The officers had stopped at the farm to investigate reports of a dead animal. It was supposed to be a routine check, but something was off about the place. As they opened the barn door a horrific sight met them, and they rushed to take action before more lives were lost.
Back in 1988 an animal rescue group called the Large Animal Protection Society (LAPS) was founded. The non-profit group was created with the intention of policing animal cruelty laws. It continues to do so to this day, with the help of its dedicated volunteer staff.
Indeed, as their name suggests, LAPS specializes in protecting bigger animals that smaller protection agencies cannot. Many of the animals it helps safeguard are domestic farmyard animals like horses, pigs and cows. It’s no surprise, then, that they assisted police at a scene on a small hobby farm.
The farm was located in Chester, Pennsylvania. In June 2017 a member of the public noticed something troubling in one of the farm’s fields. It looked like a dead horse. As a result of their concern for the animal, the passer-by called for help.
When law enforcement attended the scene, they found the animal – but it wasn’t dead. In fact, the horse was just asleep in the pasture. But something must have made the officers uneasy, and they called for assistance from animal protection specialists.
LAPS was one of the groups who answered the call, and they were accompanied by Helping Hands for Animals. Together with the police officers, the collaboration started to look around the farm. However, they couldn’t have foreseen what they uncovered.
In a press release, Farm Sanctuary, a farm animal rescue and protection organization, described how the farm in Chester had won awards for its animals in the past. “The farm owner and his family had taken the cows to fairs,” the organization explained. “They were paraded in front of judges, and received prizes.”
But appearances can be deceiving, and it seems the animals were treated somewhat differently after their shows. The unnamed farmer had shut his cattle in the barn, where the cows were apparently forgotten about. At least, that’s what it looked like from the condition they were found in.
“When investigators arrived at the scene, what they found was not valued, prize-winning cattle,” Farm Sanctuary wrote. Instead, they found eight calves, six cows and one bull locked in the barn. But the conditions they were forced to live in were not just horrifying. The barn posed a serious threat to the animals.
It looked like the barn hadn’t been cleaned out in some time. As a result of the farmer’s neglect, the building’s floor wasn’t just thick with mud and feces – it was positively swimming in it, and some of the calves had already suffered the consequences.
“Five calves, each just a few weeks old, appeared to have literally drowned in the muck,” Farm Sanctuary explained. “Only three of eight calves – so covered in feces they looked like they had been dipped in it – survived.” The poor animals looked traumatized, and they probably were.
Susie Coston from Farm Sanctuary told The Dodo how this could have happened. “If a calf is sick, they lay down,” she explained on June 23, 2017. “If they’re stepped on, or someone [accidentally] pushes them in, they’re too weak to get out.”
“So they actually drown in their own manure, which is repulsive.” To add another element of horror to the conditions, one of the calves was found huddled next to his dead companion. Coston said he was probably mourning his friend’s passing. “Cows are very emotional,” she explained.
“They’re very vocal and upset when someone dies, and they’re not frightened about staying with the body and mourning.” Authorities could tell these animals had been suffering for some time, and confronted the farmer about it. However, he denied any accusations of neglect or abuse.
On the contrary, he said that the animals had only been in the barn for three days. Despite his protestations, there were just ten surviving cattle from the barn. The farmer willingly surrendered the animals, but even this apparently good news had a bittersweet edge.
“Shockingly, [the farmer] was permitted to keep many more animals, who were found outside of the barn,” Farm Sanctuary reported. But LAPS and Farm Sanctuary couldn’t just stand by and let history repeat itself, and have taken legal action. “Charges have been filed against him,” they stated.
“[These include] failure to provide veterinary care and failure to provide sanitary conditions to his animals.” It remains to be seen if the charges will stick, but at least for now, some of the animals are safe. And it has been good news for the rescued cattle.
After some of the animals received medical care, they were all found new homes across two sanctuaries. Three of them – two calves and one adult – now live at New Jersey’s Skylands Animal Sanctuary & Rescue. The remaining seven were sent to Farm Sanctuary’s New York shelter.
Furthermore, the females at Farm Sanctuary seem to have adopted the male calf as their own. “They’re both very maternal,” Coston told The Dodo. “They love being outside. When they start becoming playful, that means they’re starting to feel secure.”
“Anytime an animal is seen only for financial gain their value is determined by that,” Coston continued. “Now these amazing cows will live a life where they are seen as someone – not something. [They will] get the individual love, respect and care they each deserve.”