Companions for 18 years; Rosie, a cow, and Bingo, a horse, lived together on Manatuck Farm in .
Bingo, 30, was put down after a brief digestive illness on Feb. 7. Nine days later, Rosie, 18 and arthritic, was put down after she sat down and couldn’t—or wouldn’t—get back up.
“Rosie was very quiet without him," said Kara Shepherd, a Ridgefield resident who owned the two animals and has spent half of her life—22 years—at Manatuck. "She ate and went outside to lay in the sun, but I could tell she missed her best friend. It was heartbreaking to see her look for him in the field.”
Over the years, animals came to and went from the farm, Shepherd told Patch. But Rosie and Bingo were farm fixtures and when Bingo passed, the cow was not the same.
Animals in grief
Many people say they've observed animals grieving, though no formal research study exists that demonstrates the phenomenon scientifically, said Westport animal behaviorist Dr. Michele Wan, the owner of Westport Dog Training LLC who holds a doctorate degree in psychology with a focus on animal behavior from Columbia University.
Owners have reported, for example, that a surviving dog will appear to be depressed, not eating as much, less active and "seems to be uninterested in life after the other animal passes away," Wan said.
"There is always this difficulty as human observers in separating [animal] grieving from anthropomorphizing" or imposing human qualities onto other beings, Wan said. "I think certainly, what we know about neurons and how the brain is structured in animals versus us, there are basic brain structures which facilitate affiliation. And you can see that the flip side of affiliation would be loss for an animal that's spent a lot of time with another animal that's passed away."
Arriving at Manatuck Farm
The human who knew Rosie and Bingo best, Shepherd, graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in animal science in 1988. Two years later, she was living with her mother in Weston when she passed by Manatuck Farm and saw the farm’s former owner, Bob Bruggemann, outside on his tractor.
“I stopped to talk to him about his three horses, five cows and four sheep,” Shepherd said, adding that she’d worked with animals while in school and missed doing so. “I told Bob that I would be happy to farm-sit for him if he ever wanted to go away. The next day, his wife Barbara called and told me that their family wanted to ski in Vermont quite often and they would like for me to watch the animals. That was a dream come true.”
After a few months, Shepherd asked the Bruggemanns if the horse she owned, Gabilan, could live on their farm. They graciously obliged.
About a year later, Shepherd met her husband at the farm.
“We both enjoyed caring for the many animals on Manatuck Farm,” she said.
Shepherd’s own horse would die a few years later.
“It was January 1994 when my horse Gabilan passed away. I was heartbroken,” Shepherd said. “I still visited the farm daily and farm-sat for the Bruggemanns. I had grown attached to all of the animals there.”
How the friendship began
Rosie was born March 31, 1994.
“She was very weak,” Shepherd recalled. “Getting her to eat was a challenge. Something just wasn't right.”
Rosie had an infection and required daily injections and lots of bottle-feeding to survive.
“When she returned to the farm, we took turns feeding her. I gave her the injections and we continued to try to get her to bond with her mother,” Shepherd said. “By summer, she was much stronger and growing like a weed. Rosie was a nice distraction for me while I got over Gabilan's death. She became very accustomed to people. She would play like a puppy and would come when you called her. She was more like a golden retriever than a calf.”
Shepherd said she didn’t think she wanted another horse, but fortune had something different in mind for her.
“One day a woman came into the vet's office with her dog. While she waited to see the vet, we got to talking about horses. She kept her horses at a farm in Newtown. She said that there was a horse there that belonged to her friend. Her friend was terminally ill and at some point this horse named Bingo would need a new home,” she said. “I decided to go see Bingo and take him for a test ride. He was 12-years-old, huge and beautiful. He seemed a little confused, probably wondering who I was and where his owner was.”
Nothing came of that visit, Shepherd said.
In August 1994, Shepherd married her husband and the couple went on their honeymoon.
“When we returned home there was a message on our answering machine. Bingo's owner had passed away and Bingo needed a home,” she recalled.
