Rita was just a few months old when an accident claimed part of her foot—and very nearly, her life. At the time, the Black Angus calf lived with her mother on a beef-breeding farm in central New York. Her life would have followed one of two paths: slaughter for beef at a young age, or use as a “breeding” cow just like her mother, forced to give birth to calves bound for that fate. Everything changed, though, when Rita caught her foot in some flooring on the farm; in her struggle to break free, she lost a sizable piece of her limb.
Typically, animals in these situations face imminent abandonment or slaughter. Few farm owners choose to spend time or money on individuals they see as damaged; it’s simply more cost-effective to replace these animals with healthy ones.
But Rita’s farmers saw things differently. They hoped to do right by their animals—emphasizing to us, for example, that they never personally slaughter the cows that they raised. While acknowledging this suffering is certainly a first step towards making life better for farm animals, our work doesn’t stop there. Any involvement in a system whose final result is slaughter unfortunately supports continued abuse—no matter how well the animals live under their care.
With Rita, however, they broke that cycle. Instead of putting the young calf “out of her misery,” or letting Rita fend for herself, they decided to give her a chance.
First, they consulted veterinarians at Cornell University’s Nemo Farm Animal Hospital, to see what Rita’s options were; Cornell believed that they could help, but warned that she would have a long road ahead. Though pleased by this news, the farmers worried, too. With a business to maintain, they didn’t think they could provide the time and funds that Rita would need throughout her recovery. So, they asked Cornell if they knew of anyone equipped to take on her care—and they, in turn, referred the farmers to us. Touched by Rita’s journey and the farmers’ compassion, we agreed to take her in at our New York shelter.
Move-in day was a challenging one for Rita. Up until then, she had spent her entire life with her mother; that day was their first spent apart. Knowing that these separations can be painful, we offered to take in Rita’s mom too. So far, the farmers have chosen to keep Rita’s mother on—likely to breed more calves to sell for slaughter as originally intended with Rita.
Though it breaks our hearts to see them apart, we had no choice. This was the only way that we could save Rita’s life. Understandably, it was going to take some time for Rita to feel at home with us. She had already lost so much: her foot, her mother, and her home. Panicked, she charged at us when we approached and shirked our attempts at care.
And on the subject of care—Rita required more than we anticipated. Along the way to Farm Sanctuary, her stump reopened—exposing the bone in her damaged foot. This meant more work for her veterinarians, and a trickier prognosis. In the meantime, we routinely cleaned and wrapped her wound and did everything we could to keep Rita comfortable.
After Rita’s first follow-up at Cornell, we received some crushing news: she might not be a good candidate for prosthesis—her best chance at a normal quality of life. At that point, she had just enough remaining bone for such a procedure to be effective; but now there was a chance they might need to remove bone in order to clear her infection.
Despite the bad news, we kept hopeful, and continued with plans for Rita’s surgery. To everyone’s surprise (and delight), she was in better condition than her doctors had thought. After debriding the surrounding necrotic tissue, they only needed to scrape a small amount of bone. This meant that we could continue with our plans to fit Rita for a prosthetic!
Rita remained at Cornell as she healed—and once her sutures came out, she returned to Farm Sanctuary. While still wary of our intentions, she is slowly getting used to us and seems to understand that we are here to help. Rita still has a long recovery ahead—both physical and emotional—but we are with her every step of the way.
Once Rita was strong and healthy enough, we introduced her to Peggy and Poppy—two other smaller girls with special healthcare needs. The change in Rita was immediate: the once aloof calf quickly approached them with inquisitive “moos,” and showed her first desire to play! She’s now “one of the girls,” and is becoming more relaxed as a member of this special trio.
In time, Rita will receive a permanent prosthetic to help her live as normal a life as possible. We are so thankful that she can grow up in safety with her new friends. Once deemed “worthless” by the dairy and beef industries, they all have value at Farm Sanctuary and through their friendship with one another.