The work of animal rescue and placement takes Farm Sanctuary to all sorts of places. Transporting new residents to sanctuary typically involves trips to animal-control facilities or scenes of neglect, but sometimes the job lands a staff member somewhere unexpected — as when, this past February, National Placement Coordinator Alicia Pell found herself at Charo’s house.
Actress and musician Charo (of “Laugh-In” and “Love Boat” fame) is a longtime vegetarian and animal advocate. Recently she took in Manolito, an orphaned calf. At Charo’s home, Manolito received an examination from visiting veterinarian Dr. Kerry Milliken, who also happens to treat our Acton, CA, shelter residents. Knowing that Farm Sanctuary could provide Manolito with a comfortable environment, expert care, and the companionship of other cattle, Dr. Kerry suggested that Charo consider the shelter as a permanent home for the little calf.
Shortly thereafter Alicia visited Charo at her house in Beverly Hills and met 11-day-old Manolito. After reading the literature Alicia had brought and hearing about how Farm Sanctuary operates our shelters, Charo decided that coming to Farm Sanctuary would be the best thing for Manolito. She relinquished custody of him to us that day, and we prepared a space for him at the shelter.
When Manolito first arrived in Acton, we discovered he had a severe umbilical infection. We immediately started him on antibiotics and topical treatment and asked the shelter’s cattle vet to come examine him. Since Manolito also displayed symptoms suggesting an infection of bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV), we sent samples to our local vet for testing as well. To our dismay, the test came back positive.
BVDV infections can be transmitted either in utero or after birth. Calves infected in utero, called “persistently infected” (PI), face the grimmest prognosis: These calves are sick, and contagious, for life. The infection may also trigger other conditions such as mucosal disease, which typically kills its victims within a few weeks. Because BVDV is highly contagious to all ruminants and can contaminate pastures, PI animals can never live with any non-infected animals who are susceptible to this disease. We would have to wait 60 days for a re-test to verify the diagnosis, and in the meantime, Manolito would have to be kept in strict quarantine.
In the beginning, Manolito required bottle feedings four times a day, obliging our live-in caregivers to visit him at midnight each night — which, despite the loss of sleep, they were happy to do. Though a diagnosis of BVDV hung over Manolito, and though he continued to experience diarrhea, he was happy and thriving at the shelter. He bounced around and played like a normal, healthy calf, and his umbilicus infection cleared up without complication in a few weeks. Manolito did recently develop pneumonia, from which he is still recovering, but the illness hasn’t damped his spirits.
Finally it was time to send in another sample for BVDV testing, this time to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. The two weeks we had to wait for the results were agonizing. We worried for Manolito. If he was PI, we could never introduce him to our herd but would have the dubious task of trying to find a space and another PI bovine companion. Manolito, meanwhile, was getting frustrated with the restrictions of quarantine. All he wanted was lots of space to run and play! We all held our breath and hoped for a BVDV-negative result.
And we got it! With tears of joy and relief, we learned that Manolito was BVDV-free. We were finally able to let this playful calf out of quarantine to run freely in our extended courtyard. Manolito stumbled a little at first, but by day two of his new freedom, he was feeling strong and rambunctious. Once his pneumonia clears up, he will be able to meet the other members of our cattle herd.
Manolito is ready to take his new life by storm, but he also has an old friend in the picture. Charo has kept in close contact with us about her former adoptee, speaking daily with Alicia during Manolito’s first few weeks at the shelter. She and her family have come to visit him several times and have been delighted by his wonderful new home. Charo has become fond of many other shelter residents as well and brings treats for the animals (and the staff) when she comes. Whenever she sees Manolito, she sings to him. At the sound of her voice, his ears perk up, and he runs to her at once. This lucky young bovine has a song in his heart, and seeing him happily at play puts one in ours as well.