by Stan Griffin

For a week-and-a-half in February, 2002, instead of flying pigs in Cincinnati there was a flying cow. Well, maybe she wasn’t really flying; but she was moving fast enough to keep away from her pursuers. Furthermore, she did something none of those pigs could. Instead of being put on display, she escaped and spent several days of freedom in Clifton’s Mount Storm Park (suburban Cincinnati).

Her escapade got national media attention, and reporters from all over the country outdid themselves thinking of clever ways to tell her story. Some of the most memorable "cow puns" follow.

The animal was called the "cavorting cow of Clifton," "Ghost Cow of Cincinnati," a "peevish cow," "mad cow," "fugitive cow," "elusive bovine," "bolting bovine," "wayward bovine," "Bovine bin Heidi" (since she was hiding out), "Moosama bin Laden," "holy cow," "Stormy" (for Mount Storm Park), and "the cow with the pretty French name." Writers referred to her with comments like, "This cow is no ham", "She’s milking one last moment of fame", "cooling her heels," "She’s in a great mooood", "Where’s the beef?", "Don’t look for the beef in your grocer’s freezer", "She started a stampede," and "an udder beauty",

The Cow

The animal in question is a Charolais (shar-ah- LAY) female, probably 6-10 years old. This breed originated in France and became very popular in the U. S. during the 1970s, " ... primarily for the extra muscling ..." It is often cross-bred with other beef cattle breeds to get larger and faster-growing calves. Bulls average about a ton while brood cows run 1,100 to 1,200 pounds. They are no more rebellious than any other bovines; but they are athletic and fine jumpers. They’re described as "intelligent cattle with docile temperament desirable for management purposes" with a natural fear of people and nervous by nature.

A range cow, she is cream and brown in color, bred and raised in Lexington, and valued at $400-$800. She had seldom seen humans until her odyssey in the "Queen City."

The Escape

She was trucked from southern Kentucky to Cincinnati, taken to the Ken Mayer Meat Company stockyards in Camp Washington, and placed in a pen to await slaughtering. Before her time arrived, she reportedly jumped a seven-foot fence and was on her way. A witness said the animal was bleeding from the mouth.

The Hunt

After leaving the Mayer stock pen, it is believed that she headed north on Hopple Street, across an Interstate 75 overpass, up Central Parkway and across a corner of the Cincinnati State Technical College campus. From there she entered Mount Storm Park, a 57-acre, heavily-wooded nature area approximately 3 miles from Mayer’s.

A helicopter belonging to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department and fitted with thermal imaging cameras was sent up to look for her, hoping they could pinpoint the cow’s location by picking up her body heat.

Agencies involved in the search were the Hamilton County SPCA (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), the Cincinnati Police, the Ohio Division of Forestry, and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department. A certain urgency fueled the hunt since the animal was close enough to Interstate 75 and other heavily traveled streets to be a potential traffic hazard.

A volunteer "posse" eventually tracked the cow to a section of the park between Interstate 75 and Lafayette Avenue in Clifton. Locating her was not the major problem. When hunters on horseback rode into the park and came anywhere near, she "took off." They couldn’t shoot her with a tranquilizer dart (their primary strategy) because the woods are so thick, they were unable to get close enough.

The plan that proved to be a success involved building a corral in a clearing. Inside, two cows and a quantity of grain, hay, and molasses were placed. This was "bait" to attract the "wayward bovine."

The Capture

The search party then dug in to wait. When the missing cow emerged from a thicket and approached the decoys, she was tranquilized with a dart. Then she was roped.. Before the "cowboys" could secure her, she jumped up and ran to McAlpin Avenue, dragging two men at the end of the rope, " ... pulling two of us around like we weren’t there ..." They ended up in a neighbor’s back yard where she tore up some trees.

She was finally subdued and loaded into a heavy trailer with the help of a "Bobcat" bucket. Before long, she was up thrashing around and ready for action. Any movement outside the trailer set her off ("She goes nuts"), but this time she was in to stay.

The trailer was taken to the farm of Denny Dowers in Whitewater Township near Miamitown. (He was a volunteer "cow catcher" for Hamilton County’s SPCA and spent five days as a member of the search party.) With the help of several men, she was moved into a concrete block- and- wood barn. She was stabled with two mild-mannered cows who had a stabilizing influence on her. Dowers put up extra gates to prevent another escape. Dowers said, "She’s calmed down ... looks good ... (but) still one nervous bird ..."

