Equine Rescue

Montana Sanctuary Rescue: Part Three – The Cattle Drive

Report and Photos by Jerry Finch ~ Founder/President of Habitat for Horses

Sanctuary Lost

Back home in South Texas, when the thermometer reaches fifty degrees, the ice, if there ever was any ice, disappears off the roads. Back home at fifty degrees, folks are wearing heavy coats and gloves, shivering before they walk into the mall. Western Montana is different. For two days now, with close to fifty degrees by mid-afternoon, the roads up in the mountains have turned into thick slush ice, the pastures are the same, and every step of man and beast is threatened with the possibility of a major fall, but the people are showing up without coats and in a few cases, in shorts. Things are different up here.

No shorts for the cowboys, though. In rubber boots they worked the cattle, trying to calmly urge them into the pens so they can catch a ride down the road to the corrals, there to have their hooves trimmed, see the vet, get the shots, take the medicine and prepare for the trip to their next “final” home. The cowboys took their time, got a little vocal when the cattle didn’t do what they should be doing and stepped back a little when the cattle decided that they would show the cowboys that cows will do whatever the heck they want when they want and no hat waving is going to stop them.

In other words, the cattle are “rank.” In cattleman talk that means they simply have little to no respect for people. It’s an attitude I well understand. Promised “sanctuary,” they were stuck in a pasture with hay and water fifty feet apart. Lot of hay, lots of water, no exercise, no care, no real human contact, nothing to do but eat hay, drink water, sleep and do it all over again – for years on end.

Sadly, the end result is grossly overweight cattle with zero muscle tone and really bad feet. We took care of the feet, thanks to a professional cow farrier with a tilt table hooked on the back of his truck. I won’t tell you his comments because people under 40 might read this and don’t need to be exposed to that kind of language.

Its been more than a few years since I’ve been around cattle. Ask me anything about horses and I could jabber for an hour. That doesn’t mean I know what I’m talking about but, like the majority of horse people, I like to think I do. I do talk with my horses though, and sometimes I think they actually listen. So picture me standing in the middle of this mass of cattle, on glazed ice, trying as best I can to express my good intentions. I might as well have been taking prayer beads to the Mosque. Two of them might have paid attention, one a baby and one a Jersey with beautiful eyes. The rest just stared, some with murderous intent.

All of them seriously need weight reduction and better muscle tone, but as far as I know there is a serious shortage of people who want to play Richard Simmons to a herd of disturbed and rank cattle.

There are many that simply won’t make it. Except for a couple here in Montana, those who want the cattle don’t live close – some in California, some in Virginia, some as far away as Florida. Over the course of the last couple of days I’ve had conversations with vets, cowboys and haulers. One basic premise underlies the thoughts of all of them – put the cattle on trailers for more than a few miles and they will not survive, and there is nothing more painful than watching a downed cow trying to survive. I didn’t know that before. I do now.

Cows aren’t like horses and camels aren’t like llamas. I get that. What I also get is that each one of us wants to live and for these particular animals, promises were made that they in particular would not be subject to the kind of inhumanity that most animals face. I also know that the promises made were not kept and that there are a whole bunch of people here trying their best to set things right. It isn’t the most comfortable situation to be in because some of these animals really don’t care to look in your eyes to see if you’re a good or bad person.

Which brings us back to the ice covered pasture – standing there watching steers than can’t walk and cows that can’t get up and once again I find myself wanting someone else to make the decisions. There is no one else. I point, the vet nods and agrees. That’s all it takes. That just isn’t right, but that’s the reality. For some, for far too many, the promise of salvation ends in the cold, wet slush of a forsaken, icebound pasture.

I return to the “sanctuary” and listen to the pigs cry out and watch the llamas watch me and listen to the deep drum of the emus and look over at the camels as they stand next to one another, forever vigilant and protective, and wish it had been different, wish that “sanctuary” meant what is should have meant, but I know that man, being what he is, has a hard time dealing with “dominion,” because it means more than being master. It means caring for animals, which the former caretakers didn’t do.

