((This is based on a true story I read about a downed cow at a Kentucky stockyard. I decided to humanize one of the workers, to give readers a glimpse at his opinions and his love for the animal he inadvertently killed by not stepping in. All spelling mistakes are intentional.))
I pulled into work at Walton Stockyards at 7:30, like I always had. I never, ever expected that my perspective towards my job and my co-workers would change as drastically as it did. I admit fully that I never thought about how cruel my job really was. I was only in it for the money. It was only a 9-to-5 type job for me. Well, 7:30-to-6 for me, but you know what I mean.
As was the routine, my three co-workers and I were in charge of unloading cattle into the nearby slaughterhouse. I had never really grown up around cows; my dad owned a turkey farm in downtown Kenton. I never really saw how animals were turned into meat; it was only my job to feed the turkeys and now the cows, as well as unloading trucks. I never joined my dad when he sold them to the slaughterhouse.
It all went smoothly until we noticed that one of the cows was missing. Looking back, I saw the missing cow. She looked absolutely petrified, as if she was aware of what was going to happen. There was a moment when she looked at me with those big, baleful brown eyes and I realized, 'She's trying to get me to help her.' This poor cow, not even three years old, I guessed, would not live to see her fourth year.
My buddy Matt, who I roomed with, had always told me that my job was 'cruel,' 'inhumane,' and 'barbaric.' My argument was that it was the only job available, and as soon as I found something better, I'd be leaving. I was only 27, for Christ's sake, give me a break!
Tony, Rick and Dave were now prodding the cow with electric prods, trying to get it out of the truck. I stood back, letting them work. I would rather not get involved in beating the hell out of the cow. "You'd better get yer ass into gear, Jase," Tony, the stock worker in charge, shouted to me. "I have to do somethin' for Mike," I said quickly, adding silently, 'go fuck yourself, you prick.' I hated Tony with a passion, and anything I could say to get away from him, I took advantage of, so I used the boss' name.
I left the truck, leaving Tony there, cursing. He seemed to be taking his anger with me out on the cow in the truck, because I heard pained mooing and Tony, Rick, and Dave cursing and threatening the cow. I knew I had to do something, but I wasn't sure what. I had no experience in this matter.
"Fuckin' cow," Tony spat, shouting, "Rope 'er up, Dave, Rick, be prepared to drive." He left the truck and hammered a wooden stake into the dirt floor. With horror, I watched as Rick got into the driver's seat of the truck and started the engine. I heard a loud, panicked moo as the animal inside was dragged from the eighteen-wheeler truck and fell to the dirt with a series of sickening cracks. This told me that the cow's entire lower body must've been shattered. Her nose and ears were bleeding from the beating she'd just received. I now knew what 'rope 'er up, Dave' meant, and I didn't like it one bit.
I hid my tears as thoroughly as I could for the rest of the day. The heartrending sound of anguished crying outside filled the stockyard for three hours. I knew that if I had only stopped that bastard Tony, that the cow would still be in one piece. Mike forbade us to feed or water the cow. She was to be left to die.
I had gone outside to get something for Mike that noon, when I saw a young woman in a white cotton tee shirt and denim jeans kneel to give the cow a drink of water. I was grateful; she didn't resemble anyone I knew, and she certainly didn't work here. She had long auburn hair which was in a high ponytail. She looked back at me and we locked eyes. Green to hazel. She looked angry, but I could tell somewhat that it wasn't at me.
All of a sudden, Tony came stomping out, shouting an impressive string of curses. Ironically, the woman just stood there, shielding the prone animal behind her, even though Tony was using the dirtiest words for women I'd ever heard. Tony was not a family man, nor was he very educated.
"Threaten me all you want, sir; I'm not leaving until this cow is given medical attention or euthanasia."
"You one of them tree-huggin' tofu PETA fuckers, ain't you, lady?" Tony sneered. I raised an eyebrow, as did the woman.
"I prefer the term 'animal rights activist,' sir," the woman shot back with an infuriatingly calm voice. I bit my lip to keep from laughing. 'Give ol' Tony what for, lady!' I thought.
Tony stomped away shouting for Mike, and the woman glanced at me. "You can come out, y'know, I won't bite," she said, sounding amused.
"Never said you would," I replied, straightening up. "Name's Jase Stewart. Forgive Tony, he's an asshole," I added.
The woman smiled. "Jessica Pierce, but most people call me Jessie," she said, shaking my hand. "And don't worry; I've dealt with men like Tony before. He's... real charming." She glanced back at the cow.
"I didn't have anything to do with her ending up like that, I should have stopped him," I said, glancing at the cow, who I'd secretly named Justice. Jessie looked at me. "I'm sure you didn't, you don't seem that heartless." I sighed. "I did something worse. I stood back and watched it happen." Jessie looked at me, silently asking me to continue. "I never expected them to drag her off of the truck like they did." Jessie's eyes widened as she comprehended what I meant. "You've never seen a cow abused at a slaughterhouse?"
