A lot of seniors face finding new homes for beloved family pets when their lives slow down or living situations change. Betty Surber, 88, of Medford had more to worry about than the typical dog or cat owner.
Hoping her precious Maggie and Bubba would continue being doted on, kept safe and well-fed, she had the task of finding someone who could afford a massive feed bill and would promise the mother-son pair would never end up on a dinner plate.
Maggie and Bubba, you see, are shiny, black — and huge — Angus cattle that Surber has protected and nurtured for nearly a quarter of her life.
Living on a cattle and horse ranch much of her life, Surber received Maggie as a Valentine's Day gift when the calf was just two weeks old. A twin born to one of Betty's family's show cows, Maggie had been rejected by her mother and was found lying in an irrigation ditch by a ranch employee.
"I had a cocker, and she was about that size," Surber recalls.
"She was just a tiny, little thing. One time she even came through the dog door."
Hooked on Maggie since day one, Surber bred her at age 3 so the 1,500-pound cow wouldn't be lonely.
"That's how we got Bubba," Surber says lovingly of the male Angus that doubles his mother's weight at 3,000 pounds.
"Just as soon as he came out, whew, was he a big baby!" she adds. "But Bubba was very embarrassing to us. He was still nursing when he was 2 years old.
"I said to Maggie, 'Make him stop doing that!' Finally she made him stop, but people would always slow down and stare because they couldn't believe this big, old bull — down on his knees! I guess that's why he's such a strong, healthy boy."
Raised on Timothy hay, clover and heavy doses of affection, the cattle were Surber's biggest concern in retirement.
"Before I left this world, I wanted to know they were taken care of," she adds.
Almost as if by fate, Sutherlin ranch owners Sky Ironplow and Ingrid "Ann" Gram stepped in, agreeing to provide sanctuary for the burly bovines.
Gram, a retired anthropology teacher for Lane Community College who volunteers time, and occasionally space, to help Oregon Humane Society, says she could relate to wanting the best care for a family pet.
"We understood they were pets she'd had for a lifetime. We have a lot of our own animals, and we care deeply about them," Gram says.
After accepting the delivery of 4,500 pounds of pet beef, Gram says it was evident the animals have been "very, very well taken care of." The true challenge, she says, will be assessing the feed bill for winter, when the pair can't simply graze in the field.
"Bubba is easily as big as our Chevy pickup truck and 6 feet at the shoulder," Gram says.
In spite of their intimidating size, Ironplow says, the cattle immediately accepted handfuls of alfalfa from their new owners and are so gentle that a 6-week-old piglet, recently rescued when it fell off a slaughter truck in Colorado, rubs noses with them.
"I worried a little when the baby pig came running into the field, but that great, big steer just touched noses with it. These cows are really something."
Ironplow says the concept of a pet cow wasn't unfamiliar to her.
"I used to live in Elmira, and our neighbors had a 20-some-year-old cow named Lucy. I thought it was just so cool that they had a pet cow, so when the opportunity came up, I thought, 'Why not?' "
"These two have already had such a cool life, why would you take that away from them?" she adds.
Whether it was the ladies' good-hearted nature or the fact that Maggie and Bubba won them over, Surber says she is profoundly grateful.
"I just love them so much, and I hated to let them go. Before I left this world, I wanted a good place for them where they could live the rest of their lives out together," Surber says, admitting she hopes to maintain connection with her lovelies.
"I called my nephew up and told him I knew what he could give me for my birthday," Surber adds. "He can take me to Sutherlin to see Maggie and Bubba."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.