It was around Valentine’s Day when we got the call to help a calf with a broken heart. Young Pippi was born over a month premature at a New England dairy farm, and no one expected her to live for very long. The tiny calf had an incurable heart condition that left her too weak to stand, let alone play like other calves. At just three months old, she weighed less than a newborn and wasn’t thriving. As a result, dairy veterinarians suggested euthanasia to put her out of her misery.
But Pippi wasn’t miserable; despite her ailments, she seemed bright and cheerful. Thanks to a compassionate friend named Virginia, Pippi is now safe at Farm Sanctuary, and changing lives for other farm animals.
At first glance, some might have found Pippi unremarkable. She was just one calf out of the millions born into the dairy industry each year. Due to her condition, she would never be able to enter production; that’s why most farmers, when faced with sick animals, refuse to treat an individual that will ultimately not be “profitable.”
Virginia however, saw things differently: she knew that Pippi’s disabilities didn’t lessen her right to life.
Virginia is a local professor who often walked her dog along the property. She enjoyed visiting the cows along the way, yet also worried what might become of them someday. The dairy itself is clean and operates according to industry standards; the animals receive appropriate food, care, and attention, compared to the cruelty we often witness elsewhere. Still, Virginia knew that life for these calves was far from perfect.
Even under the best circumstances, most dairy farmers remove calves from their mothers shortly after birth. They sell the males, who will never produce milk, for veal or cheap beef. Females will grow up like their mothers—repeatedly impregnated and separated from their babies in order to sell milk for profit. Then there are calves like Pippi: those who do not fit the dairy industry’s model. Thanks to Virginia, however, Pippi’s life can now model compassionate change, instead.
When Virginia looked at Pippi, she saw an individual—not a commodity. She knew that, despite a shortened life expectancy, Pippi deserved to enjoy the time she still had. So, she asked the dairy to relinquish her to a sanctuary. Thankfully, they agreed to let us take her into our care.
Pippi’s prognosis was very concerning. Even without all the problems she presented, young calves require more care than people often realize. Though some may weigh upwards of 100 pounds at birth, they are still very fragile. In our experience, few receive the colostrum they need to develop a healthy immune system. This vital nutrient, a component of their mother’s milk, can only be absorbed throughout their first day of life—and without it, their very survival is at stake. As soon as we learned about Pippi, we knew that time was of the essence.
Soon after hearing her story, New York Shelter staff members picked Pippi up and brought the visibly ill calf to Cornell University’s Nemo Farm Animal Hospital. There, veterinarians confirmed suspicions that Pippi had severe aspiration pneumonia.
At Cornell, veterinarians also discovered her heart condition. They realized that Pippi has a ventricular septal defect (VSD): a hole in the wall separating the chambers of the heart. Typically, this hole would close before a calf is born; because Pippi was born prematurely, however, it did not heal properly. Sadly, not much is known about this condition; people rarely let calves with this disease live, so we do not yet know what Pippi’s prognosis will be. As she continues to heal and get stronger, however, we can look into opportunities to repair the hole and help Pippi live her best life possible.
Due to the uncertainties of her condition, we do not know how long Pippi will be with us. “She could live for one more day or ten years,” says National Shelter Director Susie Coston. “But we won’t give up on her because she has a chance. She doesn’t know she has heart disease; she is not sick or suffering or in pain. She is just a happy calf, and we are allowing her to have a life.”
Susie explains that much of the work we do at Farm Sanctuary revolves around hospice care; we do not always know how long an animal has to live, but we will make every moment of his or her life count. We monitor and treat their conditions, and ensure they receive the quality care they need to enjoy the best quality of life possible.
When it is their time to go, they let us know. And while it breaks our hearts to lose these beloved friends, we take comfort in the knowledge that we have done the best we could to support the lives that they deserve.
Thankfully, we won’t need to say goodbye to Pippi anytime soon—the once frail, sickly calf is now happy, healthy, and thriving at Farm Sanctuary! She shows no signs of being sick, and is growing and playing as a normal calf should. She showers us with kisses and regularly seeks our attention. She even has a new friend: another calf named Forrest, who arrived with severe leg issues but now keeps Pippi on her toes! These two spend their days grazing, romping our pastures, and grooming one another.
Only time will tell if Pippi will need medical intervention for her heart someday, but for now, she is doing great—all thanks to the power of sanctuary, and to people like you, who make our lifesaving work possible. Pippi serves as an ambassador for all calves in the dairy industry; please share her story to help us celebrate her amazing life and on behalf of farm animals just like her.