Gentle Barn founder Ellie Laks announced Tuesday that Dudley, who had been having difficulty eating and defecating for a few days, died after “a ruptured ulcer tore apart his stomach.”
“There was nothing the surgeons could do to repair it,” Laks said in a Facebook post. “I don't know why these things happen, I don't know why extreme loss is a part of our earth experience, but I'm so deeply grateful to have been graced by Dudley over the last two years, and if we could do it all over again, we would.”Source for quote: Knoxville News Sentinel "Dudley, steer with prosthetic foot and mascot of Gentle Barn in Tennessee, has died"
Let's make one thing clear, before I launch into this blog post:
I am not a fan of the Gentle Barn. As a matter of fact I'm not a fan of "farm animal sanctuaries" that really and ultimately tout themselves as "sanctuaries" for farm animals when they're nothing more than glorified petting zoos.
Now that I got that out of the way, I needed to create this post, albeit a month later, about Dudley, the "rescued" Hereford steer, and give some thoughts as to what this bovine may have actually died of, and why the Gentle Barn may have actually lied about his death.
In order to do that, we need to start from the beginning.
In the beginning...
According to GB, Dudley was rescued with a severe infection or gangrene in his right hind leg. This was from, supposedly (though it makes sense), baling twine being wrapped around his fetlock (just above his hoof) for an extended period of time.
Let's stop right here and think about this.
I can understand how this would happen. There are times when life on the farm gets so busy that we forget to look in on the animals every so often. Then when one comes up looking quite ill or lame, it can be to the point where it's almost too late. In this case, it would've been either that, or the farmer really was being negligent about a) picking up his baling string, and b) checking the animals regularly for any ailing animals.
So the bull got "turned over" to GB instead of being slaughtered (which should've been done in the first place, I'll get to that soon) for beef. And the bull went through quite a bit of surgery to get the hoof amputated, and a prosthetic foot replaced.
While in surgery, the bull got turned into a steer.
But the whole thing would've been very stressful on him. Ruminant animals are not meant to be put under general anaesthesia like dogs and cats can, as doing so upsets normal rumen functions, especially if the bovine has to be under for an extended period.
The timeline for all of this, supposedly, is that the bull was given to The Gentle Barn when he was 10 months old (January 2015). Six months later (June 2015) he was brought to the Tennessee GB site. Dudley died June 2017. So 10 months surrendered, six months in multiple surgeries, and two years at GB Tennessee, making him three years and four months of age.
So that means, for two over years of his he was in chronic pain from his amputated foot.
Dudley's Life at Gentle Barn
While the video of the beginning of Dudley's torment and torture shows you what the makers want you to see--in the beginning bull Dudley is limping severely, the end he's bouncing around with his new foot like a young calf--I was perusing the GB's Facebook page on Dudley and discovered some disconcerting evidence that was very, very clear to me.
One video I remember was Dudley moving quite slowly, taking his time as he went (and he still had a bit of a limp), "going where he wanted to go" as what was said of his investigative, curiosity actions of a typical bovine. I could see he was hurting, but as a typical bovine, making an effort to act tough and not show he was struggling much.
That was back around June or July of 2016.
During that time, up to when he went back to surgery again, he was obviously fed very well: good-quality hay, some grain, some grass, and even this new-fangled green algae stuff that Dudley didn't even need, as a ruminant. He was eating some, but I think he may have already had ulcers in his abomasum at that time.
Despite his shiny coat, this photo tells me that he's not in a good way. His eyes look dull, his ears are down (not up and perky), and he's definitely favouring his right hind leg. You can really see the muscles that have been built up in his left leg, and the lack of muscling in the right.
The fact that he doesn't have much of a gut on him is partly because they're feeding him so well that he doesn't have much of a need to get a bigger rumen with more roughage, and probably partly because he's been undergoing a bit of chronic stress and pain.
And that's probably partly what killed him.
Moments up to and including Dudley's Death
Dudley was put back in the large animal clinic of the University of Tennessee where he had originally had his surgeries and prosthetic put on. A couple videos on GB's facebook page showed, undoubtedly, that the steer was in a whole lot of pain. I could see that, from what I'd seen earlier, the pain in his leg was worse now than it was.
According to the release by GB, Dudley was claimed to have not been "eating or pooping" like he should. This was followed by the release that Dudley had died of ruptured ulcers.
This is where the red flags raise up to great heights.
A bovine that has abomasal ulcers, according to Merck Veterinary Manual, do not become constipated. Here's an excerpt from the veterinary experts:
Cattle with bleeding abomasal ulcers may be asymptomatic except for intermittent occult blood in the feces, or they can die acutely from massive hemorrhage. Common clinical signs include mild abdominal pain, bruxism, sudden onset of anorexia, tachycardia (90–100 bpm), and fecal occult blood or melena that may be intermittent. Signs of blood loss are seen with major hemorrhage and may include tachycardia (100–140 bpm), pale mucous membranes, weak pulse, cool extremities, shallow breaths, tachypnea, and melena. More severe signs include acute rumen stasis, generalized abdominal pain with a reluctance to move and an audible grunt or groan with each breath, weakness, and dehydration. Melena may not be present in peracute cases, because it takes at least 8 hr for abomasal blood to be detected in the feces. As the condition progresses, body temperature drops, and the animal becomes recumbent and dies within 6–8 hr.
In general, bleeding ulcers do not perforate, and perforating ulcers do not bleed into the GI tract sufficiently to produce melena. However, hemorrhage and perforation are seen together occasionally, usually in cases that are chronic or associated with abomasal displacement.
Dudley was, now that I think of it, showing somewhat form of anorexia, just from how he didn't have much of a gut to begin with. Normally, healthy cattle have quite a fair size abdominal barrel on them. Dudley looked more like a bovine version of a Thoroughbred, with a bad leg. For all beef cattle, that's not normal.
But Merck Vet Manual has no mention of constipation!! The only way a bovine will become constipated is one of two ways:
1) Internal parasites affecting the gastrointestinal tract (digestive system), or
2) Consuming high-fibre, low-quality feed for a long period of time.
I very, very highly doubt that Dudley had either of the two afflictions.
So that leads me to believe that Gentle Barn blatantly lied about the "not pooping" activity of the Hereford.
I do believe that Dudley had ulcers. His going off-feed and skinny looks showed that. The cause for him developing ulcers may have been due to several things:
1) Chronic pain in his leg
2) Rich feed (not enough long-stemmed fibrous forage)
3) Stress on the digestive system from going through multiple surgeries with his leg
4) Other unknown factors not shown to the public
If he did have a ruptured ulcer, the perforation it would have created probably wouldn't have been so much that it "tore apart his stomach." The Gentle Barn is known for stretching the truth to its finest threads, so that part I don't believe is truth.
From all that had happened to the poor steer (and he truly was the innocent soul that was forced to go through all this torment, despite the "kind" efforts to "save" him), I have a very strong inkling that Dudley was humanely euthanized by the veterinarians, probably against what the main Gentle Barn couple really wanted.
But it was what Dudley ultimately deserved. Slaughtering him two and a half years ago would have been the much more kinder option for him. It would have avoided forcing him to have to go through that much torture, well-meaning though it may have seemed from the outside, for this long.
Dudley was never saved, in the end. He was just placed into another place and forced to live through pain that he didn't deserve to have.
Rest in peace Dudley. You're in a much better place now, thank God.