From Dairy Dead Pile to Sanctuary: A Brave Calf Survives Against All Odds

Against unbelievable odds, a newborn calf named Mario has gone from the trash heap to sanctuary. Discovered on a dairy farm’s dead pile, tiny Mario immediately began reaching the most unlikely people.

A rendering truck driver, who arrived at the dairy farm to pick up dead cows, was horrified and distraught to find the 45-pound Jersey calf helplessly lying atop a stack of corpses, alive and healthy except for an injured leg. It was clear to the driver that Mario had been discarded not only due to the injury, but because, as a male calf, he was considered worthless by the dairy industry and undeserving of humane euthanasia. Though quite accustomed to the ugly side of animal agriculture, the driver was so deeply disturbed and moved by Mario’s plight, that from his mobile phone, he called friends he knew could help Mario find his way to Farm Sanctuary. He then quietly and gently placed Mario on the front seat of the truck and hurried him away from the horror of the dead pile toward his new future.

The afternoon Mario arrived at our California Shelter, it was evident that the injury to his right front leg was serious, and he was rushed to a local vet for x-rays and diagnosis. It was confirmed that little Mario had a fractured humerus, and determined that he would need to be seen by orthopedic specialists at UC Davis Veterinary School as soon as possible if there could be any chance of successfully repairing the leg. So, back into the van went Mario, along with a volunteer intern to ride with him in the back seat to help keep him as still as possible. Mario quickly dozed off during the trip, with his head in the volunteer’s lap, seemingly aware that for the first time he was safe and would be loved and cared for.

After examining and fully assessing him, the veterinary hospital orthopedic department delivered the expected news that repairing Mario’s leg would be very challenging, would require lengthy recovery and rehabilitation, and would be extremely expensive. The fracture was not a clean break and would greatly complicate things. Furthermore, there were not likely to be any guarantees that the repair would be ultimately successful. In Mario’s favor, however, was the fact the he was newborn and his bones could heal quickly, and that Farm Sanctuary’s shelter staff would be more than willing to spend as much time as was necessary with him on rehabilitation and treatments, and to customize his recovery environment to perfectly suit his needs. The okay to proceed with surgery was given.

Mario’s rescue story quickly spread throughout the veterinary teaching hospital’s large animal staff and students. In the two days required to stabilize him before surgery, people flocked around Mario’s stall to meet and spend time with him, and there was no shortage of admirers anxious to give his bottle feedings.

Although there were only two surgeons assigned to Mario’s procedure, a total of five surgeons assisted during his four-hour surgery when complications arose because, according to his attending veterinarian, “Everyone here was so touched by his story they wanted to do everything possible to make it work so that he would survive!”

After a total of 10 days in intensive care at the hospital, Mario was stable enough to make the trip home. Again, a volunteer rode in the back with him, and, again, Mario laid his head in her lap and slept. When they arrived at the shelter, his specially padded and restricted recovery stall was ready for its fragile and adorable guest. It took no time for Mario to snuggle in and get comfortable, and no time for the volunteers and staff to fall in love with this incredible survivor.

Mario’s recovery proceeded even better than predicted. The six-inch incision on his upper leg healed perfectly, and his appetite, attitude and spunk were wonderfully above average from the beginning. For several weeks, Mario wore a splint for 12 to 14 hours a day. The splint prevented his hoof from buckling under when he walked, and our caregivers spent two to three hours per day helping him to place the leg correctly, and flexing the tendons to speed their recovery. Mario loved “therapy time,” and was very generous with kisses while we put on and removed his splint.

Now fully grown, Mario can buck and run, and wander our green pastures just like all his friends. He spends his days with his best buddy Linus, roaming through the tall grass, napping in the sun and carousing with the more playful members of our herd. Watching him galloping and snorting happily, you would never know how close his life came to ending in tragedy.