Category Archives: Cattle

Blossom the Cow and Debbie the Cat

In other words…more James Herriot. 

I’m now on the third installment (All Things Wise and Wonderful), having just finished the second one, All Things Bright and Beautiful. 

Before we get to Blossom and Debbie, first, an aside.  In the grocery store check-out line last week, the cashier said, Great book.  (I always take a book into the grocery store in case I have to wait in line, which I can’t bear.)  I said, I can’t believe these books are 40 years old and I’m just now reading them.  Well, she said, people don’t read Tolstoy either and he’s been around a lot longer.  I was just astonished–the cashier at Publix is talking about Tolstoy?  You’d think that considering what I do for a living, I’d know better than to stereotype.  Then she said, the only bad thing about these books is that once you’re finished, you know there will never be another one.  Ouch, I said…so true.  It’s how I felt about reading everything John D. McDonald and Robert B. Parker ever wrote. 

Then the guy behind me in line gets into the act and says Yes, but here’s the good thing.  By the time you finish, you can just start over again because at our age, you won’t remember them.  All three of us were cracking up.  I love these little fly-by social encounters with strangers.  It just brightens my day. 

Blossom was a very old cow, and all of her parts were sagging (can we relate, or what?)  Her hipbones jutted out and her udders were practically dragging the ground.  The problem was that when she laid down, her udders spread out over the floor and the other cows would step on them.  Since cow hooves are very sharp, they would cut her, and when we meet her, Herriot is there to stitch her up for the fourth time. 

The next time he’s there, he’s just in time to see the drover who drives cattle to market arrive to pick up Blossom, because the farmer has decided it’s time for her to become dog food.  When the drover calls her she follows him placidly, joining the crowd of other cattle in his charge. 

As Herriot stands there talking to the farmer, the farmer says, What’s that noise?  It’s the unmistakable sound of cow hooves on cobblestones.  And there is Blossom.  At the top of a hill, Blossom cut away and came back to the barn via a side path.  She goes directly to her stall–like, that was fun, but I’m back now.  Shortly afterwards, the drover arrives out of breath and says, don’t worry, I’ll get her back and this time I’ll keep a closer eye on her.  But the farmer blocks the way to her stall.  NO, he says.  Blossom ‘as come ‘ome, and ‘ome she will stay.

We hear this story because Herriot has dreamed about her.  He is newly inducted into the RAF.  He is desperately missing his pregnant wife and his life on the moors.  He says, I know why I dreamed about Blossom.  I wanted to go home too. 

Debbie the cat is a stray who shows up around three times a week at Mrs. Ainsworth’s house.  Debbie has a bit of food, then sits in front of the fireplace for a few minutes, then leaves to go back to her unknown home (if any).  Herriot learns of her existence when he is called to Mrs. A’s house on Christmas Day to examine one of her three Bassett hounds.  Debbie is an adult cat, but very tiny.  Her growth has been stunted. 

The following year, again on Christmas Day, Mrs. A. calls and says she needs Herriot to come out, only this time it’s Debbie–something is wrong with her.  Debbie has shown up at the house carrying a tiny kitten in her mouth, which she dumps on the rug in front of the fireplace.  Then she lies down, uncharacteristically.  From the minute Herriot sees her bloodless gums and filmy eyes, he knows that Debbie is dying.  He finds a huge mass–a lymphosarcoma–in her abdomen, and she dies within minutes.  And I thought to myself, OMG–this is like good human parents, who want a better life for their children than they had for themselves.  Literally with her dying breath, Debbie has brought her kitten to Mrs. Ainsworth.  Please, Fakename, I scolded myself.  Inexcusable anthropomorphism. 

And then Herriot writes, “Was it too much to think that that dying little creature with the last of her strength had carried her kitten to the only haven of comfort and warmth she had ever known in the hope it would be cared for there?”  So if I’m anthropomorphic, so was he.  And I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.  What I think is that animals are very mysterious to us, and while the animal behaviorist people may say we can’t prove that animals have emotions and are capable of forethought, I say, we can’t prove they don’t either. 

Debbie has now been dead for about 70 years, and Blossom, close to the same.  But because of Herriot, they are immortal.  The miracle of books. 


Eating Dogs

Consider this the third in a trilogy of today’s posts about animals.  This week, Roger Cohen of the New York Times did an op-ed post about the practice of eating dogs in China.  They eat cats too, but he confined his comments to dogs. 

I once saw a TV documentary which showed a restaurant in Asia that specialized in cats;  it wasn’t China–maybe Laos, Cambodia, or Vietnam.  In any case, the restaurant had a cage out front full of cats where you could select your own personal cat to eat.  Once you made your choice, they would dip the cat into boiling water (while still alive) in order to more easily remove the skin and fur.  Barbaric?  What, I ask, is the difference between that and lobster tanks?  Answer:  No difference, except for the animal involved. 