"No, I've never even seen a cow until I got the job, my dad worked with turkeys. I'd never gone to the slaughterhouse with him then and my only real job here is unloading cattle. I don't go into the slaughterhouse." I spoke truthfully. "I've heard that it's gruesome, though."
"It is," Jessie said grimly. "I've investigated places like this. They're a bunch of fuckin' liars, those who say that these animals don't suffer before they die." I winced. She sounded bitter, more than I did at the moment.
Tony and Mike appeared then. I glanced apologetically and knelt back into my hiding space behind the shed door. Mike and Jessie argued for a bit, and Jessie pulled out her cell phone. She dialed 911.
The visit by the policeman was a waste of time. He was told not to do anything and no arrests were made. There were no laws written to legally indict anyone involved with the abuse, he said, and that Jessie was wasting her time. However, she was threatened that she'd be arrested for trespassing. The policeman left, and Mike, in his smooth voice, said, "I'll kill the cow out of mercy, but you have to leave right now. It's all I can do, ma'am."
I wanted to throttle Mike, Tony and everyone else in that stockyard. How dare they treat Jessie like this?! She was damn brave to stand up for herself like she was. Matt had always said that Animal Rights activists were the most tenacious people he'd ever seen.
I definitely knew that I couldn't stay in Walton Stockyards any longer. After what I saw, I knew everything Matt said was true. It wasn't a harmless job for just money, it was blood money that I earned every time I sent a cow like Justice to her death.
Jessie finally left at 3:00, but Mike didn't kill the cow, just removed her water bowl that Jessie provided. I went inside and kept working as if nothing had happened, I didn't have to go home until 6 PM. At 4:00, I heard snarling outside. I knew Mike had three dobermans, I'd been bitten by all three at least once. They walked around free as if they owned the place, and they were vicious animals. Anyway, I managed to sneak outside and what I saw froze my blood.
Mike's dogs were attacking Justice; one of them, Cujo, had his jaws clamped firmly on the cow's back leg, and Victor had his on the other. The cow's legs were bleeding all over the gravel. Kato, the largest dog and the alpha female of the three, was standing in front, snarling at the cow as she moaned in agony. I picked up a wooden plank and threw it at Kato, hoping to distract her. She snarled angrily at me, and I didn't see much as I was knocked down. There was a searing pain in my right leg, where Kato had her teeth sunk into my pant leg. I was dazed, and there was blood coming from the back of my head. I passed out from sheer pain.
I don't know how long I was out, but when I woke up, Jessie was standing over me. "You okay?" she asked, concern in her green eyes. I winced. "How long was I out?"
"Not long, about three and a half hours. The dogs left you alone when I pulled up and chased them away. You're in the hospital."
Jessie chased away three adult-sized doberman pinschers?! It was a wonder she wasn't killed! "What happened to Justice?"
Jessie looked confused. "Justice?"
"The downed cow. I named her Justice. Is she okay?" The look on Jessie's face broke my heart. "She was shot and sold. I'm sorry, Jase, I couldn't do anything, the law won't do anything. Walton Stockyards is protected by the government and the Department of Agriculture. The way Justice was treated is standard procedure." There were tears in Jessie's eyes. She looked like a lost little girl who's doggie was killed in a car accident. I sat up and winced. My leg was in a cast and my head was stitched up. It also felt like I cracked some ribs.
"You're a brave man, you know that?" she asked in that amused tone I'd grown to love.
"I feel like shit," I muttered. Jessie said softly, "You look just fine to me," and I looked at her like she was crazy. Her eyes twinkled. I smiled and let her kiss my cheek as I dozed off.
A Year Later
"So you're leaving Kentucky?" Matt asked me. I nodded. "I have to, man, too many memories." Matt nodded. I had told him everything that happened.
I had decided to move with Jessie to Pennsylvania. I had quit my old job at Walton Stockyard and politely told Tony and Mike to go to Hell. I got a job at a grocery store, and earned just enough to pay a down on an apartment. Jessie left the office she worked at and was moving with me. We needed a change of pace, since Kentucky held sore memories for both of us.
Matt had met Jessie soon after the 'Incident' with Justice. I had grown a new-found respect for animals and started cutting meat out of my diet, slowly. I still eat fish, but rarely, mostly I'm vegetarian. Jessie, of course was glad to help me learn. My days of Ramen Noodles and McDonald's hamburgers were done, though I still eat French fries. Hey, I'm a hardcore fry fan, can't help it.
No one was ever arrested, but there was a small article about what happened. Yet again, the news swayed the truth into what they wanted people to hear, but I'm not bitter. I found a new life, I'm happier and healthier, and better yet, I proposed to Jessie.
Maybe we'll name our daughter Justice.