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Jesse—Forever In Our Hearts

“And then around the bend [are] three calves, and my heart is again in my throat. They’re male, several months old, with bloated bellies and ears crusted with blood where metal tags have been stapled… They look at us with their immense doe eyes, all innocence… 

“Why am I crying? Perhaps because this is a world that brutalizes cows, or because, in their youth and innocence, these three remind me of the innocence of all cows. Perhaps because the worst moment these three will ever know from now on is a late dinner every now and then, and that fact stands in such a stark contrast to the conditions we force billions to endure. Perhaps because these animals…are tangible symbols of the goodness, caring, and hope that sometimes seem to have disappeared from this world. Or perhaps I’m crying simply because three didn’t die. 

“We name them Rudy, Amos, and Jesse. I kiss them every day.”

— Kathy Stevens, Where The Blind Horse Sings

It seems impossible that through this “pause,” this “shelter-in-place” reality, this interruption of our routines, life goes on, and with it, we’re sometimes forced to say goodbye. This week, we received the news that Jesse, our sweet cream-colored steer, our lovable, big-kisser, good boy passed away suddenly after suffering an apparent heart attack. 

Even after 13 and a half outrageously good and beautiful years of loving and kissing Jesse, saying goodbye to him seems unbearable. But somehow, impossibly, we must. Together, we must begin the difficult process of grieving someone who has come to mean so much to us. From our Animal Care team, to our Humane Educators, our office staff, our founder, Kathy Stevens, and to every visitor who’s gotten the chance to meet Jesse for themselves—we will all feel this loss tremendously because to have known Jesse was to love him.

Jesse came to us from an auction¹ after the infamous Catskill Game Farm closed their doors for good. We don’t know much about his origins, but we know that he was a Jersey cow—a breed very commonly exploited for their milk—and the first thing he likely knew in this world was being separated from his mother at a dairy farm. 

Of the nearly 1,000 animals who went to auction that day, Jesse was one of the 207 animals who found their happy ending. Since then, he has touched thousands upon thousands of lives here at Catskill Animal Sanctuary, making vegetarians and vegans, who in turn, have saved thousands upon thousands of others just like him. 

If you’ve visited us here in Saugerties, you’ve probably met him. He was hard to miss with his big, beautiful horns and playful demeanor, and, as always, he would not have been far from his best friend, Amos. Jesse was a frequent stop on our public tours because of the ease with which he’d interact with visitors, offering up slobbery cow kisses and demonstrating above everything else how happy he was to be alive, and how much he adored his Sanctuary life. But by far, the most remarkable thing about Jesse was his relationship with Amos and what the two of them taught us about love and friendship. 

Photo by Janet Holmes

Mahatma Ghandi referred to cows as a “poem of compassion,” and Jesse and Amos were a perfect example of that. These two boys were completely devoted to one another, hardly ever being more than a few feet apart, constantly grooming one another, communicating in the best ways that a cow can to say, “I love you with my whole heart. You matter to me.” 

The relationships that cows form are things to be admired—they prefer to spend their time with a small group of very dear friends, and for Jesse and Amos, they were so devoted to one another that they didn’t ever want to know anyone else, and so on the few occasions we might have tried to introduce another cow into the mix, the newcomer would be surreptitiously chased out. For these two had so much love for one another, there was simply none to spare.

If you have had the pleasure of meeting these dear ones face to face, if you’ve pet their gentle bodies, felt their rough tongues on your hands or cheek, or passed a few willow leaves to eager faces over the fence, then you already know that while adoration for Jesse ran deep for us, but no one’s love for him was as deep as Amos’s. 

One thing we’ve witnessed at Sanctuary is that animals not only understand the finality of death, but they also mourn when a loved one passes away. We’ve seen it time and time again, and one of the most challenging parts of death is that hollow emptiness that only those of us who have lost someone close to our hearts can truly understand. They feel love and loss, just as we do.

