Escaped cow was panicked

February 27, 1998


Staff Writer

A Holstein cow, frightened and nervous after escaping from an auction house Wednesday afternoon, ran through residential neighborhoods and busy streets, giving police little choice but to shoot it, officials said Thursday.

The black and white dairy cow escaped from Four States' Livestock Sales on East First Street at about 3 p.m. when an auction house employee left a gate open shortly after its West Virginia owner unloaded the cow from a cattle cart, said Jim Starliper, auction house owner.

Panicky after making the trip to Hagerstown and finding itself out of its normal environment, the cow ran through surrounding neighborhoods and became even more stressed as residents shouted, drivers honked their horns, and a fire engine passed with its siren on, Starliper said.


In a frenzy, the approximately 1,500-pound cow knocked over an 86-year-old woman who was walking at Ravenwood Lutheran Village, and took out a 15-foot section of chain-link fence.

"Get away. That's what she was thinking," said Dr. Ed Wurmb, a veterinarian at Mid-Maryland Dairy Veterinarians of Hagerstown.

The veterinarian said his office fielded several calls from people who read a headline over Wednesday's story in the Morning Herald about the cow's escape and were concerned the animal was suffering from mad cow disease.

That was not the case, he said.

"We've never had a case of mad cow disease in this country," Wurmb said.

The cow that escaped Wednesday behaved as it did because it was stressed and scared, he said.

The Ravenwood Lutheran Village resident, who did not want to be identified, was taken to Washington County Hospital and treated for a mild ankle sprain, said Melissa Hadley, executive director of the housing complex off Luther Drive.

She was doing fine Friday and laughing about the incident, Hadley said.

"When we think what could've happened ... the cow came out of nowhere and just knocked right into her," she said.

Pursued by a group of auction house employees, farmers, and Hagerstown police, the cow remained free for more than an hour. The animal made its way through the Kenwood Drive and Kenly Avenue area, crossed over heavily traveled Frederick Street, and ended up on a Little League baseball field.

Surrounded by a chain-link fence and with search team members closing off the openings, the cow pawed at the muddy field and charged at people who came near.

"She was very high on adrenaline. The basic response in a cow is fight or flight. She was doing the only thing she could do," Wurmb said.

Shooting a tranquilizer dart into the animal was considered, but Wurmb said it might not have worked given the cow's stress level. A tranquilizer dart might have made the animal even more aggravated, he said.

"Even trying to rope her could've been dangerous," he said.

Police were worried the cow would escape from the ball field and run back to Frederick Street, where it could have caused an accident. They decided to call in a member of the Hagerstown City Police Special Response Team to shoot the animal.

"Rather than risk anybody getting hurt, the decision was made to shoot it. It's the only alternative we had," Starliper said.

Special Response Team member Michael King shot the cow twice in the head with a .308-caliber sniper rifle.

The cow, worth about $500, was to be sold at auction for slaughter because she wasn't producing enough milk on the farm, Starliper said.

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