Hilda: The First Animal Rescued by Farm Sanctuary

Hilda, the first animal rescued by Farm Sanctuary, was found discarded on top of a pile of dead animals at Lancaster Stockyards. Thrown just inches from a rotting carcass, flies and maggots were crawling all over her seemingly lifeless body. When she picked up her head, we lifted her into our van and rushed her to the nearest veterinarian. Hilda had collapsed because of the brutal transportation conditions — she was not suffering from any injuries or diseases. Twenty minutes after we arrived at the veterinary hospital, she stood up and started eating and drinking.

While Hilda regained her strength, we started an investigation to determine who had abandoned her. After gathering evidence, we contacted the trucker responsible for dumping her. He admitted he had dragged her off the truck and thrown her on the pile because she was a “downer” (an animal too weak or injured to stand).

With both a personal admission and evidence of blatant cruelty and neglect, we felt confident we could convince local law enforcement authorities to prosecute — but we were wrong. They claimed “normal animal agriculture practices” were exempt from Pennsylvania anti-cruelty laws — and dumping live farm animals on “deadpiles” was considered “normal.”

Frustrated, and shocked, by the absence of any legal protection for farm animals, we intensified our investigation of the Lancaster Stockyards — and soon discovered that Hilda’s plight was not an isolated incident. Every week, animals were abandoned in filthy stockyard pens or alleyways, and left to die slowly from starvation and neglect. After documenting hundreds of instances of animal cruelty (and rescuing dozens of “downed” animals), we organized a demonstration to draw attention to the plight of animals at Lancaster Stockyards.

National and regional news stories shocked and outraged the public, and Lancaster Stockyards announced it would no longer sell downed animals and would euthanize downed animals left on the premises. As time passed, however, Lancaster Stockyards’ adherence to its voluntary “No Downer” policy became lax, and downed animals were again left to die of neglect at the stockyard. Farm Sanctuary incorporated as a humane enforcement agency in Pennsylvania, and when our humane agent discovered a cow lying on her side in a pen, down and dying, Farm Sanctuary filed cruelty charges against the stockyard for denying the animal needed veterinary care — and won. Lancaster Stockyards became the first stockyard in the U.S. to be convicted of cruelty to animals, and the case redefined what constitutes “cruelty” to farm animals under existing laws in Pennsylvania.

Hilda spent 11 years roaming the green pastures of Farm Sanctuary’s New York Shelter. During her life, she touched the hearts and minds of millions of people: Legislators and policymakers who introduced federal and state legislation to ban “downed” animal cruelties … people who learned of Hilda’s plight in dozens of national news stories … and visitors of all ages who met Hilda and learned that farm animals feel pain or sorrow just like dogs or cats.

Hilda passed away peacefully in her sleep, dying from old age on September 25, 1997. She is buried in a beautiful garden grove on the farm, with a memorial plaque that will continue to reach and teach people for years to come. All that Farm Sanctuary does — from our shelters and investigative campaigns to our legal and legislative actions — is because of Hilda, and animals like her.

In honor of Hilda, and to recognize people who have made a major contribution to the ongoing work initiated by her, Farm Sanctuary has established the Friends of Hilda Club. Click here to join or get more information about the club.