And I can’t explain it to the animals. I can walk out to the pasture and stand in their midst and listen to their sounds and feel their life, but I’ll never explain away the failure and make them believe that we can try and do better. It isn’t our words that make their life what has been promised; it is our deeds, and today, as yesterday, those deeds ended in death for those made too crippled and too weak to continue.

If I only had a zillion dollars to do whatever it takes to make things right. I’m certain that all kinds of people would pop up and exclaim that it’s a waste of money, that all these animals should be put down because the money could be better spent of all kinds of grand ideas. Perhaps they would like to come explain that to the cow that can no longer stand up, that is shaking because she’s down on frozen slush and her body temperature is decreasing by the second and she’s looking at you and crying out for help and there’s not a thing you can do except look at the vet and watch him nod and hope that death brings peace to those who will see no more sunrises.

This is beautiful country. The snow covered mountains, the tops hidden in clouds, the majestic trees – it’s breath taking to stand quietly and look around. Sometimes I’m afraid to stand too quietly in all this magnificent beauty, not because I feel in awe of everything God has made, but because in the silence, I sometimes think I can hear God crying.

Jerry Finch
Habitat for Horses, Inc.
PO Box 213
Hitchcock, TX 77563

Related Stories:

Horses Rescued from Montana Large Animal Sanctuary

Update: Death in the Montana Mountains

Sanctuary Lost: Death in the Montana Mountains

27 replies »

  1. Jerry,
    I sit here this morning with my coffee reading this and crying my eyes out for the poor animals. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there for them. I know how hard it is to make the decisions that you have had to make there. It takes everything out of you but I know you keep going. May God bless you and each one of the rescuers that are doing their best to rehome all the animals.
    Doris Buckley


  2. Yup, God is crying along with a whole host of angels. But you Jerry with your wings out have been blessed with the heart to salve a few of humanity’s many many many big screw ups. Gratitude your way.


  3. “My dream is of a place and time where humans, animals and all of creation will unite in spirit and consciousness as equals. If God is within all life, then what could that life become, evolve to, or return to but the state of God,”

    Thank you Jerry for who you are!


  4. This is one of the most beautiful, touching and honest posts I have ever read. At one turn your on the brink of sobbing uncontrollably then swiftly Jerry takes you to an ultimate “RIGHT PLACE”. All the while, the tears are still welling up yet you are gravitated to what may happen next, hoping for a happy ending full of “LIFE”. I was afraid to allow the first tear to come because the reading will stop I could not take that chance of missing what may come next.

    I feel for you Jerry, I feel the pain, how could I not; ‘it’ jumps off the page slaps me in the face and screams NO MORE !!!

    I would not want to have to make your tough choices; who would. Yet, these choices should have never trickled down to you or me or anyone else, because man, one again has failed to keep their promises. These choices/promises of a safe humane future, for a lifetime were already set in stone when this “sanctuary” took them in, ‘they’ did not keep the promises nor were they true to our entrusted furry or feathered friends.

    I am saddened beyond belief, yet I am grateful to you and the hundreds of others who stopped their own journey to lend all they have to those who are in dire need. Then there are those of us who would sell our cars, stand on street corners with signs just so we could help in any small way; yet many of us just have what is left within our own beings: and that is love and compassion. If this brings you and all the others any relief, our love and our prayers for ALL involved; victims and helpers alike: We beg for mercy and we hope our love has made it’s way to those who have been betrayed by man. And to you; a man who has been betrayed by having to choose death.

    Highly unfair !!!

    I understand people crying and sending loving prayers does diddly squat for those in the trenches, however it brings solace to those of us who can not lend our hands or hold the downed “ranks” heads as they swiftly pass on to a life with no pain and no evil; I hope. In ‘usual’ rescues and humane euthanasia, we all try to comfort and bring warmth to those during their last breath; a blanket, a soft word, many tears and a grip so tight that we are sure they know they are not alone. However, this is no usual rescue now is it ?

