Sometime in the early 1990s, I went to my first rodeo. We were staying with my great-aunt and there was a lot of excitement that day. It was held at a huge sports complex that smelled like manure, hay, and hot dogs. My siblings and I settled into our seats and got ready to have our minds blown.
The first “act” was a monkey in western wear riding a dog. I repeat, a MONKEY in CHAPS riding a DOG. It was freaking adorable and if the rodeo had been two hours of monkeys pretending to lasso piglets I would have been hooked. The second act was the part that shattered me. A calf was released into the ring and soon after a teenage girl rode out horseback and lassoed the legs of the calf, dragging it squealing across the arena. I sat there, sobbing, looking at the clapping spectators and suddenly I had been transported into a Stanley Kubrick movie.
That night in bed, I couldn’t get the squeals out of my mind. I tossed and turned all night, visions of laughing crowds and terrified animals impeding my sleep. They haunted me like the lambs haunted Clarice. I knew I had to do something.
The next day I walked with purpose to the cow corral and boldly opened the gate. The cows did nothing. I was offering them freedom and they didn’t even move. Undeterred, I rattled the fence and yelled things like, “BE FREE” and “RUN WILD IN NATURE!” Eventually, they started coming towards the open gate, then running towards it, then out of it. And as I stood on the fence listening to the stampede shake the ground around me the gravity of the what I had just done settled over me like a blanket of dread.
I slowly backed away from the now-empty corral and started to retreat back towards the house. I thought I had done something good but the sick feeling I had now caused me to doubt my family’s ability to see my side of things. Maybe no one would notice. Maybe they would think the wind blew the gate open. As I turned around I came face to face with my older sister, who, mouth agape, eyes full of maniacal glee looked at me and said, “You’re going to be in so. much. trouble.”
Despite all my best intentions, no one wanted to hear my various justifications, from the plight of the cow, to the moral dilemmas of western culture and attitudes surrounding livestock. As I ate my cheeseburger later that night I took comfort in the knowledge that even for just a moment, I had given those majestic creatures freedom.