The title chapter in Animal Camp tells the story of a young steer, pig, and horse who went away to “summer camp” a few years ago in hopes that they would bond, heal each other, and return to Catskill Animal Sanctuary able to integrate with their respective species. What was the need? All three were outcasts: ostracized, picked on, lonely. We had a strong sense that the experiment would work, and it did. When Tucker the steer, Hope the horse, and Franklin the pig returned home to CAS, all three were calmer and more confident beings; all three better able to stand their ground if challenged by a dominant animal; all three successfully integrated into established groups. In this summer-long experiment, we learned beyond question that personality does, indeed, trump species, even in the unlikeliest pairing—as in horses and pigs.
Fast forward to Spring 2013. For the last year, Tucker and his small herd of five cows were living at our new property on Rt. 32 (we await the results of a feasibility study before we can fully develop the property) in a large, gently rolling pasture, with a staff person on site to tend to their daily needs. In addition, Animal Care Coordinator Jenn Mackey visited every Sunday for stem-to-stern health checks, and they had lots of visits from neighbor Cosmo, other passersby, and CAS staff who missed having them on our main property. FINE for his pasture mates. NOT FINE for Tucker. Every time I would visit (three or four times a week) shouting “TUCKER!!” as I walked out to greet him, Tucker would trot to me, moo pitifully, and bury his face in my chest or thighs.
“Mmmmm,” he’d say each time. Translation? “I want to come home.”
You see, Tucker likes cows—Tucker likes every living being, I honestly believe—but Tucker loves people. And our new property is currently just a bit too quiet for him. Twice daily visits from his caretaker and occasional “guest” visits were clearly not satisfying his need to be among people.
So once again, Tucker returned home. He walked quietly onto the trailer when we drove over to load him, but then turned around and put his giant head over the rear door so that as I followed just feet behind him in my car I stretched out my window and shouted to him, “Tucker!! We’re going home!!”
And then we were home. And among the moments I will never forget as long as I live was the one when, just moments after Tucker entered his field, he walked up, buried his face in my lap, and stood there, mooing gently, over and over, as I leaned over the gentle, one-ton giant, massaging his ears and kissing him.
“Thank you, Mama,” he said.