    I believe we hold on; in hopes a miracle will suddenly appear from nowhere and ‘OUR’ pain in saying goodbye to and old or a new friend will change it’s course and will not be. I don’t know if I am the only one who says this and believes this but I will write it down/type it:

    “We are alone when we enter this world, and we are alone when we exit”; I believe the only reason we all say: “You are not alone, we are here” is simply to bring peace to those who are left behind or lay in wait.

    Most rescues go smoothly and we are usually staring into eyes that give us some sort of thanks and appreciation, this is the best part of what we all do. Imagining a “rank”, an older one with nothing left to lose after living with total disregard and no human emotion; we still question: Why should he not look into your eyes with the same love and understanding as you have tried to show and have given with action’s and promises ? As you stand very humbled and I am sure very scared, trying to explain to each life betrayed; they look at you with nothing but blackness with those peering unattached looks, still you are seeking some sort of a sign of understanding.

    Why are we constantly surprised by this, we should all be used to abuse and neglect but we never seem to understand, why. We all expect human’s to do the right thing, yet everyday we are ashamed and guilty for what has now become a norm, why would we still hang on to the hope of anything more happening so that we, the rescuers would not be bound to ever have to make wrong’s right again, I do not have the answer to this, and I never will, I suppose.

    The darkness in ‘their’ stare was not there at one time, how long ago they lost this we will never know, but now, today, ‘he’ fears no repercussion by not loving you back because as far as ‘they’ have seen thus far; Man has ripped all humanity and care away from them at some point and their final confirmation was when they entered those gates of a “disguised sanctuary, hell”.

    Jerry, this accounting of your day full of utter loss and pain took you to places which you probably never thought you had; you dove deep within your heart to muster the courage and the need to release; in doing this tomorrow you are able to do it all over again. Jerry, I imagine this journal entry took you hours to write, your tears flowed and your sight was blinded again and again by flashbacks of those eyes you so eagerly sought to find any life in. Those eyes were once young and full of excitement and hope, then human’s took any dreams they may have had and the natural eager will to fight to live; this was lost somewhere and taken away by someone, a human who knows of nothing true and innocent, this is their loss. This journey you have committed to finishing will never leave your heart; all the eyes of the living or ceased are imprinted and will walk with you forever.

    I know you feel alone in this mess of a “sanctuary”, your severe pain is felt and shared in this piece you so generously shared with all of us. For this I am grateful. You have given us a part of you that some may never have known, Thank You.

    Your pain and your tears are the price we all pay for loving……

    I would not change loving someone or the gift of being loved just so I selfishly would not have to pay the price of loss. How lonley a world this would be without our furry and feathered friends, and how ugly it would be without those who “cared enough” ?


  5. Jerry, I don’t know what to say except my heart goes out to you and to all of these poor defenseless animals. I find myself crying too, as I read your experience in this horrible situation, that you so eloquently express. Thanks for ALL you do, in spite of the difficulty.


  6. A local Simmental breeder bought some “rank” cattle at an auction in South Dakota. This group, obviously left to their own devices most of their lives, are so fiercely independent and removed from humans that they are impossible for even the most skilled cattleman to properly handle. One cow had a calf that was in distress, which he could not get near to help. He said he would place another embryo in this cow and try again.

    There are worse things than putting down cattle in pain. The downed dairy cows, who can no longer produce, loaded using heavy equipment or prodded with electric shocks, to become “fast food” for an overweight nation is another example. We’re not sorry Jerry is the one making these decisions. He will do what’s right and place those he can. For the others, their suffering is at an end.


  7. When is the world of humans ever going to be more responsible ?? Why did no one inquire for help earlier ? It is an outrage how innocent creatures at the hands of society or human elitists have to suffer and their only hope for relief is depending on a few who still have that sense of respect and responsibility.
    Any sanctuary ought to be mandated to unannounced inspections by the Dept. of AG, who surely could implement a branch to undertake this, as the need for it is clear ! It is maddening that rescues, sanctuaries or refuges can operate until such shocking circumstances come to light. It is a lack of a system, to oversee any operation whereas animals are at the hands of humans who oftentimes lack the integrity and ability to do their job as assigned or self appointed. Every other aspect of “ownership” of animals is regulated, controlled and governed, yet sanctuaries such as this operate into the dark abyss of no return — and who is paying the horrible price again when humans lack the brains to step up and either act earlier, ask for help earlier or create a system to ensure proper operations – the animals. It never seizes to amaze me how in the country of rules, laws and new bills and regulations to the point of suffocation, there is just no proper system in place prevent such incidents. Simple again, human failure, lack of responsibility and the shortcoming within the system, only geared to control how we live but not to protect the innocents.


