'Don't Hit a Cow, Ma'am'

Writer loses her car when she unwittingly gives a cow a ride on Rodeo Day.

Dark skies, open range and busy neighborhoods just don't mix. Just ask anyone whose vehicle has fought a cow--and lost.

I know, I know. Open range is clearly marked. And everyone knows that a walking side of beef is, well, as big as a cow. So steering clear of them shouldn't be too difficult, right?

Not exactly. On an unlighted road, even a cow can easily blend into the shadows. It's not like the cows are wearing neon signs, or even reflective collars. But maybe they should. Let me explain.

My moment of truth came at 10:11 p.m. on Rodeo Day after a long day of adventures. I turned north on Dove Mountain Boulevard, less than a mile from home. That's when the beam of my headlights caught the head of what appeared to be a giant bull.

A nanosecond later, the animal (which I learned later was actually a cow) crushed my left headlamp and rolled up the windshield of my 1990 Lexus ES 250. Glass shattered as the cow slid over my moon roof. One hoof kicked in my door and demolished my driver's side window. By the time the cow came crashing down the left side of my car it had broken its shoulder, a leg--and, thankfully, for its sake--its neck.

In the process, it shoved in my side-view mirror and added paint-chipped ripples of steel to my left rear fender. It left my all-leather interior pitted, scratched and buried in a sea of glass. A few glass fragments found their way deep inside the trunk. To top things off, the cow altered my vertical antennae into a horizontal one.

If it sounds like a hairy accident, it was. Just in case there was any doubt as to who was at fault, the cow left generous DNA samples hanging on the twisted metal that had once framed my driver's side electric window.

So, what was a cow doing streetwalking anyway? Minding its own business, according to the law. In areas declared open range, fencing cows out is up to individual landowners. It's the opposite of a no-fence area, such as exists in the Catalina Foothills, where ranchers are required to fence their cows in so homeowners don't have to fence them out.

Meanwhile, Dennis Dolan, community response manager for the Marana public works department, said those who live in or drive through open range needn't have a cow. Instead, try talking to your neighbors. Chances are, you aren't alone. On a single residential street in the Dove Mountain area, for example, two residents have had run-ins with cows. A third had a deer head-butt her SUV. Poor lighting was a factor in both cow-related incidents, so streetlights might be an option, he suggested.

"Bring it to the homeowners' attention and ask them for their input," Dolan said. "Get everyone's different opinion."

Street lighting issues aside, Dolan suggests that drivers monitor speed, install a whistle designed to scare off deer--and drive a truck. For those particularly sheepish about livestock, one might add extra driving lamps or 200 to 300 pounds of steel to the front bumper in the form of a winch.

Paul Castellano of the Arizona Department of Public Safety said dodging cows is not just a problem on the Northwest side. "The open range is a particular concern for us," he said. "A lot of the open range, some of those freeways are awfully windy and dangerous in itself. So you just need to pay particular attention, especially at night time."

When cows and cars collide, the cars usually find themselves in a body shop. Ricky Zormier, of Jim Click's auto body shop, had two cow-crushed vehicles come in last week. On average, he sees two to three of them per month. Royal Buick's body shop took in two such vehicles recently as well.

The carcasses, on the other hand, often wind up in a landfill. How quickly that happens depends on the availability of the livestock division of the Arizona Department of Agriculture to identify the rancher's brand.

"We would hope we were available within the day or 24-hour period," said John Hunt, associate director for animal services.

Such was the case when a driver hit a cow at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 in front of the new Trico offices on West Tangerine Road. A cow hit the previous week on Dove Mountain Boulevard became coyote chow before the towing company picked up what was left of its 980-pound body--five days later-- and took it to the local landfill.

"Sometimes the ranchers, they have already taken a loss, and they don't want to come pick up their animals," Dolan said.

Funny, I wonder what would have happened if I had taken the same approach and abandoned my vehicle? You know, that ain't no bull.

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