“Sometimes you get guns, sometimes you get goats! It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure”
— a Jan. 20 tweet, from the official account of the 103rd Precinct.
One day after this tweet, detailing the rescue of a goat that had escaped from a local slaughterhouse, officers caught a cow roaming the streets of Jamaica, Queens. “What a way to start the New Year!” Community Board 12 District Manager Yvonne Reddick said. “Only in Community Board 12 in the 103rd Precinct something like that would happen.”
NYC: Video of a cow running around in Queens earlier today on 164 St and Jamaica Ave. pic.twitter.com/c5ONO8u4RR
— NYC Scanner (@NYScanner) January 21, 2016
And these two were hardly the first animal escapees in the city. The cow—later nicknamed Freddie—escaped from Jamaica-Archer Live Poultry, a halal meat market on the corner of Archer Avenue and 165th Street, as it was being transferred from a large trailer to the slaughterhouse.
Look what I just saw on Jamaica avenue son
Posted by Shakeller Thompson on Thursday, January 21, 2016
According to this 2013 article in The Huffington Post, approximately 90 slaughterhouses are operating in New York. Within the city, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets issues licenses to slaughterhouses that handle small animals and poultry, while those with larger animals must also receive a license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On a visit to Jamaica-Archer Live Poultry, we saw goats and a variety of poultry, including chickens. A data set from Cornell University’s Small Farms Program lists “slaughterhouses approved before 2010” and “all processors, regardless of whether or not they have a kill-floor”—totaling 671 facilities in the state of New York. A closer look at the data shows that approximately 60 of these are in Queens, of which ten are in Jamaica.
What happens when the animals escape? Here the news can be good—at least for the animals. Queenie and Maxine, bovines who escaped in 2000 and 2007, respectively, are now being cared for at Farm Sanctuary, a farm animal protection organization with shelters in California, upstate New York, and soon, in Middletown, New Jersey—a farm purchased by former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, and his wife, Tracey, that will act as Farm Sanctuary’s fourth location. Queenie escaped from a live market in Astoria, and police caught Maxine in Briarwood, though it’s not clear where she had come from. That’s not all; in 2009, a cow that was later named Molly escaped an unknown slaughterhouse around Jamaica, Queens. And another one took a run for it in 2011.
Jamel Roman, the owner of a meat market in Astoria, said no animals have escaped his shop in the 15 years since he’s been there. He said his facilities are “very secure” and that he makes custom orders of cattle, based on what his customers want.
Still, this type of escape is a common occurrence for Susie Coston, National Shelter Director at Farm Sanctuary. Across the country, she said her organization receives 300 to 800 “calls for placement” every month for farm animals that need homes, including pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, and cows.
When an animal escapes in New York City, Coston said, it’s normally taken to the ACC—Animal Care Centers of NYC, a non-profit animal shelter with three care locations that receive around 30,000 animals each year, including farm animals. In Freddie’s case, Coston got a call from the ACC asking if her organization could take the cow to one of Farm Sanctuary’s shelters, if the ACC was able to catch it. Coston then called the owner of Skylands Animal Sanctuary and Rescue in New Jersey, Mike Stura, who reached the slaughterhouse after it had closed and reportedly stayed in his truck overnight so he could persuade its owners to let him take the cow the next morning. Police had returned the cow to the meat market, rather than leaving it at the ACC.
Animals tend to escape because they are scared, Coston said, and certain personalities make some animals more prone to escaping than others. “You don’t see really docile cattle escaping. The ones that escape are really strong-willed, and she still is,” Coston said, referring to the 2000 escapee, Queenie, who she described as a “fiery” cow that can jump.
Many animals that escape are also killed, Coston said, because they can hurt people due to their large size. She said Maxine, who is living at Farm Sanctuary’s Watkins Glen shelter in upstate New York, caused damage to a car during her 2007 bid for freedom. When an animal escapes and causes damage, she said, it is less likely that the meat market it escaped from will reclaim the animal.
When animals come to one of Farm Sanctuary’s shelters, they are generally quarantined for three to six weeks, so their health can be examined to prevent illnesses from spreading. This is complicated by the fact that “the herd structure” makes herd animals like cows “feel safe,” but they can’t be around other cows while in quarantine.
Another complication for shelters like Farm Sanctuary comes at the placement stage—in which animals move to new homes—because, Coston said, zoning laws prohibit certain animals from being kept in the city. But she added that the animals are “incredible” and the cattle, “some of the most remarkable animals you’ll ever meet.
“They’re beautiful, docile beings if you treat them well,” she said. “Huge 2,500 pound animals that fall asleep with their head in your lap.”