- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Helga Tacreiter does not eat meat. She loves cows, but prefers to see them live out their days in peaceful fields rather than end up as hamburger.

She is one of about 5.7 million vegetarians in the United States, according to a survey by the Vegetarian Resource Group.

After years spent milking cows and raising calves for dairy farmers, Ms. Tacreiter decided to create a cow sanctuary in New Jersey, a haven to protect the animals from slaughter. She finances the operation by making life-size stuffed cow pillows she calls Helga’s Cowches.

“I grew to love [cows] when I worked on farms, milking and feeding these peaceful creatures and getting to know their distinct, individual personalities,” she says.

For 12 years, she worked on dairy farms.

“I made their lives as decent as possible,” she says. “My heart broke each time one of my friends was sent to slaughter.”

One night in 1988, a huge spring storm changed her life, she says. The next morning, after she woke up, she found her cows all dead, killed by lightning, except six calves, who were now orphans.

“Something inside me changed. The years of accepting sad reality were over,” she said. She couldn’t imagine to see these six calves spared by the storm but then sent to a slaughterhouse. She saved half of her wages to buy the calves.

“Never was money better spent,” she said.

However, when the farm was sold and she lost her job, the problem arose of how to feed them.

“The answer came to me as I lay in the straw snuggling with my cow family: I’d make life-size stuffed cows for others to snuggle the way I snuggled with my real cows,” she said.

Taking as her model one of her cows named Harvey, she began to make the pattern of what would become Helga’s Cowches, life-size soft, sculpture floor pillows, which that she says will allow her to feed the cows.

“For five hours, Harvey stood perfectly still while I fitted the pieces of material around him. … By sunrise, the first Cowch was born,” she said.

This was 14 years ago. Since then, Ms. Tacreiter has created six sizes of Cowches, from 3 feet for the newborn to 8 feet for adults, each portraying her favorite cows.

Thanks to the success of her Cowches — she already has sold 1,079 of them — she could welcome more cows into her sanctuary, where 11 cows are living.

“Oblainka is an old, blind cow that used to live in the field that adjoins my cows’ pasture. Her owner was a rodeo cowboy who had used her as a practice cow when she was young,” she said.

Ms. Tacreiter said she decided to buy the cow just before her owner would have sent the animal to the slaughterhouse. Months later, Oblainka gave birth to a calf Ms. Tacreiter named Charlie.

Ms. Tancreiter’s sanctuary is also home to Beatrice, a cow whose owner became a vegetarian and decided that Beatrice should never be anyone’s dinner.

“My hope is that the Cowches will continue to feed the cows,” said Ms. Tacreiter. “But I hope they will do even more: I hope they will make people think.”

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