Columns » Gene Lyons

Flying wild


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Any day now, somebody's going to get busted for taking an emotional support cow on an airplane. I've got a pretty good idea who that somebody's going to be. Not a full-grown mama cow, mind you. Even in first class, no such animal could squeeze into the aisles. But a bottle-calf a few months old and needing regular feeding. Maybe 300 to 400 pounds. A gentle, tractable beast — less dangerous than some of the yappy little mutts silly people's therapists persuade airlines to allow onboard.

I came by this insight after the Great Cypress Creek Farm Cow Rebellion. See, my plan had been to submit all eight Big Girls to artificial insemination on the same day, greatly simplifying the breeding/calving process. To accomplish this goal, their estrus cycles needed to be synchronized. This involved herding everybody through a squeeze chute one-by-one, administering hormone shots along with certain other indignities they mightily resented.

Came breeding day, all my cows were definitely cycling. There was lots of milling about, mooing and amorous humping. "Riding," it's called. With the A.I. man hiding discreetly in the barn, I took a bucket of feed and went to lure the herd into the corral.

Alas, herd boss Stella had evidently spotted the Big Branch Breeding Services truck and figured what was up. For the first time in our five-year relationship, she rebelled. She and the herd stood near the gate eyeing me suspiciously, as if to say, "No, we're not going in there. You can keep that feed bucket. We ain't that damn hungry. Do you think we're stupid?"

Then Stella pivoted and led them all back across the big pasture into the woods. There would be no breeding that day. Time and money wasted. The man from Big Branch suggested maybe I needed to take his A.I. course, greatly simplifying things, but also requiring the insertion of one's arm into a cow's nether regions clear up to the shoulder. It's messy, and done wrong can result in serious injury. Cows themselves prefer bulls, as tiresome as bulls can be.

I mentioned that a friend had completed the course. He asked who.

"The most attractive 40-year-old mother in Faulkner County," I said.

"Oh yeah, Jennifer," he answered.

Yeah, Jennifer. One of the originals: a woman of such charm and determination that if she ever did feel the need to transport a calf via Southwest Airlines, the cabin attendants would sterilize and warm the two-quart feeding bottles for her, and passengers would gladly make way — except, of course, for that peevish neurotic with the snarling Peekapoo in 29A.

Jennifer does her own artificial insemination, while husband Bryan lends moral support. Then she marks her calendar for nine months and seven days hence, and begins to stalk her pregnant heifers around the pasture with binoculars as their due dates get close. The woman is a loving fanatic: relentless and highly skilled. Comes premature labor or a breech birth, she knows exactly what to do. So, yeah, she's often got a bottle calf to feed in spring — if not her own, then one she's adopted for a neighbor.

But no, I'm confident she wouldn't actually take a cow on an airplane, any more than I'd take one, nor even a dog or cat — if for no other reason than the animals themselves absolutely hate it. Service dogs are one thing. There's nothing more admirable nor deserving of consideration than a seeing-eye dog, or similarly trained support animal.

But only highly trained working dogs. No other kinds of animal need apply. Cats, for example, hate to travel. My beloved orange tabby Albert — who's so attached to me that he gave up hunting mice in the barn to sit by me for several weeks watching ballgames and purring after I got hurt falling from a horse — hid in the box springs of our bed for three days after we moved.

My Great Pyrenees Jesse appears to think he's the King Boss Dog of the world. In his limited experience, he is. He fears neither man nor beast. I've seen him pitch into two coyotes and send them limping; he once leaped on a cow that charged my wife, repulsing the attack. (We'd accidentally come too near her calf.) But comes a thunderstorm, and Jesse crawls into Diane's lap for reassurance, all 120 pounds of him. Jet engines would torture him.

Birds? Hamsters? Please. Domestic animals simply don't belong on airplanes. Too much can go wrong. That "emotional support" dog that recently bit a 3-year-old child on a Southwest flight? A nervous wreck, and probably unaccustomed to children.

Sure you can find some crank with a Ph.D. to certify that you require Boris or Fifi to remain calm, but it's simply rubbish and you know it. Selfish, too. You're putting your own neurotic needs above your pets' wellbeing. Grow up and leave them at home.


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