  8. I simply do not know what to say..and if i had to say it and not write it I wouldn’t be able to anyway because of the lump in my throat and the constriction in my chest…it’s hard enough to see the keyboard through the tears. Thank you to all who are helping, by being there, by adopting, by donating, driving, medicating, euthanizing, anything at all. It is hard enough to see animals suffer in any situation, but when it is one where they were promised a decent life for the remainder of their days…it makes it that much more heartbreaking. When you have to make the decision that one, or two, or dozens, are too weak, too far gone…please know that an end to their suffering is sanctuary for their souls at least and a release from pain, fear and distress. Living so far away and with no land at all, all I can do is donate and send you all best wishes and a virtual hug to every man, woman and creature there in Montana. People like you are the only reason I do not give up on the whole human race.


  9. Jerry, I hope you know you are not alone. Even as you listened to the pained quiet out there, you must have been listening to the pained prayers for strength for you and those there carrying out the empathic work before you. It is more then not feeding or not caring. There is an assault around the world against the well being of our spiritual connections with all beings. There are thousands (millions in their hearts). out here just like you. We hear you and the time is way passed to build the safety net our animals need, the blinders have got to come off to see this is a battle for good, peace and joy. Carl Jung called it our universal consciousness.

    We have to connect with all the trades who see this neglect long before the breakdown when media notices. This is a call out to the carpenters, hay men, plumbers, vets, farriers, truck drivers to speak up. You know what you see.

    Only when we acknowledge each being with ethical respect is it possible to reach a spiritual relationship with our world. (Or words to that effect spoken by Albert Schweitzer.).


  10. IT is always sad and extremely hard to put down any animal.My husband grew up in dairy country, and I learned that cows( cattle) cannot survive extreme cold temps, with their brains actually freezing.Those of us who love and care and respect all animals, FEEL so much when we have to make that decision.I understand that look between yourself and the vet…the simple nod of the head, and then the lingering feeling of sadness.But I believe if we truly LOVE our Animals, we put their welfare above our own feelings, and I sympathize with the hard decisions we all have to make sometimes.Its for the respect of life that we must decide when its more humane to end a life.God Bless you all for caring so much for each and everyone of God’s creatures..as I do.


  11. Dear Jerry and all the helpers; You have fulfilled the promise–not the promise of sanctuary,which is the place –but the promise of caring, which is the heart..


  12. Can any of these poor cows be saved? How could they have gotten in such terrible shape? Were any other animals so neglected as these cows? I hope charges will be brought against the people who were responsible for this awful neglect!! It sounds like this neglect had gone on for a long time. The only hope of stopping this type of animal cruelty is to pass stronger laws against it, making it a serious felony, and then strongly enforcing such laws. Also, where were the “inspectors” who should have been inspecting this Sanctuary? Are there no provisions for “inspectors” to periodically inspect these “Animal Sanctuaries”? Looks like the human legal system is and has let these animals down by sins of omission which can often be as bad as sins of commission!! This dreadful situation makes me very sad, but also very angery toward those who were entrusted with the care and well-being of these innocent animals. I am praying for these dear animals and look to my hope that a Just and Loving Creator will take their spirits to a place of eternal love and comfort where all innocent animals (who are without sin) can live in peace and harmony with their Creator.


  13. Jerry, Thank you for doing this heartbreaking work. My prayers are with you, and I deeply appreciate your efforts for “the least of these”.


