“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.
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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