A Tale of Independence with A Happy Ending

I started my ‘Safe and Sane’ article in the Jun. / Jul. print edition of Spot Magazine with a story of a loose bull roaming my rural neighborhood a few Julys ago (see http://spotmagazine.net/news/tips-for-safety-and-sanity-on-the-4th-of-july).

There was, of course, a wee bit more to the story.  In addition to emergency preparedness focused on animals, I train (fellow humans) on the fundamentals of critter body language and that particular July episode tested and taxed my personal animal skills in more ways than one.

It began with very strange sounds in the middle of the night, early in July.  I woke, but decidedly stayed put.  The next morning I found my car scratched up and my utility trailer toppled (the trailer is where I store some of my preparedness supplies, by the way, ready to hitch up and haul away if evacuation is called for).

I was concerned about hoodlums but it was posed to me the culprit was likely a deer rubbing its horns against my car and trailer.  A day and a half later, when I heard the same noises about 2 AM, I decided to have a chat with that deer.  NOT advisable, by the way (don’t do that!), but off I went.

I could hear my visitor playing with my trailer and so knew where to go as I headed out the door into the dark, fumbling with a flashlight.  As I rounded the corner of a shed and stepped into the driveway I brought the light up to find a solid wall of brown illuminated in front of me.  I was dumbfounded – what could that be!  I panned to the left with the light and there, standing right in front of me and looking right back at me, was a very large head… with horns.  But it was no deer.  It was a bull!  And I just didn’t know bulls came that BIG!!

If I’d had two brain cells to rub together in that moment I’m quite certain I would have made a mess in my pants but, as it was, I didn’t even have the faculties for that.  I turned around (VERY bad move, by-the-way (don’t do that!)) and in a very few, large bounds was back in the house with the door locked and my back pressed against it as if to fortify my safe haven. 

I was extremely lucky my mid-night guest didn’t take my retreat as an invitation to chase.  He simply watched me calmly, and then wandered off.

I never went back to bed that night.  At 5 AM someone sent me a link to a news story about my wandering visitor.  “It wasn’t a deer,” the sender said, “it was a bull that scratched your car.”  “Yeah, I know,” was my reply, “we’ve met!” 

It seems Ferdinand – as he’d been dubbed in honor of the docile bull that was a lover, not a fighter – had been wandering our rural area for days.  A neighbor up the road a ways had gone to the media hoping to alert and find his owners before the animal caused a crash crossing the roadway or had an ill-fated encounter with a pet or person.

It was theorized that perhaps Fourth of July fireworks had spooked him and he’d charged a fenced enclosure earlier that week.  None of my neighbors had known of a resident bull in the vicinity but apparently Ferdinand’s recent independence from someone’s back forty hadn’t yet come to an end and he was still at large.

Jo pictured with Ollie the Donkey, one of several livestock she was caring for the week Ferdinand found (and lost) his independence.

Jo pictured with Ollie the Donkey, one of several livestock she was caring for the week Ferdinand found (and lost) his independence.

As it turned out, I was watching a neighbor’s livestock that week and now, aware of the wandering behemoth, I was concerned for their safety.  Were they safer in the pasture or in the barn if I could even get them all inside on my own?  Did we have a fence down that allowed Ferdy in… and perhaps was letting our animals out?  While I was safe in the house early that morning, I contacted all the neighbors I knew to see who was home and willing to help.  I boned up bovine – I’d had no clue about cows verses bulls – and came to learn that Ferdinand was a Jersey Bull, a breed that has a particular reputation for aggression.  In fact, my personal vet admonished me to stay clear of him all together.  I reached out to everyone I knew from my vet to technical rescue team members for advice on dealing with my new friend.

At daybreak I counted heads next door and began to walk the boundary of the 12-acre property checking the fence line. I was convinced I’d run smack dab into Ferdy (perhaps not so docile this time) taking a siesta behind every crop of trees I came across.  After two hours of nerves jizzled up to the hilt; manically keeping my eyes peeled for signs and clues (I did find some massive droppings); making up and second-guessing strategies all on top of no sleep, I hit the wall and went home to recharge.  I woke after an hour or so and as I got up I spied Ferdinand waltzing out my driveway from the window over my bed.

I coordinated with neighbors by text and within an hour Ferdy was contained.  He was first pinned in a fenced vegetable garden (which he could have knocked over with a boisterous sneeze!).  From there I walked him to a fenced pasture with a keen eye, soothing voice, and a buck of tasty grain.  By nightfall the owners had seen the news and found us.

Ferdy proved to be a gracious guest and, frankly, I miss him, but it never left my mind that he could have be lethal without even meaning to be.  In the shock and bewilderment of our first encounter, I did everything wrong.  By the time I went out the next morning to walk the perimeter of the property I was better informed, equipped with a mobile phone for communication, and suited up with the helmet I use for technical rescue work. 

By that afternoon when we corralled him and prepared to move him to the pasture, I imparted everything I could remember to neighbors who were helping from an animal handling class I’d taken weeks before which had, fortuitously, entailed rounding up half a dozen young steer.  I’d even had the experience of one of the steer charging me and successfully staring him down.  So, equipped with broomsticks, tarps, and a wee bit of instruction from me, my neighbors provided back up as I maneuvered Ferdinand into the pasture for safekeeping.  It wasn’t far from the garden to the pasture but I knew it’d be best if we could keep the situation quiet and peaceful.  If I or the neighbors who were helping happened to pull any ‘cowboy theatrics’ – whooping and hollering or prodding him along – our 1,500-pound visitor could have easily become aroused, agitated, and amped up.  Knowing how to keep him moving without appearing to him as a threat or a challenge, or worse yet, prey to be chased and run down, helped immensely. 

I made some dumb moves that week and I took a number of calculated risks.  I was both lucky and my training paid off. 

The whole experience taught me valuable lessons that I would have never imagined getting at home with such an unpredicted character.  I look forward to sharing some of the human-critter communication and body language awareness tips I used that day with you in upcoming posts, as well as animal emergency preparedness resources, but for now, I’m happy to report that this summertime tale did, in fact, have a happy ending.  Ferdy roamed the area freely for a few days, meeting new friends and laying in strawberry patches before his roaming independence came to an end.  Most importantly, no one was hurt in the process of helping him find his way back home.

I hope your Fourth of July was equally safe and happy, if perhaps a little less adventurous.

Jo Becker is a Portland, Oregon-based public speaker, consultant, and freelance writer.  A seasoned presenter, she’s given animal-related talks since 2012.  Jo’s Animals-In-Disaster and animal body language presentations offer unique perspectives. 

Jo takes an entertaining, personable approach to a ‘doom and gloom’ subject, empowering audiences to consider why and how to prepare for the unexpected and better communicate with furry friends during good times and bad.

As a dedicated pet mom and surrogate livestock handler when neighbors are away, Jo is passionate about disaster planning for the entire family including our nonhuman friends.

Learn more at www.JoBecker.weebly.com