Visually impaired cow, orphaned calf teaching at-risk kids about empathy
Rescued from a slaughter house just weeks ago, a cow and calf are now helping at-risk children to learn about empathy and acceptance.
"Gracie" and her adopted daughter, three-month-old "Peanut," were rescued by the Semiahmoo Animal League Inc. (SALI), an organization providing permanent homes for farm animals.
Gracie was scheduled for slaughter and was in poor condition. She'd recently fallen into a well and had other accidents, likely due to the vision loss she was born with.
She was being bullied by other cows, SALI volunteer Dawn Gilfillan said, and she was pregnant.
"She wasn't easy, so they were going to put her down," she said.
SALI had an empty stall at its South Surrey farm, so Gracie and her unborn baby were given a new home.
When they went to pick up Gracie, they noticed a cow in a lot of distress, Gilfillan said.
"She could hardly walk… Bullets are cheaper than vet bills so she was put down," she said, leaving her calf Peanut an orphan.
"It made sense for us to take her for both of those reasons: She was lost, and she was gravitating towards Gracie. Maybe she knew Gracie was going to be a mom," Gilfillan said.
So SALI went from having no cows to two, plus one on the way, very quickly.
Peanut and Gracie get along well, and Gilfillan said the younger cow is aware of her adoptive mother's disability.
The calf watches Gracie closely and makes sure she stays out of the way. Volunteers believe Gracie is able to see shadows, but her vision is weak enough that she's crashed into a few posts at the farm.
"She's a little bit clumsy," Gilfillan laughed.
"They're two peas in a pod. Peanut is her baby."
In addition to taking in animals in need, SALI opens its barn doors to offer a place of sanctuary for kids. The farm runs eight-week programs in the fall and spring, where children who have experienced trauma are paired with an adult volunteer to assist in farm activities.
The program is meant to help foster empathy, connection and confidence in kids who are at risk of having trouble in their future or who struggle to fit in. The children are recommended to the program by the Surrey School District.
"They can come here and ask questions about violence, neglect, abuse, disabilities, without it being about them and their story," Gilfillan said.
"They can ask, 'Why would someone abandon a cow just because she's blind? Why would someone get rid of a horse because he can't be ridden?' They can ask all those tough, hard questions and relate it to their own story without pressure on themselves to talk about themselves or even think about what they've been though."
Tearing up, Gilfillan said she's seen the program work for children enrolled.
Her favourite story is that of a young boy who viewed himself as "dumb."
She said the volunteer he was paired with was struggling to do a task, and the boy walked up and did it for her. The volunteer said "Oh, you're so smart," and carried on with her duties, Gilfillan said.
"That can change his path in life. He went from being stupid to smart," she said.
Those who started this fall have been helping to care for the cows, feeding young Peanut and providing pre-natal care for Gracie. She's due to give birth in the spring.
In addition to the cows, SALI is home to horses, a disabled rooster and a chicken who managed to escape an eagle attack. The farm also has three barn cats, two goats and several rabbits.
The kids help care for everything from worms to horses, and learn from that as well as the volunteers.
"This place is empathy, and I think these kids just feel it, they know it, and it can change their path," Gilfillan said.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Michele Brunoro