New York City’s Underground Railroad for Escaped Farm Animals

Molly the Cow. Photo Provided by Tim Doubrava.

When a runaway cow hot-footed it through Queens in a desperate bid to avoid the butcher’s block two years ago, the chaos caused panic in South Jamaica and drew national headlines.

But Molly the cow was fortunate. Instead of becoming hamburger meat in one of the roughly 250 live-animal slaughterhouses scattered throughout the city, the daring bovine was sent to live out her days in peace on an organic farm on Long Island. And she’s not the only lucky one.

Every year, dozens of country-raised animals escape as they’re unloaded from trucks into city slaughterhouses, popular with immigrants. Those runaway creatures, along with pet chickens that have wandered off and roosters rescued from illegal cockfighting rings, often avoid the dinner plate by passing through an underground railroad of sorts that delivers them to farm sanctuaries throughout the country. Once there, the animals never have to worry about ending up on a menu again.

“Most people don’t know that you have all these live farm animals in the city,” said Susie Coston, the national shelter director at Farm Sanctuary, based in Watkins Glen, N.Y. But escapes “happen all the time. The [animals] are so scared. They panic and take off.”

Coston’s organization, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, takes in and places about 200 New York City farm animals a year, she said. The group also has a sanctuary in California.

“The chickens escape because they fly,” said Coston, who gets phone calls from city dwellers stumbling out of bars swearing that they saw chickens in a tree. “Sheep, goats and cattle jump, run or plow through you.”

When an animal escapes, someone usually calls the police or the city Animal Care & Control, which takes in stray animals. After the creature is caught, city officials contact farm sanctuaries to pick it up.

“The most common farm animal call is for chicken or roosters,” said Mike Pastore, the director of field operations at Animal Care & Control.

He estimated that his agency collects about 30 to 50 poultry on the loose every year. ACC also gets about two to three calls a year about runaway sheep, cows or goats stampeding through the city, Pastore said.

If the agency or the caller can’t deliver the animals to a sanctuary, volunteers often step up to the plate delivering the animals to sanctuaries as far away as Texas.

The busiest times are around Kapparot, a Jewish tradition where a chicken is killed before Yom Kippur, and when Santeria animal sacrifices occur.

But like many of the animals that have been saved, Molly the cow appears to have found her fairy-tale ending at the Farrm in Calverton, Long Island. The now-hefty heifer has almost doubled her weight and found a “boyfriend”—a rescued steer who has become her constant companion, said owner Rex Farr.

“They don’t leave each other’s sides, and they make moo eyes,” Farr said. “She’s extremely happy, she’s in love and she’s mischievous.”

  2 comments for “New York City’s Underground Railroad for Escaped Farm Animals

  1. Erin Michelle
    June 23, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    Interesting, thoughtful and well written article. Glad that these animals are safe and the pictures are adorable. I am often in a rock and a hard place as I am a meat eater yet I love hearing about animals escaping (moo eyes) and not being tortured. I will keep my eyes open when I am in NYC.

  2. Jessica
    August 26, 2011 at 11:31 am

    I too love hearing about stories of animals escaping. If you are unwilling or unable to go fully vegan right away, try starting with just one meal a day (for example: have oatmeal and a fruit smoothie instead of bacon, eggs, and butter). I am not fully vegan but am working on it. Every meal makes a difference and I’m amazed how easy it has been to cut out certain animal products.

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