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Downed Cow

The truck carrying this cow was unloaded at Walton Stockyards in Kentucky on a September morning. After the other animals were removed from the truck, she was left behind, unable to move. The stockyard workers beat and kicked her in the face, ribs and back. They used the customary electric prods in her ear to try to get her out of the truck, but still she did not move. The workers then tied a rope around her neck, tied the other end to a post in the ground, and drove the truck away. The cow was dragged along the floor of the truck and fell to the ground, landing with both hind legs and her pelvis broken. She remained in this state until 7:30 that evening.

The cow lay in the hot sun crying out for the first three hours. Periodically, when she urinated or defecated, she used her front legs to drag herself along the gravel roadway to a clean spot. She also tried to crawl to a shaded area but could not move far enough. Altogether she managed to crawl a painful 13-14 yards. The stockyard employees would not allow her any drinking water; the only drinking water she received was given to her by Jessie Pierce, a local animal rights activist, who had been contacted by a woman who witnessed the incident. Jessie arrived at noon. After receiving no cooperation from stockyard workers, she called the Kenton County police. A police officer arrived but was instructed by his superiors to do nothing; he left at 1 p.m.

The stockyard operator informed Jessie at 1 p.m. that he had obtained permission from the insurance company to kill the cow but would not do so until Jessie left. Although doubtful that he would keep his word, Jessie left at 3 p.m. She returned at 4:30 p.m. and found the stockyard deserted. Three dogs were attacking the cow, who was still alive. She had suffered a number of bite wounds, and her drinking water had been removed. Jessie contacted the Kentucky State Police. Four officers arrived at about 5:30 p.m. State trooper Jan Wuchner wanted to shoot the cow but was told that a veterinarian should kill her. The two veterinarians at the facility would not euthanize the cow, claiming that, in order to preserve the value of the meat, she could not be destroyed. The butcher eventually arrived at 7:30 p.m. and did shoot the cow. Her body was purchased for $307.50. (Usually animals who are bruised or crippled or who are found dead are considered unfit for human consumption and are used for pet food.)

When the stockyard operator was questioned earlier in the day by a reporter from The Kentucky Post, he stated, "We didn't do a damned thing to it," and referred to the attention given the cow by humane workers and police as "bullcrap." He laughed throughout the questioning, saying he found nothing wrong with the way the incident was handled.

This is not an isolated case; in fact, it is so common that animals in this condition are known in the meat industry as "downers," and no effort is made by industry insiders or the USDA to see that animals are treated more humanely. Standard practice is for stockyard workers to find "downed" animals, tie them to the back of a pickup truck and drag them to one area, where they are piled one on top of the other, making it easier for the butcher to kill them and reducing the chances of interference by concerned passersby. Stockyard workers seem to find these practices acceptable. They have proved that the meat industry cannot monitor itself. It is up to the public to demand change and for consumers to refuse to purchase the products of this miserable industry.