Livestock Getaways

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.

No matter what the enclosure or how strong the fence, there's always an animal or two in every flock or herd or pen of livestock that's going to find a way out. Call them Houdinis, or call them some expletive, but please don't call them heroes.

That's what some folks called a pair of pigs in England who made a daring escape from an abattoir near London.  An abbatoir is a slaughterhouse or "knacker's yard" as the Brits call it, where pigs, cattle, sheep and other livestock are prepared for market.

Hog Slammer The "heroic" pigs squeezed under a fence, swam across a river and took refuge in a wooded area west of London. Local authorities were notified, a search was organized and the tabloid press caught wind of the event. Television helicopters with live coverage beaming worldwide joined the pursuit.

As the porkers evaded capture day after day, their fame grew. The tabloids called them Butch Cassidy and Sundance Pig and the public grew enamored of the ruddy-colored Tamworths. The owner started receiving offers of sanctuary for the pigs and the tabloids began a bidding war over who would purchase the porcine pair and their "exclusive" interview.

By the time they were captured, after 10 days on the lam, the pigs had become folk heroes to animal lovers throughout Britain. The Vegetarian Society was predicting a change in the nation's eating habits and newspaper pundits were applauding the virtues of pigs.

In the Daily Mail, which eventually paid more than $12,000 for Butch Cassidy and Sundance Pig, columnist Elspeth Barker wrote: "Honor the pig. The pig is a positive compendium of benefits to mankind."

Truth is, escapes of this kind are not uncommon. Livestock are always getting out, breaking loose, going on a tear or just plain disappearing. I've heard stories of runaway ostriches, bulls, boars, buffalo and even reindeer. A friend in Kansas had his pickup truck gored by a renegade longhorn as he drove through a small town. The bull extracted its horns from the driver's side door, shook its head and trotted off down the street.

Many livestock runaways end tragically. The animal gets hit by a vehicle, wanders into trouble or slowly starves to death. Slaughterhouses are merciful compared to many demises.

Equally tragic is the impact on the owner, who incurs a financial loss with each animal that is bred, fed and penned, but never marketed. There aren't enough tabloid newspapers to buy up all the loose pigs, let alone the cattle and sheep and goats that get away. Instead, it's usually a sheriff threatening a fine that shows up at the owner's door.

Several Western U.S. states still have open range laws giving livestock the right-of-way along state highways and county roads. Livestock owners are not obliged to keep their animals penned and a driver who runs into a cow may be liable for damages.

But in the cities and suburbs vehicles own the right-of-way and a loose animal is both a nuisance and a danger. Keeping animals in their proper place is critical to a smoothly functioning society.

This explains why two loose pigs could gain such notoriety in Britain. Farm animals are such a novelty that bobbies will go to great lengths to capture them and TV stations will send cameras out to film them and the tabloid press will pay great sums of money to listen to their grunts.

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