What has two legs and moos?

Here’s another excerpt from Renting Dirt, offered as an illustration of just how off-beat this business can be:

An ostensibly lighter example of reality’s curve balls was provided by Hero, the two-legged calf, who arrived at the campground in his own little trailer, accompanied by his owner in a more conventional fifth-wheel. Hero was on his way to a nearby farm that his owner had just acquired, but the facilities weren’t quite ready and needed another couple of weeks for completion, so would it be possible for him to stay on one of our sites for that long? And oh, yes—his owner would need a site as well.

Did I mention that Hero had only two legs?

As his owner was quick to tell us—and as I soon learned, anyone else who would listen—Hero had been neglected by a former owner and had lost his back legs to severe frostbite, but his new owner had hooked up with a veterinary hospital at Texas A&M that was willing to fit him with a set of prosthetic limbs. Because calves grow up to be cows (or steers, in this case), the prosthetics had to be refitted as Hero grew bigger, and now Hero was returning from one of those adjustments and in need of a lay-over. Since it was early in the season and we still had a lot of room, I said sure, we could do that—provided that Hero’s “deposits” were picked up promptly and that he didn’t become a fly magnet.

I was assured that would be the case, and so for about two weeks Hero became a local sensation, following his owner on walks around the campground like a dog on a leash, much to the excited amusement of any kids on the grounds. A local television station did a feel-good feature about the plucky animal and his compassionate owner, adding to the wave of publicity that she had promoted ever since Hero’s initial surgery, in 2013, including a spot on Dr. Phil. A series of four illustrated kids’ books was launched, with half of the proceeds supposed to benefit an amputee youth camp in Knoxville, Tenn., and as recently as mid-2020 a three-minute clip of Hero’s salvation was uploaded to the YouTube “OnlyGoodTV” channel.

Less publicly observed, however, was Hero’s death in November 2016, or just three years after the publicity mill got cranking. The only mention of his demise appears to have been a Facebook post by the woman who wrote the first illustrated children’s book—the rest of the series apparently never got published— which sold only a smattering of copies and generated a handful of vituperative reviews accusing the author of cashing in on “someone else’s story.” Ditto for Hero’s rescuer, who after getting slammed on the internet for allegedly using Hero to pull at donors’ heartstrings, vanished without a word of explanation about his death.

Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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