Staying Alive / Meet a Cow
Albert is a dairy farm rescue.
Photos by Cyndi Hunt
Perhaps you saw the ads around town: “Meet a Cow! We’ll pay you $5!” Were you curious? I was. Especially after I watched videos of Albert the rescue bull frolicking with a ball on the grounds of Asha Sanctuary in Newfane. So, I grabbed my animal-loving son and we set out on a beautiful Sunday to meet Albert, as well as six other farm animals and a bunch of chickens and turkeys rescued by founder Tracy Murphy.
Though the chickens were Murphy’s first rescues, the star of the tour is Albert (he even has his own Facebook page!), a male victim of the dairy industry who was rescued at one day old. “There is no value in keeping [male calves] as they cannot produce milk,” Murphy says. “Therefore, Albert was taken from his mother at only one day old and sent to an auction house, (where he likely awaited inhumane death). When we found him, he was shivering from the cold, as there was a large window blowing in cold drafts, and there was no straw to insulate him from the floor. Albert was very weak, sick, and falling down. But the saddest thing was that Albert still had his little umbilical cord hanging as he was circling the pen crying for his mother. I knew I had to get him out of that situation.”
Back at the sanctuary, Murphy kept Albert warm, administered antibiotics, and nursed him around the clock. The first night, a vet—who assumed Murphy intended to eat her rescue—advised that the survival rate among calves taken from their mothers under such stressful conditions is fifty percent. The second night, Albert’s condition had worsened, and the vet offered to euthanize. But Murphy didn’t give up, got down on her knees, and whispered in the calf’s ear: “Albert, I just want to see you as a great, big bull. I know you can do it, baby. One day, people from all over are going to come out and meet you. And you are going to be such an ambassador for all the millions of calves killed every year as a result of the dairy industry.” The next day Albert’s head was up. The vet could not believe it. “I told her it’s a miracle, and that’s what Asha Sanctuary is all about,” says Murphy.
Tracy Murphy, Founder and President of Asha Sanctuary with Albert
The name Asha is in memory of one of Murphy’s dogs and is derived from the Sansrkit “asa,” meaning hope. ASHA has also become an acronym for Acres of Sanctuary and Hope for Animals. Since Albert’s rescue, Murphy has provided him with six companions: two sheep, Tracy and Anu, who eat, sleep, and play with Albert; two donkeys, Dawn and Lindsay, who are mother and daughter (and who nuzzled continuously the entire time we were there); a pot-bellied pig named Nick who loves belly rubs; and a goat who wags his tail and answers to his name, Michael. These animals, along with the chickens and turkeys, were rescued, often from deplorable conditions that necessitated medical treatment. With time, the animals have come to trust Murphy and their new surroundings, and enjoy their freedom.
The seven Cornish hens were part of a cruelty case that is still under investigation. “At Asha Sanctuary, they will live much longer lives, but with that comes many health problems as a result of breeding practices and genetically modifying these hens’ growth rate,” Murphy points out. “Although we have them all on a special diet, they succumb to many diseases that birds in the wild would not. It’s very sad because as a result, they do not live much longer than a year.”
The purpose of Meet a Cow, which was the brainchild of an anonymous donor, was to bring people to Asha to learn about practices in the food industry, let them see that these animals have personalities similar to their pet dogs and cats, and raise money–on top of providing the five bucks to meet a cow, the donor also gave five dollars to Asha for every visitor. Murphy was thrilled at the number of people from all over Western New York who looked up the website (meetacow.com), watched Albert’s videos (search Albert the Super Cow on Facebook), and signed up: “So many people were absolutely in awe over how bright, playful and beautiful Albert was; they just had to meet him!”
A rescued chicken
“Many people who love animals are not aware of the very cruel and standard practices in animal agriculture,” Murphy says. “And many of us are just not aware that a cow or a pig is no different than a dog, and a chicken is really no different than a kitty cat. No matter what species, animals all have the same funny and quirky personalities, and also the same desire to be loved, be with their families, feel safe, and just have fun. [For example], Angela, a Rhode Island red hen, is an extremely bright bird—they all are—who loves to hang out with Nick the pig and eat from his food bowl. She’s generally a very quiet bird, but recently, I put all the hens away in the barn, and I forgot about her because she was hanging out with Nick. Well, didn’t she come up to me squawking just before I entered the main house to let me know, ‘Hey! You forgot about me!’”
Visitors are similarly impressed with the other animals, including, of course, Albert. “He answered to his name and came running up to see everyone,” Murphy says. “Albert reached out to kiss many of our visitors and enjoyed posing for pictures and many tender caresses from our visitors. Everyone said that Albert was like one big happy dog.”
The tour of the farm and the meeting of animals follows a talk from Murphy about legal standard practices in food agriculture and a short documentary about the dairy industry and ends with vegan ice cream sundaes (we had Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey with chocolate syrup) and the five-dollar payments, most of which were donated back to help the farm and Murphy’s goal of rescuing even more animals.
“We are at maximum capacity right now,” Murphy says. “We need more funding and volunteers to help care for the animals and also more barns to house them. We need a tractor and electrical in the barns too. There are so many animals that need help. For now, we refer people to more established sanctuaries, but even they are full many times.”
Murphy also has a vision of building a visitor center and establishing walking trails on the sanctuary’s twenty-seven acres of preserved forest, so that Asha becomes a sanctuary for people, too. Beyond that, Murphy will continue to urge people to spread awareness about the need for change in animal agriculture and make more compassionate food choices. For my son and me, we came home and switched the family to almond milk, a nondairy substitute that is one third the calories of skim, and zero sugar—in other words, better for the animals and us. Sometimes, it’s that easy.
The Meet a Cow promotion has been extended Saturdays through October; if Saturdays aren’t convenient, Spree readers can get a twenty-percent discount on regular tours by mentioning this article. Full-time students with valid ID are always free.
Donna Hoke is a frequent contributor to Spree.