  14. Jerry. God Bless You for what you are having to do. I sit here and read your message and through tears I wonder how any human being could do this to any animal. I help at a sanctuary here in California, and I know she would take more animals if she could but the funds are not there. She told me this week she saved some old horses that the vet thought should be put down but she asked to IV the horses and give her three days. SHe is a retired registered nurse and in three days, she says the horses looked so much better and on their way to recovery. THis woman eats the very vegetables she buys for the animals. SHe has lost weight be not eating meat. THe first day I met her, the soles of her shoes were coming off. She goes without so her animals can live. What has happened to so many human beings that life means nothing to them. Our animals are our families. When we promise to save that is exactly what we should do. I recently adopted a grey Arabian, blind in the right eye and not broke to ride. He was headed for auction and due to the two previous things of blindness and not good to ride, he would have been in a trailer to Canada or Mexico. He is so sweet and I will care for him as if he is my child. I have no children and animals are my live as well. Animals love us and we should be willing to give the extra mile to give back to them. Jerry, you and your helpers deserve hi fives for doing what you are doing. I don’t think I could look an animal in the face and make that decision, but maybe I could, since I’ve had to do it with dogs I’ve loved and had to put to sleep when they were suffering. But to do so many, it boggles the mind. May God wrap his arms around you and give you many donations to keep up the good work. My husband and I are not in a position to send a lot of money at the pesent time, but maybe in the future when things look brighter for us, we will be able to help in some way. I talked to someone at your Texas location and loved a horse you had, was told you couldn’t adopt out of state. This in understandable but if that horse has a good home does location really make a difference. Many of these animals may need to go to other states if an adoption is possible. If the adoptee can pay for transportation costs if help from someone in that business will transport for less, doesn’t a good home anywhere make a new life anew a great decision.

    I think all sanctuaries and rescues should have a governing inspection, so these animals get what they deserve – a loving home for the rest of their lives with food, love and caring people. I know this santuary I help out at does that. SHe would euthanize her animals before letting them get in the shape you say these animals are in.

    May all these animals find loving homes where it will erase this horrible past. I doubt that will be the case in all instances, as this woman has two horses that will not show affection back. THey accept treats but if any movement that looks like there might be something coming to hurt them, they will react. What a horrible ending to a once beautiful human/animal bond. May all who abuse these animals get a very painful existance from here to eternity.

    Again, Jerry GOd bless and know we admire and respect you for what you are doing and wish we could help but miles and monies can be the difference of helping when you would like to do so.


  15. jerry in the jiddish there is a word ” mensch ” it describes a true human being i don’t use it often but yes you are a mensch thank you for your wisdom and compesion


  16. I hope you can get a zillion dollars very soon. Then you can stick your tongue out at those who would say you are wasting your money.


  17. Wish i knew what to say, but i dont. I also dont understand people. Thank you Jerry for all you do.

    Just a few hours ago I tried to talk a lady into giving up a horse that she either could not or will not take care of as it should be. The horse is under fed and tied up in an area that has been logged. No grass, hay or food in sight. I will go back tomarrow and try again. if she wont give up the horse then I know some people that can help her give it up. Like I said I dont understand people


  18. Thank God for u Jerry and those like you. i dont understand people. For example, a few hours ago i tried to talk a lady into giving up a horse that is not being taken care of as it should be. The horse is tied up in an area that has been logged. Broken limbs and stumps every where, no food, hay, or grass in sight. I will go back and try again tomarrow. Like I said I dont understand people.


  19. Thank you for being on site, I know it was the most difficult place to be. I got five of the llamas here in Colorado on Sunday. They are settling in nicely, and those of us that are receiving truckloads of critters really appreciate those of you “on scene”! We got a truckload of twenty gelded males that were divided into four foster homes. We are making progress!


  20. Jerry, my heart goes out to you, all of you who are overseeing this horrific undertaking! I’m angry, angry again at what people do, not do for animals! I believe,with animals,WHAT BREATHES, BLEEDS, FEELS ! Comfort those cows when the decision has to be made, they deserve nothing less.


  21. Jerry you are so right and I have never read a more touching post in my life. Tears….:(

    “A mans humanness to his own animals is the his truest reflection of himself…”
    Tina Wooten

    Thank you Jerry


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