CINCINNATI – It’s too bad they don’t have Olympics for cows. If they had, a Cincinnati cow might have won the high jumping gold medal.
There’s no telling whether the snow white Charolais had an inkling of the fate that awaited her as she moved down the slaughterhouse line at Ken Meyer Meats in Camp Washington that day in 2002.
But that 1,050-pound cow could have jumped over the moon.
She jumped from a standstill position over a 6-foot fence and literally ran for her life, setting off an adventure that ultimately touched the hearts and spirits of people around the world.
Her great escape, starting on Feb. 15, turned into an 11-day game of hide and seek in the heavy brush at Mount Storm Park in Clifton. She was able to forage for food while eluding traps, SPCA officials and police with tranquilizer guns, and even a professional cowboy hired to rope her in.
Local TV stations updated her story every night to an eager audience – and the national media picked it up and spread her fame.
By the time she was captured – just before midnight on Feb. 26 – she had become a world-wide celebrity – admired for her quest to live, a symbol for people yearning to be free.
She was also one angry cow who wasn’t going to give up her freedom without a fight. Her captors described what happened after she was finally subdued by a tranquilizer dart.
“It looked like it was really going to turn out to be pretty simple,” one man said. “We thought she was down and I went up to get a rope on her and she jumped up and went down in the woods, and it got interesting from there.
“She bolted again and it was time to grab the rope,” another man said. “We had three men on a rope and she’s taking us for a ride.”
The cow ran three blocks across McAlpin Avenue and held up in a backyard until a vet gave her a sedative. They used a small front-end loader to haul her out.
She wasn’t hurt, the vet said. Just a few scrapes and a small puncture wound from the dart.
But that led to a problem – what do you do with a hostile hero cow?
A return to the slaughterhouse was out of the question. The zoo said she was a health risk. Former Reds owner Marge Schott, an animal lover, offered to keep her on her Indian Hill estate. But animal experts rejected that idea.
That’s when a world-renowned artist, Peter Max, stepped in.
Max, an animal rights activist, heard about the cow’s derring-do and offered a trade: He would give the local SPCA $180,000 worth of paintings for its auctions. In exchange, he would get the cow and send it to an animal sanctuary in upstate New York where she could roam free and live out her days.
It was an offer no one could refuse – not even the cow’s owner.
“I’m very happy with how it turned out,” Meyer said.
Max named the cow Cincinnati Freedom – Cinci Freedom for short.
The city wanted to honor its new namesake, so it made plans for her to join the Opening Day Parade. Mayor Charlie Luken gave Max a key to the city for Cinci Freedom to wear as a medal, but she was too jumpy and nervous to march to Fountain Square.
Max paid to send the cow to the Farm Sanctuary at Watkins Glen in April 2002. There, Cinci Freedom quickly became the head of a herd of about 50 cattle.
“She’s really muscular and athletic,” Emily Miller, a former Cincinnati resident who worked at the sanctuary, told The Enquirer. “Her body type is unusual for the cows we have here.”
The herd included several other slaughterhouse escapees, and they became a tight unit, grazing and sleeping together and staying as far away from humans as possible (no wonder), according to Miller.
Cinci Freedom and another escapee, Queenie from Queens, N.Y., became BFFs.
“They’re always hanging out together. They became instant friends. You can see them grooming each other,” Miller said.
Sanctuary officials estimated that Cinci Freedom was 6 to 8 years old when she arrived. She eventually fattened up from her life of leisure grazing, gaining about 500 pounds.
But she never lost her leap, said Susie Coston, the Farm Sanctuary’s national shelter director. She could still jump a 5-foot fence from a standstill.
”It was an amazing thing to see,” Coston said.
Over the years, countless visitors came to see CinciFreedom, especially from Ohio, Coston said.
“She symbolized the will to live, to enjoy life and not be messed with,” Coston said. “We can relate to that.”
Cinci Freedom lived six years at the sanctuary until she contracted spinal cancer. She was euthanized on Dec. 29, 2008.