The Cincinnati cow had remained free for 11 days. "She earned the right to live," said Ken Mayer. Also a factor was tremendous international attention and community interest. Together, Ken Mayer and the SPCA were trying to match her with a suitable home while she was "cooling her hooves" on the Dowers farm.

The Celebrity

As the story of Cincinnati’s runaway cow unfolded, there was no shortage of interest shown by supportive observers. A local bank wanted to use the animal as a mascot, to star in a TV "holy cow" commercial for prime rate equity loans. The mayor expressed an interest in giving her the key to the city.

Estimates on how many offers of adoption were received ranged from 27 to as many as 40. Marge Schott, former managing partner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, said she would let it live at the Indian Hills estate with her other cattle. Roger Bingham, contestant on the TV series "Survivor," wanted to take her to his farm in Northern Kentucky.

The most intriguing (and ultimately successful) bid came from Peter Max, a world-famous artist living in New York. He was extremely popular in the 1960s, doing psychedelic folk renderings of rock stars and planetary fantasy scapes. Today he is still one of the country’s most popular artists. Among other well-known subjects, Max has painted the last five Presidents. A self-described "big-time animal-protection guy" and "deep to the core an animal lover," he was impressed by the way Cincinnati handled the situation.

Max’s offer included a pledge that if he were given temporary custody of the cow, he would provide $180,000 worth of artwork to benefit the Hamilton County SPCA. He also promised to come to Cincinnati when the pictures were sold. Max guaranteed to "save her" and "give her a long life on a beautiful farm," an animal sanctuary for escapees.

His farm was a 200-acre spread in Watkins Glen, New York. A national animal protection group, "Farm Sanctuary," administered this location. Max was on its board of directors. Mayer, still owner of the animal, and the SPCA decided to accept Max’s offer. The new owners named the animal "Cinci Freedom" to commemorate the city’s commitment to animal protection.

Before leaving Ohio, CF was to make a personal appearance in the 83rd Findlay Market (baseball) Opening Day Parade (April 2). Scheduled to travel the parade route boxed up in a trailer, it would be a chance for fans to get a look at her. However, in the confusion and bedlam of parade preparations (people cheering, marching bands warming up, floats getting into position, etc.), she became agitated, nervously moving around inside her trailer.

Peter Max, who was in town to ride in the same parade, decided that it would be unwise to let her participate. So she was taken back to Miamitown before the parade started.

The New Home

A week after the parade, CF was loaded into a trailer and hauled to Watkins Glen. Keeping her company at the farm there are about 50 cows and 1,500 animals rescued from slaughter houses, stockyards, and factory farms, getting long-term care. On arrival, she was greeted by media, sanctuary staff, and volunteers. Before leaving Cincinnati, Denny Dowers, who drove the truck that transported CF to her new home, was quoted as saying he’d pull the trailer into the field in New York, open the gate and say "Now, get out of here!"

The Final Chapter

Peter Max fulfilled his promise by having an exhibit of his paintings in Cincinnati from October 29-November 11. The show was called "Pop to Patriotism" and held at Melton Gallery in Hyde Park. He made personal appearances there from November 8-10. He picked up portraits commissioned by Cincinnatians. ("local faces") He will donate a percentage of his fees to the Hamilton County SPCA. Prices of his work back in New York range from $10,000 to $30,000 each. (The small size is 12" by 16" while the larger ones are 24" by 30".) Max will work here and in New York to reach the $180,000 goal.

Max gave the city two paintings: one of the Tyler-Davidson Fountain and one of the runaway bovine, renamed "Cincy Woo" in memory of a Max family kitten.

During an interview, Max described the process of arranging for the "adoption" of Cinci Freedom. He said he spent a total of 55 hours on the phone over a six-day period.

Reports coming in from the Sanctuary on CF (or Cindy Woo) have been positive. One worker there reported: "She is doing really, really, really well!" and has been accepted by the cow herd. Max said she has gained about 200 pounds and "still has beautiful eyes."

Summer, 2003 brought an update from a former Cincinnatian working at Watkins Glen. Emily Miller reports CF now has a "best friend" named Queenie. She has a lot in common with CF since a slaughterhouse in Queens (New York) couldn’t hold her! All the animals spend their days in a pasture, "eating away."

CF looks muscular and athletic. She has calmed down considerably in the past year but is still nervous around strangers. She can be feisty at times. One example: she was placed in a corral to wait for a vet who was scheduled to work on her hooves. Impatient at the delay, she jumped the fence and rejoined Queenie! That sounds like our "Cinci Freedom!"

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