The Fugitive Who Was Put Out to Pasture

Cincinnati, Ohio, is a major U.S. city, home to 1.6 million people. Toward the south of the city, not too far from the Cincinnati Zoo, is Mount Storm Park, a 59-acre expanse whose Wikipedia entry isn’t all that interesting — it’s just a park. (Nevertheless, here’s a map.)  Most of the time, the park is open to visitors. But mid to late February 2002 was an exception: access to the park was limited, and for good reason: an escapee was on the loose.

The incident began on February 15th of that year. The fugitive, who had been sentenced to death, escaped rather easily — she simply hopped the six-foot high fence that separated her from freedom. Authorities snapped into action to track her moovements, speaking to anyone and everyone who could have been in the area. They quickly tracked her to Mount Storm Park and set up a perimeter for their steak out — but it proved udderly ineffective. For ten days, the fugitive remained on the lam. In an effort to help, a local news station aired the following police artist sketch of the target of the search:

Yep — authorities were looking for a cow. (Here’s the local news story from which that sketch is from, if you want to watch it — it’s fun. And yes, the “typos” in the paragraph above were intentional. I also considered spelling “lam” as “lamb”.)

Cincinnati is home to a number of prisons, but the cow above wasn’t being held there. As a local newspaper reported at the time, the 1,200-pound animal had escaped from Ken Meyer Meats, a meatpacking plant in Clifton, one of the city’s many neighborhoods, by “jumping a 6-food fence.” The cow quickly made her way to the park, which the paper described as “heavily wooded,” causing a public safety concern — officials feared that the cow could have made its way to the local interstate highway, and you can use your imagination when it comes to the damage that could cause.

But despite the risk, the cow was seen more as a hero than a menace. She became the talk of the town as national news media came to Cincinnati to cover the search. After ten or eleven days, she was captured — an SPCA volunteer successfully hit the cow with a tranquilizer dart — and the crisis was over. But the cow was not returned to the meatpacking plant. As One Green Planet summarizes, “the time of her capture, she had won the hearts of so many that calls for mercy poured into the city from all over the country” — and the city agreed. The cow was a local hero, after all.

The plan was for the cow, now dubbed “Cincinnati Freedom,” to be given the keys to the city and lead an Opening Day parade that ushered in the baseball season. Unfortunately, that didn’t come to fruition. Cinci Freedom, understandably, wasn’t a big fan of people, and she proved too unruly to actually partake in either ceremony; as a local newspaper reported at the time, the mayor “put the ribbon [that comes with the key ceremony] on her trailer instead of around her neck because the 1,100-pound animal was agitated by the marching bands and parade noise,” and authorities decided it was too risky for her to actually march in the parade itself. 

Cincinnati Freedom was allowed to live out her days on a farm and animal sanctuary in New York. (The Cincinnati Zoo, despite being near the park that she fled to, declined to house her; zoo administrators were afraid she’d escape.) She ultimately succumbed to spinal cancer in 2008. 

Bonus fact: If you want to get more milk from your cow, you may want to give it a name. In 2013, researchers from Newcastle University published a paper sharing their investigation into factors that increase milk output. A key finding? Per an interview with ScientistLive, the team found “a statistically significant 258-liter increase in milk yield where farmers reported that they called their cows by name. This is [approximately a] 3.5% increase in milk yield.”

From the Archives: Cow Magnets: Why cows are fed magnets.