Saved at the last hour by Gene Baur, then a young activist, the downer calf was named Opie and brought to live at Farm Sanctuary, a seedling operation at the time, which sheltered far fewer animals and was run only by its founders and a handful of volunteers. Here, Opie, who when rescued had a temperature too low to even register on a thermometer, was placed on an IV, given colostrums and bottle-fed 'round the clock until he was well enough to integrate with the other cattle.
On the happy day he was introduced to his new herd mates, Opie was adopted within moments by the now 21-year-old Maya, also one of the first downer calves ever rescued by Farm Sanctuary. Under the cow's watchful eye, Opie, like the organization-which kept building more barns, laying more fencing and making its name known throughout the nation-grew, and then grew some more.
Standing more than six feet tall and weighing about a ton and a half in his prime, Opie, who blossomed into the benevolent, paternal leader of our cattle herd, was an awe-inspiring sight to behold. Visitors, most of whom were at first rendered speechless by and, often, a little fearful of the massive steer, were reassured when they approached Opie and learned that he had a heart that matched his size. No one made an impression quite like Opie did.
Gentle, warm and receptive to any and all affection he was offered by admirers, Opie's dramatic rescue story, seemingly miraculous recovery, radiant personality, and powerful presence helped build the very foundation for our visitor program and proved what a difference our animal ambassadors could make for others of their species. It is impossible to know exactly how many people this magnanimous animal turned vegan, but Opie, once forgotten by a cruel industry, was clearly adored throughout his life by thousands, who were changed for the better from having known him.
Off the farm, Opie's compelling before and after rescue photos were presented at legislative sessions, distributed widely on Farm Sanctuary activist materials, and picked up by media throughout the nation, leading to such advances as the introduction of the Downed Animal Protection Act in the U.S. Congress in 1992. The face of our No Downers Campaign, Opie and his story continued to help us shed light on the critical need for legislation to prevent the marketing and slaughter of animals too weak and sick to walk on their own and advocate for measures to prevent their suffering long after his rescue.
Sadly, as Opie grew older, his joints began to degenerate and we knew that our time with him would be shorter than we had always hoped. We were, however, not ready for the shock we received last week when Opie, whose age weakened his immune system, came down with pneumonia. When he did not respond to treatment after a few days, we ordered extensive blood work, which revealed that Opie's liver was not functioning properly. Opie, we learned, had cancer, making his prognosis much worse than we anticipated.
Yesterday afternoon Opie's liver began to fail him and it became painfully clear that he would not make it through the night. The steer's caregivers and other close friends from the farm held vigil by his side, comforting him and feeding him apples, which he relished with as much enthusiasm as he was able to muster. Fortunately, his passing was quick and peaceful, a comforting sign that after a life well-lived, our sweet boy was more than ready to embark on a new journey.
Opie was a precious soul whose loss leaves us with a sadness that is difficult to bear. From the moment of his rescue so many years ago, Opie was Farm Sanctuary, his life informing every aspect of the rescue, education and advocacy work we have done and continue to do. But in our moments of despair, it is this same fact that lifts our spirits because we know that, no matter what, Opie's memory will continue to live on in our every action and he will always be by our side.