It’s hard to write about him in the past-tense, because he lives in our hearts, and in Amos’s heart. We are broken over this immense loss, especially in a time that’s already so challenging, and has prevented so many of us from having a chance to say a proper goodbye.  More than anything, our hearts ache for Amos and the pain he must be feeling over losing his life partner, his pasture-mate, his best friend. Wherever you are,  please take a moment to hold Amos in your thoughts as you remember Jesse, and all the goodness he brought into this world.

We will never forget you, sweet Jesse. Thank you for teaching us the importance of friendship, and for being a true embodiment of our motto, “Love Spoken Here.” There will hardly be a day that passes that we don’t miss you, dear one. Run through the green pastures; you’re free.


¹ Catskill Animal Sanctuary—and most other sanctuaries—do not purchase animals to save their lives, as any money spent toward rescuing one life will simply go toward the exploitation of another. However, an exception was made with the Catskill Game Farm, as they were going out of business and would not be harming any more animals.

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21 Comments

  1. We never had the chance to meet Jesse before the virtual tours. The cows were too far away in the shade when we stayed at the Homestead in a hot 4th of July long weekend. That doesn’t matter as my heart breaks for every animal lost.
    The consolation is that we know he had a life well lived at the CA Sanctuary.
    Goodbye beautiful big boy! That you CAS staff and volunteers for giving him the best life a cow could wish for.

    1. Thank you so much 💚 The cows can definitely be a little elusive when it’s hot out. They prefer the shade, but we do wish you had gotten a chance to meet him

  2. So much sadness right now and hardly seems our hearts can handle another loss. We had the pleasure of meeting Sweet Jesse when we stayed at the Sanctuary several years ago. I feel privileged to say that. His sweetness and soulful eyes will never be forgotten. Saying goodbye is the hardest part of putting your heart out there and loving innocent animals. Rest in peace Sweet One…..we will find you again one day upabove. I’m praying for all your hearts there at the Sanctuary…….Joyce

    1. Privileged is a good word to describe having any interaction with Jesse (and Amos) because they are certainly extraordinary animals. Saying goodbye is definitely the hardest part of this work. Thank you so much for your kind words, Joyce.

  3. After reading the beautiful dedication to Jesse, I am feeling the love everyone had for Jesse, and the love Jesse had for everyone as well, especially Amos.
    Thank you all at the Catskill Animal Sancuary for saving him, and giving him a wonderful life, making him feel safe and secure amongst friends.
    Heaven is a little brighter now ⭐️
    Rest In Peace dear Jesse, you will be missed 💔

    1. Thank you 💚 We absolutely adored him. I’m glad to know that was evident in our telling of his life.

  4. I am so , so sorry to hear of Jesse’s passing. He was such a sweet , gentle soul. I going to miss him . I hope that Amos will be alright , in time, without him.

    1. Time will definitely be key here <3 We're remembering the beautiful portrait you did of him. He was such a special (and handsome) boy. We miss him so much.

  5. I am crying reading the story of Jesse. He looks so nice even though I never had the pleasure. You made his life so happy.

  6. I am so very sorry for your loss! My heart goes out to you!! I so loved reading about, big, beautiful, sweet Jesse!!! I felt like I knew him. His beautiful, soulful eyes remind me of the time I took my daughter to the zoo many years ago and encountered a calf in a small petting zoo exhibit there. When I pet the soft, sweet head of this calf, I looked into his eyes and we connected. I saw his soul and heard a voice saying this is where hamburger comes from. I was stunned into reality and became a vegetarian right then and there. Thank you for rescuing Jesse and giving him the beautiful, peaceful life that he and all animals deserve. (P.S. I don’t go to zoos anymore!)

  7. Godspeed Jesse! May God hold you forever in His arms along with all of your brethren who have gone before you!

  8. I was just watching the virtual pig barn tour and there they were. So sad. My condolences.

  9. I met Jessie both times I stayed at the homestead and he came right up to me to be petted. He was a beautiful, sweet animal and I enjoyed watching him graze his pasture. The kind words written about Jessie had tears streaming down my face. Knowing he was so loved and was able to live his life out naturally in a beautiful setting is a small comfort while absorbing the harsh reality of his passing.

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