Bingo then moved to Manatuck Farm and quickly became buddies with Rocky, the Bruggemann’s horse, as well as Rosie and the other cows at the farm.
In 1998, Shepherd said, the Bruggemanns sold their farm to Karen and Dan Bennewitz. Rocky went to Newtown and the other cows went to Monroe.
“I decided to find a boarding stable for Bingo,” Shepherd said. “I was very sad that I probably wouldn't get to see him everyday.”
Then she decided to take a chance.
“I called the Bennewitzes and asked if they would be interested in having someone use their barn,” Shepherd said. “After giving it some thought, Karen called me back and said that they would like it if Bingo stayed on the farm. I was thrilled. I never dreamed that a family this generous would come along not once, but twice in a lifetime.”
Shepherd said she then wondered if Bingo would get lonely. She pressed her luck and asked the Bennewitz family if she could keep a cow companion for him.
“To my surprise, a cow could stay too,” she said. “The remaining cows were put on a trailer headed to the farm in Monroe. I chose Rosie for my pet cow. She was sweet, gentle and was easy to handle. It was really hard to see the other animals go, but I couldn't keep them all. I was happy to have my two.”
Bingo and Rosie’s relationship wouldn’t be possible without the Bennewitz family’s kindness. Shepherd said she couldn’t thank them enough.
“They are an incredibly generous and caring family.”
Shepherd said the two animals seemed to like their digs, as their paddock was located along Norfield Farm Road.
“They could see their neighbors coming and going everyday,” she said, adding that she’d visit them in the morning and at dinnertime. “The next 13 or so years were very relaxing and routine for them. They became the best of friends. Rosie would follow Bingo anywhere. They would nap together in the run-in shed or go into the barn if the weather became rainy or windy — Bingo hated the wind. When snow was predicted, they were snuggled into the barn with the doors closed until the storm passed."
Over the years, the land around the 20-acre farm was subdivided and houses were built.
“Sometimes, they would mischievously knock down a section of the fence and take a walk around the neighbor's yard,” she continued. “I would get a phone call and have to go round them up. To them it was their old stomping ground, and luckily the neighbors thought it was cute.”
Shepherd’s daughter and the animals
In 2004, Shepherd’s daughter Sara was born.
“I was worried that I might not be able to care for a baby and Bingo and Rosie. But they were such a huge part of my life, so I decided to make it work,” she said. “Sara came to the barn with me, twice a day everyday as I had done for years. I was no longer working, so I could spend a little more time with them.”
As Sara got older, Bingo and Rosie became a huge part of her life, Shepherd said.
“Bingo was so big that I never completely trusted him around Sara. But she could feed him and brush him while he ate,” she said. “Rosie was always the ideal children's pet. She moved so slowly and calmly. She loved being fed, brushed and hugged by Sara. It was kind of neat that Sara was the only child in her school who had a pet horse and a pet cow. She loved them very much. They were a huge part of our family.”
The end of an era
Everything comes to an end.
Bingo was put down Feb. 7, and the same vet who oversaw the end of Bingo's life returned to euthanize Rosie. Shepherd said the vet was impressed that Rosie lived to be 18, an old age for a cow.
“I guess that’s unusual,” she said. “For me, 18 years could never be long enough.”
Rosie spent nearly her whole life next to Bingo. It appears they’ll spend eternity together as well.
“Rosie was buried in Newtown on the same farm as Bingo,” Shepherd said. “So, in the end, they will always be together.”
Shepherd said there’s no immediate plans to replace the two animals, but it’s likely sometime in the future they’ll get new ones.
“For now, we need to take a little break. After 18 years, it is hard to not compare a potential pet to Bingo and Rosie. Trying to replace them wouldn't be fair to us or to a new pet,” she said. “It's been two weeks, and I still cry a little everyday.
“The barn at Manatuck Farm is quiet and empty now. But for me, it will always be filled with nothing but loving memories of old friends.”
—Michael Dinan contributed to this article