Sadie, devoted stepmom to orphaned Blossom and Benjamin and friend to our beloved Tucker, died last week. She was 27 years old.

At breakfast on Wednesday morning, we found Sadie down in her barn, unable to stand. Kellie Myers, our Health Care Coordinator, administered 15ccs of Banamine for pain relief, and then, with the help of tow straps functioning as a sling, we lifted Sadie with the tractor, placing her gently on her feet. Sadie went down again, which confirmed that she had, indeed, fractured something, probably her pelvis. But this is where the story is no longer predictable, for in the last few hours of her life, Sadie’s grit and determination took our collective breath away.

Dr. Gunzburg, the primary vet for our ruminants, was in surgery when Kellie phoned Hurley Veterinary Hospital. The message that we needed him for an emergency was relayed. He’d arrive as soon as he could— which, unfortunately, would be six long hours later.

For Sadie’s safety, Blossom, Benjamin, and Tucker were closed outside. We blanketed the old girl, and throughout the day, offered her warm, hot mashes of sweet feed and molasses. Caretaker Dakota was Sadie’s primary cowsitter, but more often that not, several of Sadie’s human family were with her as the minutes and hours ticked past.

In those six hours, Sadie fell two more times… but two more times managed to get up on her own. Her bones went Pop. POP. P-P-P-POP. Rapid fire. Loud. Excruciating to hear. We humans looked at each other: none of us could believe what we were witnessing. Cows don’t stand when they sustain injuries like this, and they certainly don’t walk. But Sadie did. She stood and she walked: she moved as if to confirm what we already knew about her: “You want to see tough as nails, guys?  I’ll show you tough as nails.”  Maybe she was simply trying to figure out what was going on inside her body…how to move, whether and where to stand (or to lie down) for the most comfort. My take? On some level, I think she didn’t want to go. I think she wasn’t ready to leave this life, to leave her beloved adopted children, her dear friend Tucker, and so, she tried mightily to show herself, and us, that she could do this.

Twelve hours before my tough-as-nails father died, he woke up. He sat up in his hospice bed, watched his team, the Chicago Bears, shred their opponent, drank a Budweiser. At dinnertime, he walked (with our help) to the dining room table, took our hands, and began, “Heavenly father, thank you for this day.” The next morning, he was gone. And in the same way that my Dad’s “grand finale” lives in me, a testament to the strength of character his three kids witnessed throughout our lives, Sadie’s courage impacted me similarly. We witnessed what she was made of in her final hours, and that gift —that witnessing— will grow inside of us, expanding our hearts, steeling our resolve. Making us better. Just like Dad did.

Dr. Gunzburg arrived at 3 pm, and confirmed what we knew: euthanasia was the only humane option. I exhaled deeply, preparing myself for the next steps.

The moment Dr. Gunzburg administered the sedative, she hobbled deliberately past the door that Tucker, Blossom, and Benjamin stood behind. The door moved— the threesome wanted to see their friend— and in that exact moment, Sadie bellowed. Her powerful “moo” reverberated in the enclosed barn, and I believe in my bones that she was saying goodbye to her family.

Earlier in the day, we’d removed most of the straw from the area where Sadie stood and replaced it with shavings, which would be a softer cushion in the event that she lay (or fell) down; if she walked, her compromised right leg wouldn’t become entangled in the straw. But by the time the vet arrived, Sadie was 30 feet from the bed of shavings spread on the opposite side of the barn. After she said goodbye to her friends, Sadie, bones cracking and popping with every step, eyes heavy from sedation, struggled deliberately to the soft shavings that would cushion her broken body. She collapsed into them the moment she reached them, offering the same vital lesson my Dad had from his hospice bed: even in our final moments, we all appreciate the little things. A Budweiser. A comfortable bed of shavings.

In Sadie’s last hours, we gave our old girl all that we had. Dinner for hundreds of others ran late and meetings were missed and projects not completed so that one cherished animal knew for sure how much she was loved. With her beloved bovine family just feet away and her human family kneeling around her, stroking her body and whispering gently, Sadie went to sleep… but not before giving us every bit as much as we gave her.

*Post Script:  Like the tiny number of “food animals” who escape their intended grisly fate and wind up instead finding sanctuary, Sadie won the lottery. She was special, but so are all the others.

In our most fervent dreams, we imagine Sadie reaching a beautiful animal heaven, where she meets the trillions of souls less lucky than she. One by one they approach, until she is surrounded by chickens and cows, ducks and fish, pigs and sheep. So many more. One by one or in groups of friends, they approach her:  “What was it like?” they ask. “Tell us about having a family. Tells us about being outside and napping in the sun. Tell us about gentle, whispered words. Tell us what love feels like.”

And Sadie responds, “Oh, friends, I have so much share.”

* With humble thanks to Communications Associate Veronica Finnegan for this breathtaking vision