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Giver of One Million Kisses: Remembering Amos

“He was magnificent.”

These are the words we’re hearing this week as we share the news of the sudden death of beloved Amos the steer, our grilled cheese gourmand, wedding “officiant,” and most importantly, giver of one million kisses.* Amos died unexpectedly on Saturday afternoon, surrounded by many who loved him, including his pasture mate Tucker. Our hearts are shattered.

Early Saturday morning, I got a call from our health care manager, Annie Mott, who explained that caregiver Anna had found Amos down in his large barn, leaning against a wall, his knees bloodied and his front leg jutted out at a 45-degree angle from his body. His breathing was rapid and labored; his coat sticky with sweat.

“I’ll be right there,” I said to Annie.

To myself, I said: No. No. Not Amos. Not our precious Amos.

But there he was, a powerful, 2,500 pound animal with massive, skyward-pointing horns, helpless, unable to stand, and frightened.

Amos came to CAS as a young calf 14 ½ years ago, one of six animals we rescued when Catskill Game Farm closed and auctioned off its 2,000 animals. At the Game Farm, he and his friends Jesse and Rudy had been confined in a tiny, barren pen. Their bellies were bloated, their ears crusted with blood where metal tags were stapled. Their mothers were long gone.

When we welcomed them to the safety and plenty of Catskill Animal Sanctuary, I cried at a world that brutalizes cows, and I cried because in their youth and innocence, they represented the innocence of all animals farmed to feed humans.

We settled them in their pasture just outside my home (now our office), and I spent countless hours with the young boys, who used to hang by the gate in the evenings and moo insistently.

“Come see us!!” they’d cry.

Kathy with Jesse (right) and Amos (left)

And so I would. Sometimes we played. Sometimes I brushed them. Often, I simply sat with them, allowing them to bathe me in scratchy kisses. Amos, especially, was a relentless kisser, licking my hands, my legs, my shirt, my face, my feet, my hair: little did I know he was practicing for his future occupation, teaching the thousands who enter our gates every year to make the connection between what we eat and these magnificent beings. The more our bond grew, the more affectionate he became. Eventually, that affection was a gift he offered to everyone he met, sometimes with life-changing results.

Amos was part of several different herds over his lifetime as we altered living arrangements to keep the peace when younger steers occasionally vied with the elders for “top steer” status. Yet there was one steer who remained with Amos throughout his life, and that, of course, was Jesse.

Photo by Martha Sachser — June, 2016

How gorgeous they were—the tan and white Jesse and the copper and white Amos, his horns reaching farther towards the sky each year—and how different: nothing fazed the gentle, laid back Amos, while the far more excitable Jesse was known to “play” with tractors and ATVs when we drove in with hay or water. The two were devoted to each other, and for years, their love caught visitors off guard: cows weren’t “dumb animals” who “just stand there” (some of the comments we hear from guests), after all.

But nothing captivated visitors like Amos’ kisses.

Quite plainly, Amos loved everyone with an open heart. Over the years, thousands of visitors entered his pasture with us, where we sat (or stood) around the giant beast, sharing his rescue story, discussing the plight of cows, but mostly, mostly, being silent so humans could take in the love coming their way from a 2,500-pound cow who could have seriously injured them in one swipe of his head.  Many were overcome. Many became vegan in an instant. That was his power, for when someone who’d eaten a burger the night before sat with Amos as he peered into their souls and licked their faces, their hands, their arms…epiphanies happened. Routinely.

Down at the barn on Saturday morning, a team assembled that would be with Amos for the next five hours: Annie. Crystal. Dani. Matt. Rich—all members of the animal care team—and me. Tucker the steer, Amos’ constant companion since Jesse’s passing last year, peered in from outside the barn. Caregivers Anna and Aidan did their best to keep the day moving for hundreds of other animals, checking in as often they were able, including in his final moments.

As we waited for the vet in the first early hours, we did what we could to make him more comfortable: we gave him fluids, shoved fat flakes of warm straw between his body and the barn wall, and placed a thick bed of shavings beneath his head. We took turns cradling his head in our laps, his horns just inches from our faces.

Amos, our gentlest of giants, was suffering.

When the vet arrived, she suspected rumen acidosis as a likely cause of Amos’ distress, since he’d had some classic symptoms over the last hours, most notably, a decreasing interest in food the previous day. A course of action was set.

For as long as I live, I will remember the trust and grace Amos bestowed on us, even when our interventions made him uncomfortable. In order to get him away from a wall and to get him into a comfortable position, we flipped him over as Crystal steadied his head while the rest of us pulled. In order to get his rumen moving, a metal tube, a full inch in diameter, was routed through his mouth, down his esophagus, and into his stomach to provide nutrition. These things and more: he knew we were trying to help, and he even worked with us, helping us help him. And though cows can’t utter human words, his gratitude was apparent in the cooperation and respect between a massive animal in distress and the humans trying to help.

