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Heart Trouble

Rosetta arrived at VINE in early 2012, one of a group of cows who barely survived starvation at a small Vermont farm where they had been exploited for “dairy” for at least ten years. By the time they were seized by authorities, one of their friends had starved to death. At VINE, Rosetta and her friends Blake, Addison, and Fennel soon recovered their strength. By the summer of 2012, they were healthy enough to roam the hilly back pasture, which they quickly made clear was their favorite place.


This past summer, Rosetta and her companions were able to spend even more time in that special spot, often electing to sleep high atop a steep slope or deep in the woods rather than retiring to the barn for the night. We close off that pasture in the winter, because the steep slopes become too icy. Rosetta came down to the front pasture reluctantly, but soon developed a new routine, napping under a favorite tree most afternoons and then coming up to observe all of the interesting activities at closing time, when she might watch Kathy tending to ALFie and Maddox, Cheryl navigating the cacophony of ducks and geese dodging in and out of coops, or pattrice tucking in the Kaporos survivors for the night.

At some point after Rosetta laid down for her usual rest Wednesday night, she woke and found she could not get up. At sunrise on Thursday morning, we found her lying down, in obvious distress. We covered her with blankets and warmed her with our bodies until the vet arrived to confirm what we already had determined—no sign of injury or bloat, too weak to even try to get up, something going very wrong and not getting better inside. We all agreed: euthanasia was the only compassionate choice.

As first Cheryl and then the vet examined Rosetta, many of the cows in the front pasture came by to nuzzle her—whether offering comfort or saying goodbye, we cannot say. As the vet examined Rosetta, pattrice rushed up to do the usual morning head-count of the back pasture cows. She saw this: All 21 cows were standing by the gate closest to the front pasture, in silent pairs and small groups, their heads oriented toward the front pasture. Even the most gregarious among them paid pattrice no mind, so intent were they on what can only be called a vigil.

Rosetta died with Cheryl cradling her head, pattrice embracing her heart-to-heart, and Kathy watching over from nearby. The necropsy revealed an extremely enlarged heart that had compressed her lungs and impinged the vagus nerve—with that nerve blockage probably being the cause of the acute crisis. A “natural” cause of death, then, for a cow her age. Nothing we could have known about and nothing we could have done.

And so our grief today is, for the most part, the pure grief of losing somebody you love and of knowing that others you care for are mourning too. At the same time, we also feel so sorry that Rosetta did not have more time at the sanctuary, where she so clearly enjoyed both the environment and her relationships. While the cause of Rosetta’s death was natural, the course of her life was anything but. Ten years of pregnancies and grief, months of near starvation—and then not even a full two years with us. We wanted her to have more bright mornings, more lazy afternoons, more interesting evenings—just more days, period.

Listen: Everybody always says this, but it’s really true. Especially but not only with elders, you never know when somebody’s last day is coming. Try to seize every opportunity to express your affection for those you treasure. If you would like to help us do that for the cows who showed their affection for Rosetta on her last day, add the word “Rosetta” to the “special instructions” when making a donation, and we’ll be sure to share your condolences with them and with the staff members whose hearts are heavy today.


9 comments to Heart Trouble

  • Patrice
    I am so sad that you lost your lovely Rosetta. What a painful loss it must be. I understand that you have more love to give her, and that you wanted to see her stay with you long enough to forget her past traumas, but, perhaps, she did stay long enough to heal. Maybe residing within your fences and hearts she was given the intensive course of love and affection and kind human interaction that lifted her up enough so that she could pass through this world and on with a heart full of her treasured memories with you and her fellow travellers, replacing the tragic deficits, and filling her with all the love and affection and kindnesses that her big old heart could carry. So it’s sort of like preparing your children for life on their own…and you didn’t leave anything out of her suitcase. I know she will be missed by all. xx
  • pattrice
    Patrice, thanks for these reassuring and empathic words. Truly.
  • Patrice
    You are welcome. I will hold you in my thoughts and my heart. I would love to visit with all your residents one day. xx
  • bird brain
    Having my own cardiac issues so knowing and feeling how this affects the body and brain and how Rosetta physically felt and in hindsight – Rosetta’s respite under the tree being able to watch the goings on in safety with no distress in her last days must have been the most comforting way to go to the next level of existence. VINE did good by her and all beings that live shorter lives then us mostly abusive humans. The VINE Hill Folk need to cast off the melancholy and hold your heads high.
  • Lucy Kaplan
    I have always hoped that the animals whom we rescue late in their lives experience a change in the way they sense the passage of time, for exactly the reason Pattrice expresses so movingly: We so wish that their time in safety, supported by love, could outweigh, for them, the memories of their terrible bondage. I try to believe that this is true, but as Pattrice says, we must MAKE this true, by doubling up on our conscious giving of love and appreciation, once our beloveds are in our care. Knowing what I do about VINE, I know that if there is any place on Earth at which Rosetta could experience the equivalent of a lifetime of joy, in a period of fewer than 2 years, it is VINE. This is the miracle of rescue: We can make time stand still and slow down, just by proceeding on the basis that rescue is not a discrete act. It is a process that continues for the life of the rescued animal.
  • Anne Eddy
    Knowing you all, and having been fortunate enough to be a volunteer at VINE, even briefly, I know in my heart that Rosetta lived in an atmosphere of pure love. And that is something we rarely experience. So very grateful for all of you at VINE. Know that Rosetta passed from a wonderful place. Hugs to you all.
  • CQ
    Your beautiful story of a beautiful cow with the beautiful name of Rosetta confirms for me that the heart is not so much a physical organ as it is an invisible feeling. Its function is not so much to pump a sticky substance as it is to circulate love. Love without limits. As the line of a poem I treasure says: “For Love alone is Life.”*

    Rosetta lived and breathed love, and inspired love in others. The legacy of love she leaves behind will never pass away, but will ripple out beyond her sanctuary grounds and December departure.

    This is the scene you described, pattrice, that touches my heart most: “All 21 cows were standing by the gate closest to the front pasture, in silent pairs and small groups, their heads oriented toward the front pasture.” That’s a sight dairy farmers probably see all too often, but turn away from and pretend not to notice.

    Thank you, one and all at VINE, for taking care of Rosetta for two joyful years. And thank you to the above commenters (Patrice, Bird Brain, Lucy, Anne, Nancy) for your sweet sharings.

    *Fittingly, the poem is titled LOVE. Its final verse reads: “And life most sweet, as heart to heart / Speaks kindly when we meet and part.” ~ Mary Baker Eddy

  • Valerie Traina
    VINE Sanctuary is a gift to all of its wards. And those animals are a gift to you, the caretakers. I hope you’ll all take comfort in knowing that you and Rosetta shared something special during that part of her journey at VINE. Love cannot be quantified. I am thankful and I’m sure Rosetta was grateful that she spent the last couple of years of her life in such a beautiful sanctuary. Thank you for existing.

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