Cow escapes from meat plant, dodges SUV, train

Sunday, January 8, 2006

GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- A cow that escaped a slaughterhouse dodged vehicles, ran in front of a train, braved the icy Missouri River and took three tranquilizer darts before being recaptured six hours later. News of the heifer's adventures prompted a number of people to offer to buy the animal.

The black, 1,200-pound heifer jumped a gate at the packing plant at around 5 a.m. Thursday and apparently wandered through residential areas. Police received reports at about 9:30 a.m. that it was in the middle of a busy intersection.

Police tried to catch the cow, and had her wedged between a stock trailer and a fence, but the heifer barreled through the fence toward the river, nearly being hit by a Chevrolet Suburban.

It was the first of many near-death experiences.

With the police in pursuit, the cow ran toward the railroad tracks and darted in front of an oncoming locomotive, briefly giving the police the slip again.

Crossing another road, the cow was nearly struck by a tractor-trailer.

"By then it was a madhouse," said police officer Corey Reeves. "People were coming out of the woodwork to see."

When police, animal control officers and slaughterhouse workers surrounded the cow in a park near the Missouri River, the cow jumped into the icy water.

As she swam to the west bank of the river, Reeves said she sank lower in the water and was being swept downstream. But the cow found a sandbar near the river's west bank and walked to shore.

"I was totally amazed she was able to swim the river," said Del Morris, the slaughterhouse manager.

As police scrambled to head off the cow on the other side of the river, a veterinarian with a tranquilizer gun was called.

Pursuers again believed they had the cow cornered at a chain link fence, but the heifer ran through a perimeter set up by officials.

The chase began to slow as the cow ran up against several strong fences. Dr. Jennifer Evans of Big Sky Medical Center shot the cow with a tranquilizer dart.

It had little effect.

Two darts later, the heifer showed no signs of going down. Slaughterhouse workers created a makeshift pen with metal panels that led to a stock trailer.

The heifer walked into the trailer at 11:45 a.m.

The cow was taken back to the slaughterhouse, where it was put in a pen -- with a stronger fence -- and given food and water.

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