Cohen’s oped was very surprising…usually he does strictly political stuff and seems to be the Times’ expert on Iran and Europe. 

But he tells a story of going to a dog restaurant in China with his interpreter, who assured him that dog was very good.  He had a sort of dog soup, and bypassed the other items on the menu which included dishes containing dog paws, tail, brain, intestines, or penis.  Are you gagging yet?  Yes.  Me too.  But, as Cohen points out, that’s illogical. 

Why is it okay to eat a pig/cow/goat/lobster, but not a dog/cat?  Why is it okay to kill and/or eat some animals, but not others?  Good question.  Thought of in that way, it’s a little hard to define “barbaric”.

That of course brings me to another NPR snippet.  An interview with Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who claims to have a special ability to identify with and understand animals, which would make sense given the non-verbal nature of their communications (hers and theirs).  Her big claim to fame is redesigning stockyards so as to calm cows before they go to slaughter. 

In interviews, and I’ve heard another one before now, she’s treated as if she’s an amazing person, which, in a sense she is.  But I find her creepy and repellent.  She admits she feels no emotion.  She invented for herself a “hugging machine”.  She can’t bear to be touched, but noticed that the cattle on her aunt’s farm while she was growing up seemed to be calmer while restrained in pens awaiting vaccination.  So with her aunt’s permission, she placed herself in those restraints and felt calmer.  Then she invented a smaller one for herself.  It’s the pressure of the restraints, minus the human component of an actual “hug”, that calms her and makes her feel safer.  She noted that she doesn’t get to use her device any more as much as she would like, because she travels so much. 

But when your claim to fame is calming cows before slaughter, and other people treat you as if you are an amazing rather than an aberrant human being, then may I suggest you go into the dog/cat/lobster calming business as well.  Also, use your creative skills to come up with a battery-powered substitute for your hugging machine that will fit into your suitcase and won’t scare Homeland Security.

Fakename’s Political Comments for Today

It seems to me that  the Obama adminstration has mostly been quietly doing a lot of “undoing”.  Undoing the rules that say we can torture prisoners as long as we call it by some other name (thereby making us all less safe, according to Dick Cheney.  Please, Dick.  Go away, already.  We stopped listening to you sometime in 2001.)  Undoing the ban on stem cell research (proof, I’m sure, that Satan is taking over the government.  Soon, no doubt, we will be slaughering live babies).  Undoing the environmental deregulation that would have allowed expanded mining near national parks in the West. 

If there has been more than a peep from the Republicans about what are basically small steps, I haven’t seen it.  Then of course, I don’t watch or listen to the crazies.  For a blistering opinion about the Republican bankruptcy of thought, see Frank Rich’s op-ed in todays NYT.  Really, we all know that Rush as the “face of the Republican party” is a joke.  The real potential leaders of the Republican party, such as Eric Cantor, who is bright and articulate, simply have the wrong ideas.   

But the news that grabbed me today was that President Obama has instated a ban on the slaughter of all “downer” cattle.  To refresh your memory, all cattle must be able to walk to slaughter.  That in itself sounds like the premise for a science fiction movie–“Soylent Green”, maybe.  Cattle who are too weak, sick, or injured to walk to slaughter are supposed to be euthanized and disposed of in such a way that they don’t enter the human food chain.  But there were loopholes in the regulation.  And this led to workers making every effort to get cattle to stand, in some cases resorting to unimaginable torture.  If you can stomach it, here is the video from the Humane Society showing the torture of such animals at the now closed Chino, California plant (click under the second photo, for the first-person investigator’s video).

If you can’t stomach it–and I could certainly understand why–let me just say that cows are shocked repeatedly, stabbed in the eyes with sticks, dragged by the leg with chains, poked with forklift tines and run over by forklifts.  It had to be clear that these cows were never going to be able to stand.  They weren’t lazy.  They were already dying.  The process of trying to get them to stand became more like punishment; a manifestation of the frustration of the workers. 

So the announcement that all downer cattle will now be banned from slaughter is good news on two fronts that are near and dear to my heart:  food safety and the humane treatment of animals.  Now once a cow goes down, that’s it.  I’m sure it won’t entirely eliminate cruelty, but it should go a long way toward stopping the insane attempts to get cattle to stand, because now there will be no point in it.  The failure to adequately fund the FDA is a national disgrace.  For an article about the new ban, see this article from the AP:

I can hardly wait for some Republican to explain to me how this is a step on the road to socialism.