I wrote a feature on Farm Sanctuary’s 30th anniversary for the June 1 Ithaca Times. This portion on the ‘Jon Stewart rescues a bull’ story and the Stewarts’ and other celebrities’ relationship to the organization was cut for space.
Stories featuring public figures as beloved as Jon Stewart, animals, and crazy happenings in New York City are destined for internet attention. All three of those came together on April 1, when a one-year-old white-faced bull on his way to a livestock market in Queens escaped and took a ramble through the campus of York College.
The bull, later named Frank Lee after the Alcatraz escapee, was tied up and tranquilized by NYPD officers, then sent to the Animal Care Center of Brooklyn. Numerous videos from onlookers of that “arrest” are online, with incredulous, incisive commentary like “It take the whole NYPD for some damn cow?” and “He about to buck the shit out of them.”
That story in itself would be enough to garner some pageviews, but it gained real notoriety when outlets found out that former Daily Show host Jon Stewart came to New York in a van with trailer, along with his wife Tracey to feed Frank some hay and drive him to Cornell’s veterinary hospital for a check-up before relocating to the Watkins Glen Farm Sanctuary.
A short video shot by Tracey of her husband, in ball cap and retirement beard, feeding Frank hay made the rounds, and the “Holy Cow!” and “No Bull” headlines proliferated across the web.
“Everyone Wants Jon Stewart to Return, But He’s Just Saving Escaped Cows,” was the Esquire headline. At New York magazine, “Queens Bull Escapes to College, Gets Rescued by Jon Stewart,” and the New York Times, always nuanced, led with the more accurate “Bull in Queens Is Captured, and Jon Stewart Chauffeurs It to Freedom.”
After Farm Sanctuary national shelter director Susie Coston got the call from New York a bull needed a home, calling Tracey Stewart, the nonprofit’s newest board member, to pick up Frank was a practical decision.
“I called the Stewarts because they’re an hour away, with a truck and trailer,” Coston said. “By the time I get there, he’d be all stressed out. Of course, it turned into ‘Jon Stewart rescues a bull.’”
Taking in a large farm animal who made a break for it in New York City isn’t a new happening for Coston. At any one time, somewhere between 50 to 100 of the approximately 500 animals at Watkins Glen are rescues from the city’s live markets. Queenie, another resident cow, also made her escape in Queens.
“Most people don’t realize there are thousands of farm animals in New York City,” Coston said. “They’re herd and flock animals that don’t do well alone, and they go crazy.I know people who go into a coma when they get there, saying ‘Oh my god, why am I here?’”
As a practical matter, when Frank first arrived at Farm Sanctuary, “no one was hanging out with him,” Coston said – a bull can inseminate a cow for up to four weeks after castration. Now, Frank the steer is integrating himself into the herd; he’s easily recognizable in the pasture, with his white face and bantamweight stature compared to most of the other bovines.
The Stewarts will be opening a fourth Farm Sanctuary location in 2017 on their 12-acre farm in Monmouth County, N.J. Animals will be provided from Watkins Glen, according to Coston, with the property housing about a half-dozen cows, a few pigs, sheep, goats, a couple horses, and up to 50 chickens.
Tracey was already an animal advocate and discovered Farm Sanctuary president Gene Baur’s first book at a beach house in New Jersey, which led to their association. Stewart has written a book, Do Unto Animals, and has related merchandise like notebook sets, fine art prints, and tote bags.
“Everyone has transformative moments,” Tracey said in an interview reprinted in Sanctuary magazine. “For some, it’s discovering CrossFit; for others, it’s finding religion. For me, it was cows.”
Help from celebrities is nothing new for Farm Sanctuary. Tom Scholz, of the band Boston, has his name on the sheep barn in Watkins Glen; comedian Kevin Nealon sponsored the visitor’s center; and celebrities as varied as talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, and Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage have supported the sanctuary over its 30 years.
Photo by Lyndsey Hewitt. Frank the Bull is at left, with Farm Sanctuary shelter director Susie Coston at right.