On a warm day in June 2009, Freedom and Summer arrived at Animal Place. Two small forms - one emaciated and frail, one bold without a tail. Both orphans of the dairy industry, unwanted male calves disposed of at auction.
Freedom was born with a congenital defect - no tail. He would require lifelong special care - loving caregivers would traipse the property to find him and apply special creams to protect him from flies and infection.
Freedom is one of many bovines born into the dairy industry with a virus called BLV (Bovine Leukemia Virus). Around 80% of dairy farms have cows with this virus. In some animals, no symptoms develop. But in other animals, especially those with compromised immune systems like unwanted male dairy calves, BLV can cause cancer.
And so while Freedom should have lived another 10-12 years, his life was stolen from him by a virus directly connected to the unnecessary dairy industry. He was only four when he died.
I will hold onto the first second I laid eyes on him, the murmur of farmers as they eyed the brown calf, the whispers of “defective”, “don’t bid on him” floating in the acrimonious air of the auction room. I saw a who, a someone, a tiny baby searching for his mom. They saw a commodity, a what, a thing.
He was so small I could pick him up. He was so frightened, his eyes were more white than pupil. He wanted his mom with a quiet desperation.
Freedom grew up to be a playful, boisterous, gentle steer. He loved his adopted brother, Summer, and loved having his back massaged. Freedom exuded joy.
He is profoundly missed.
- Marji Beach, Education Director
The day I met Freedom is etched in my brain forever. Marji Beach and I attended the Petaluma LIvestock Auction to research an article for our upcoming newsletter. To shorten a very long story, we left the auction that day with Freedom and Summer. Two little Jersey calves, both sick and one at death’s door.
We drove directly from the auction yard to a veterinary hospital where we unloaded both calves and directed the vets to do what they could to save their lives. They did and both eventually left the hospital to live at Animal Place.
The rest is history. The two boys matured, joined the herd, and became part of our family. I cannot think of Freedom without thinking of the millions of other baby male calves ripped from their moms immediately after being born, only to be loaded up and sent to auction.
Freedom helped us in educating people about the real cost of a glass of milk, a bowl of ice cream, or a slice of cheddar. Go vegan.
- Kim Sturla, Executive Director
One of my first clear memories of Freedom was when Summer and he were living with the goats during their first spring in Grass Valley. Because we have mountain lions here they had to be separated from the main herd of cattle until they were a little older and each night had to be lead into the Goat Barn. Oh what a pain they were to get into that barn! After a few months of putting up with sleeping with the goats, Freedom suddenly wouldn’t. He had had enough, he wanted to be a big steer and sleep outside like all the others. He wanted freedom. No pushing, prodding or goading would get him inside that barn that night, or the next, or the next. Freedom won that battle and we had to put him and Summer into the main cattle herd a little sooner. I think perhaps he was aptly named. Freedom.
He sure was a stubborn spirit, but he was also one of the most friendly and affectionate cows I’ve had the pleasure of working for. I remember calling for the cattle, which we do every night to make sure everyone is ok, this was a few winters ago when they were in one of their HUGE pastures and Freedom would always be one of the first to show up so happy to see me. He absolutely loved to have his eye boogers cleaned off by rubbing his eyes on my pants, his butt scratched (in his missing tail region) and during fly season he would lift his left leg to let me scratch his inner thighs (which always made me smile).
He had a large inner child that loved to play and run and was well known for play bowing and galloping like a calf even in the end. We were so fortunate to have gotten the chance to know and love such an amazing spirit.
- Jamie London, Animal Care Director
I have to say that my dog Bear played a very large role in me getting to know Freedom. I live on the sanctuary with all my furry kids and when I first started working here our playful steer Freedom was staying across the way from my cottage in the healthcare paddock. He and his old man pal Howie were hanging out together getting special needs care, Howie because he was older and Freedom was having some trouble with his eyes.
Every night my four legged children and I would come outside to play or go for a walk and immediately Freedom would run to the gate and moo. He’d stay right there talking until Bear could run over and give him a big sloppy kiss. Far be it for me to understand why he loved this affection, in my opinion Bear has the most horrific breath, but Freedom was crazy about it.
This went on for my first few weeks here, every night we’d have a little dog and cow party just outside my home, Freedom and Bear would have there own secret laughs and Olive, my other dog child would look at me like “why does he think he’s so great”. Freedom’s eyes eventually healed and he returned to his herd mates, but I know he developed a special bond with Bear.
We would drive past the cow pasture or walk along the fence line and Freedom always seemed to know when Bear was around, he always would come right up to get his smelly smooch. Animals never stop surprising me, two species that most would never think of as friends, or even as having the capacity to bond, did just that. Freedom, my playful boy, I’m glad I got to know you, Bear and I will miss you greatly. Rest in peace.
- Ciara Fiack, Animal Caregiver