In the end, though, nothing we did worked. Amos grew increasingly agitated, and in three gut-wrenching minutes, he left us.

“He’s dying,” I whispered to my colleagues as he struggled to breathe and his heart rate escalated. I sat in front of him, rubbing his cheeks and telling him how much we loved him…and then with my knees pressed into his chest, I felt a powerful punch. Did I feel his heart rupture?

Like that, Amos was gone.

I buried my face in Amos’ neck, ran my hands over his big belly, and sobbed. When I looked up, Tucker, who’d been with us for the last 30 minutes, was inches from his old friend. Crystal stood with him, consoling another gentle giant who’d just lost yet another companion.

For a few minutes, we sat with Amos, honoring one of the most loving beings we’ve had the privilege to know.

Solemnly, the team accompanied Amos’ body to our burial ground, where he was laid to rest right next to his soulmate Jesse.

Amos’ courage and trust that long Saturday morning humbled me…and I suspect all who were lucky enough to be there with us. To watch such a powerful animal be suddenly and unexpectedly rendered helpless was not easy…and yet in his helplessness, we saw what he was made of. In some ways, he was stronger than he’s ever been in those difficult hours, for he was loving us, his human family, through the difficulty. How many humans have that capacity?

As my teacher for nearly 15 years, Amos offered his most powerful lessons in his most vulnerable final hours. “Love is what matters,” he reminded us throughout the ordeal. Love everyone, love always. Love until your last breath. THAT was the lesson last Saturday morning as we said our sudden and unexpected farewell.

Whether happily accepting grilled cheese samples from our vegan cooking demonstrations, or attending weddings held on the hill right at his pasture gate, or bathing folks in scratchy kisses, the great cow Amos was love embodied. Whether he knew it or not, he lived a life of service for almost 15 years. Yes, he was physically striking. Everyone who met him was humbled by the contrast between his powerful stature—those great horns!—and his gentle nature. But ultimately it was his kisses, which when I do the math, works out to over one million, offered freely to anyone who’d accept them, that defined him. One of the greatest beings to grace these grounds, Amos modeled for humanity how we should all aspire to live.

Now that’s a legacy.

Go find Jesse, dear boy. He’s been waiting for those kisses.

*Formula: a very conservative 200 kisses/day x 5,475 days = 1,095,000 kisses




Animals As Teachers, Herd Around The Barn


14 replies on “Giver of One Million Kisses: Remembering Amos”

  1. A mooving and compassionate memorial. Brought tears to my eyes.
    When I started typing the double OO in moving was a typo, but, I thought an appropriat one.

    Thanks for Sharing.

  2. I never even knew about Amos but the tears are rolling as I’ve read his story. I’m most sad that I never got that scratchy tongue on my face. What an amazing story and glorious life. Thanks to all of you who loved him and did all you could to save him. May he and Jesse live in wonderful green pastures forever, healthy and free of pain.

    1. Dorothy: A glorious life, indeed. He was a game changer for so many people. Thanks for your loving words.

  3. Kathy, what a beautiful tribute and description of his last moments. No trip to CAS was complete, for me, without Amos. He was majestic. I have no other words right now. I love you and am marveling at your courage and his complete trust in you. I am so sorry.

    1. Hello, Dear One: Thank you for your support, and for your big heart that you share with all lucky enough to know you. I love you, too.

      1. Yes- I felt the same way- If only we humans could be like dear Amos- But he surely knew to the very end that he was loved-
        I recently lost our precious Dutch Breed bunny Mervyn- He was very loving and very socially attuned- My husband and I are in deep mourning- Yet grief is a form of love- I wish Amos God Speed- I wish comfort to all who mourn him-

    2. Dearest Valerie: Yes, he surely was. We will move ever onward, guided by the lessons from our extraordinary friend. Thank you for your love…and I love you, too.

  4. Beautiful beautiful soul ………his energy and presence will carry on ! Thank you to the beautiful humans that loved him and gave him a home of peace, love and acceptance.

    1. Aaah, Jennifer: we’re happy for you that you met him, too. He was a game-changer for thousands of people over the course of his life…

  5. Hi, Jan–Yes, he was a gift to all who knew him, and his energy FOR SURE will carry on. Thank you for your loving support, and for your work to make the world a kinder place for those less lucky than we are. Love to you and Dave, Kathy

  6. I wish I had known Amos and experienced his famous, loving kisses- Yet I can feel his presence in everything said about him- He radiated love, and in return he was greatly loved to the very end- He inspired a benevolence and kindness that is greatly needed in our cynical and callous world- He has inspired love and goodness which will continue even now as he has joined his friends in the lush pastures of paradise- He will never be forgotten-

  7. Such a beautiful and moving tribute to such a big, gentle soul… I was lucky enough to meet Amos 3 times. I am sitting here with tears rolling down my face. I am so sorry that he suffered at he end, but what a blessing that he had such a beautiful life at CAS. Thank you for what you do.

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