1,500-pound pet needs a home where he won't be on the menu
Hilary Maxson with Thunder, her 1,500-pound Simmental, at a farm near her Medfield home; she's hoping someone will adopt her pet before she leaves for college. (Globe Staff Photo / Bill Polo)
When freshmen head off to college next month, a daring few may sneak pets into dorms -- a cuddly cat, perhaps, to be hidden from the authorities.
Hilary Maxson's pet, Thunder, isn't that easily concealed.
Thunder is an approximately 1,500-pound Simmental steer. So the Medfield resident can't take him with her -- and that's got her worried.
Because there's a chance that, in her absence, he'll end up on someone's grill.
Maxson, an 18-year-old graduate of Norfolk County Agricultural High School in Walpole, bought the 2-year-old steer during her animal science classes last fall, intending to take him to livestock shows.
This spring, she and her father borrowed a neighbor's two-horse trailer and trucked the big black bovine to Fryeburg, Maine, where Thunder weighed in at 1,146 pounds and performed adequately for judges but didn't win any prizes.
Since then, the docile creature has been lazing around the pastures at Maple Leaf Farm in Medfield, where Maxson works with children at a summer pony-riding camp and maintains the barn.
``At this point, you either show him, keep him as a pet, or eat him, and I don't want to eat him," she said.
The problem is that Thunder is getting too old for livestock shows, and keeping him as a pet is expensive, since he is accustomed to a pricey diet that includes nearly 10 pounds of high-protein grain a day on top of unlimited grazing rights in the pastures.
Maxson's parents, Diane and David, say they have enjoyed watching their daughter's unusual interest in large animals since she was old enough to sit up and ask for a horse. And they understand her Texas-sized sensibilities don't fit comfortably into the New England landscape. But they said the empathy will end on Aug. 31, when paying her expenses at New York's Cazenovia College officially takes precedence over Thunder's room and board.
``She should have been born on a ranch in Colorado or Texas," Diane Maxson said of her daughter.
Her father, a telecommunications specialist who was surprised to find himself hauling Thunder to Maine a few months ago, is resigned that the $800 he spent to buy the steer at auction is not likely to be recovered.
``Many of us would love to have Thunderburgers, but you don't eat your pets," he said, noting that his daughter's attachment to the animal had changed his mind on the subject.
Her parents want Maxson to find a new home for Thunder as soon as possible.
During a recent visit with Thunder, Maxson, wearing a John Deere shirt over shorts and workboots, groomed and pampered her steer, pulling lovingly on his ears and cooing to the giant creature in a sort of bovine baby talk.
Tethered to the barn by a rope halter for a beauty treatment that included a shampoo and combing, Thunder stood placidly, only occasionally turning his head to look at Maxson, whose 5-foot-2-inch height puts them eye-to-eye. He was most animated when Maxson fed him chunks of carrot, which he sought hungrily, his thick black tongue showing when she popped pieces in his salivating mouth.
``I have phone numbers and people I could call, but I just haven't done it yet," Maxson said of farms that might take her pet. She acknowledged that she just wants a bit more time to enjoy Thunder, who rarely makes a sound and doesn't often respond to her calling him to the barn. Instead, he parks himself in the grass not far from the Maple Leaf's grazing horses.
The Peace Abbey in Sherborn is among the establishments she said she might call, because in 1995 they took in a cow that had escaped a Hopkinton slaughterhouse and was slated to be returned. When the animal, which came to be known as Emily the Sacred Cow, died in 2003, the Abbey had a bronze statue of her cast as a symbol of animal rights and peace.
David Green, one of Maxson's teachers at Norfolk Aggie, said it's not unusual for students to bond with the farm animals they study, but ``Hilary was probably the first to buy a steer" in his 20-year tenure. Thunder's mother, Rosie, is a school-owned animal known for her agreeable personality. The Simmental breed, with its roots in Switzerland, is used widely around the world for milk and meat.
Green said students are taught that sending animals to slaughterhouses is part of the natural order of things, but that doesn't stop some from crying when the time comes.
``Steers are basically raised for meat, and quality-wise and taste-wise," Green said, Thunder ``is probably going to be a quality animal."
Alison O'Leary Murray may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.