and a hundred others (goats, sheep, chickens, horses, and cows) living at Route 32, wanted to call Cornell University’s Animal Hospital. He wasn’t ready to give up. Indeed, “giving up” is not something we do easily at Catskill.
“Let’s just try,” he entreated. So the radiographs were sent over and we phoned the doctor from Cornell.
In the meantime, Russell was shivering in the mid-November cold. Keeping him warm was vital, so Myers grabbed a horse blanket and covered him. Rich Bollin, our Buildings & Grounds Manager, heard that Russell was down and came over. Matt, Myers, Rich, and Crystal Green, a long-time caregiver and friend to Russell, all stayed with him. Throughout the ordeal, our boy was never alone— not for a moment.
I drove back to Old Stage Road, our main property, to bring over the big tractor. We might need to use it to help Russell stand—or to bury him. Three miles went slowly on a cold November night, and as I drove, I remembered Kathy’s stories of their arrival:
Russell arrived with three other newborn calves in the summer of 2011. They were all Jerseys, a popular dairy breed, destined as males for the veal industry. But miraculously for these four, a neighbor intervened, and while thousands of others on this day were torn from their mothers to begin a short, unnatural life until slaughter, we welcomed four desperately sick boys to the safety and warmth of Catskill Animal Sanctuary. We named them Emerson, Calvin, Bernard, and Russell, and we loved them mightily, through months of quarantine, suiting up in gloves, booties, and Tyvec suits, and signing up for every-two-hours overnight feeding shift— shifts in which one hungry calf assaulted the gallon jug filled with warm milk replacer, as the ones in line licked our hair, chewed our boots, suckled our free hands. Precious mayhem.
The day their quarantine was over is forever etched in our memory: four boys slated for slaughter, who had never felt the earth beneath their feet, felt it— and ran. And they ran. And they ran. They ran for joy, they ran for freedom, they ran because they could. We humans looked on with full hearts and wet cheeks.
It was almost dark when I arrived back at the pasture. Russell was relaxed, surrounded and comforted by four badly shivering humans. We got the Cornell team on the phone for their assessment: they had seen this injury before, and based on the radiographs, he had a good chance. That’s what we needed to hear. Russell is only seven years old, a happy, healthy, feisty cow. He was going to get his shot.
The next question we had to tackle: How would we get Russell there? He was down, with no way to get him up and walk him onto our trailer. We needed equipment that we didn’t have, and a local transporter was unavailable. I thought of Mike Stura from Skylands Sanctuary, cow lover extraordinaire with years of cow emergency experience.
The following is exactly what transpired:
“Mike, it’s Kelly from Catskill Animal Sanctuary— I’ve got a problem and I need your help. I have a cow down with a dislocated leg and I need to get him to Cornell.”
“Okay, I’ll be there in about an hour and a half.” Mike was pulling his boots on before he even hung up the phone.
By the time Mike arrived, it was fully dark and even colder than before. We switched on the headlights from Rich’s truck, and looked over at the next field—the cows on the other side of the fence had gathered as close to Russell as they could get. We reassured them over and over: “We’ll take care of him.”
Mike had all the gear we needed (sleds, straps, winch) and knew how to move Russell onto the sled, how to strap him in and how to maneuver the sled. We struggled to get Russell on the truck—and to get him to stay there—but eventually he settled in for the long ride to Cornell. One bridge crossed.
At the hospital, Russell made it through surgery. The joint was put back in place, torn ligaments were sewn together. Another bridge crossed. Russell now has a cast on his leg, and the Cornell crew is working to get him to stand. We can only wait and pray for no infection—with a cast on, the surgery site can’t be cleaned. Russell is on antibiotics, which we hope will help. He has a long, long way to go.
At every point on this journey, there were times when we couldn’t have done it alone. Staff were heroic: they always are. Russell’s herd came to the fenceline to make sure he wasn’t alone. The team at Cornell told us Russell could beat the odds. But we truly could not have saved Russell without Mike Stura.
Sanctuaries share a common goal: a kind world, a lasting peace for all beings. That shared vision meant that Mike wasted no time in jumping in his truck and coming to help. He asked for nothing in return, and only called to see how Russell was doing. When I thanked him and offered to pay him, he refused, saying, “No, it’s my contribution.” On a cold November night, Mike embodied the best in all of us. He was love in action. If we can ever return the favor, or pay it forward to another sanctuary, that will be ours. That’s what sanctuaries do.
A Sad Update:
After five days in the hospital, Russell made it clear that we had to let him go. He simply had no fight left. Matt, our dedicated Animal Care Coordinator, was at Russell’s side as he took his final breath. We will miss our gentle boy enormously, but we are heartened that he knew 7 years of love, comfort and family. If there is a heaven Russell is surely there, reunited with his mom who never experienced the joy of raising him. He will live forever in our hearts.
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