“It was likely very traumatizing. I imagine that they were trying to find their moms and their home.”
Tens of millions of cows are sent to slaughter every year in the United States. They’re typically rounded up at less than a few years old, taken from their mothers and homes, and tightly packed on a trailer bound for the slaughterhouse. Once inside, their fate is sealed.
But on March 30th, 2017, six young steers made a break for it—and became the exception.
On a rainy afternoon in north St. Louis, Missouri, residents took to the streets to watch an unusual spectacle: police officers corralling a pack of renegade cows that had escaped from the neighborhood slaughterhouse.
Officers chased the cows around the neighborhood, both on foot and in patrol cars. Their goal was to herd each of the cows into a waiting trailer that would deliver them back to the slaughterhouse.
Five hours later, one particularly rowdy steer was still on the loose after busting through a wrought iron fence to evade capture. Cheering onlookers, moved by his spirit, named him Chico. But soon, Chico, too, was chased on the trailer—and sent back to face his fate.
By that time, the St. Louis local news had been publicizing the great escape of “The St. Louis Six” for hours. Soon, national outlets picked up the story, too. As footage began to spread, public outrage climbed. After all of that effort, it didn’t seem right that these steers should die. Something had to be done.
Under public pressure and scrutiny, the slaughterhouse owner told animal activists that they had 24 hours to save the steers—but no more.
Several animal sanctuaries stepped up with homes for The St. Louis Six, but somehow, the deals always seemed to fall through. Patience was running thin; the clock was ticking.
Then, in the nick of time, The Gentle Barn came in.
Founded in 1999 in the Los Angeles area, The Gentle Barn was the brain child of Ellie Leks. After earning a degree in special education and psychology, she wanted to create a place where rescued animals with difficult backgrounds could give hope to children facing their own life trials. The concept was so successful that in 2015, The Gentle Barn opened a second location in Knoxville, Tennessee—which was why they could help The St. Louis Six.
While The Gentle Barn had a farm in Knoxville, their property wasn’t large enough to house six nearly full-grown steers comfortably. But fortunately, they were able to find a temporary foster home for the steers while they searched for their own St. Louis location.
It became clear that providing The St. Louis Six the home they deserved would cost a lot of money—far more than The Gentle Barn had on hand. So they did what they’d done many times before when a pricy need arose: They started a GoFundMe.
Donations flooded in from all over the country. People who had heard the story of The St. Louis Six wanted to ensure their happy ending—and support The Gentle Barn’s mission of giving back to communities.
In two months, they hit their goal of $400K. The St. Louis Six had a home.
Unfortunately, one of the steers, Spirit, became very ill along the way. It became clear that he had a painful and debilitating infection, from which his veterinarians said he was unlikely to recover. The decision was made to put him down peacefully and humanely. Six became five.
But Spirit’s memory lives on. Visitors to The Gentle Barn’s new St. Louis property will notice Spirit’s Pond, a serene spot marked with a photo of Spirit himself playing in a pond shortly after his rescue.
The St. Louis Six may now have their forever home, but The Gentle Barn isn’t done yet. Their goal is to create a Gentle Barn in every state to help animals and serve communities across the country with their programs.