By winter, reports had spread through Poland that an escaped farm cow was living free in the woods along the eastern border. It was spotted in January, foraging with a herd of bison. It looked healthy, maybe even happy.
This is not the story of that cow.
Nor do we suggest that our protagonist cow — Hero Cow, some call her — knew anything of her liberated cousin on the fateful date of Jan. 23, when she was taken from her pen near south Poland, far from the eastern forests, to be sent to the slaughterhouse.
But just maybe, Hero Cow shared a yearning with her cousin in the east — some notion that her life and death should be hers to control, some ancestral memory of wild herds and deep woods.
Maybe that’s why she did what she did.
The farmer — identified only as “Mr. Lukasz,” according to the BBC — told his workers to tranquilize Hero Cow before they loaded her into the truck. But the workers didn’t listen; they assumed Hero Cow would comply.
She did not comply. She ran.
Hero Cow smashed straight through a metal fence, the BBC wrote, broke a worker’s arm and bounded across the farm to the tree line.
But unlike the cow in the east, she found no deep woods or friendly herds. Rather, she emerged from the trees at the shore of a lake, with the workers close behind her and nowhere to run.
So Hero Cow swam, straight into the lake, toward a cluster of islands.
Before Lukasz lost sight of her, he told the TV news program Wiadomosci, he saw that cow dive underwater.
The lake’s islands are tiny. There were no corn cobs for Hero Cow to graze on there, and apparently not much to eat at all. But there was freedom, so when farmworkers made their way to one of those islands, they found the cow at home among thin trees, with no intention of returning.
Lukasz tried for days to get the cow back. The farmer eventually called the local fire brigade, Sky News reported, but when Hero Cow saw their boat coming, she just jumped into the water and swam to the next island.
The farmer wanted to tranquilize her, the BBC wrote, but the local veterinarian was out of gas ammunition. Lukasz considered just shooting the cow, but she was worth 5,000 zlotys, or about $1,500, according to the Associated Press.
So he had no choice. According to Sky News, Lukasz stopped trying to catch Hero Cow and began leaving food for her on the island, in hopes that he would one day get her back.
And that’s how Hero Cow lived — however she pleased, for nearly four weeks.
It was during this time that she was given her name, Hero Cow, by admirers across Poland.
“She fled heroically,” Pawel Kukiz wrote in a viral Facebook post on Feb. 16. “If all citizens [had] such determination as this cow,” he added, the country would surely prosper.
Kukiz, a local politician, thought the cow should be rewarded for her courage. He rallied Poles to spare Hero Cow from the butcher.
A nearby zoo wanted to take her, Sky News wrote, but was forbidden to by European law.
Finally, the AP wrote, a local governor offered the cow sanctuary on his farm. So on Thursday, a veterinarian and four rescuers sailed to the island with tranquilizer darts ready — not wanting to send Hero Cow off to slaughter, but to save her.
And that’s how they killed her.
The workers pursued the cow through the foliage for several hours, the AP wrote. They had to give her three shots of sedative before she went down. Then they got her to shore and into a truck, which she would not leave alive.
The rescuers said it was probably the stress of her capture that killed her, according to the AP. Kukiz said the vet told him that it was a heart attack. Four weeks on the island had left Hero Cow weak and emaciated, he wrote on his Facebook page the next day. Freedom has its costs.
In a sad way, her death is a kind of victory.
That other cow is still roaming with the bison, as far as we know. The local authorities have vague plans to catch it in the summer, the AP wrote, though whether they will succeed is unclear.
So it might live the rest of its life in the wild, or it might go back to the farm.
Hero Cow never found any bison, and her life on the island was hard, and brief. But at least she lived free, to the end.
Karin Brulliard contributed to this report.