Montreal

'It was love at first sight': How this 11-year-old girl saved a calf slated for the slaughterhouse

Olive, a six-month-old calf, was going to be sold for meat. Then this 11-year-old girl adopted her.

Zoe Serrati and her father adopted 6-month-old Olive, found her a home in a Quebec sanctuary

Olive, a six-month-old calf, was going to be sold for meat. Then 11-year-old Zoe Serrati came into her life. (Submitted by John Serrati)

If John Serrati had been told 10 years ago he would someday be the proud owner of a cow, he says you could have knocked him over with a feather.

But that day came this summer after his 11-year-old daughter, Zoe Serrati, came face-to-face with a six-month-old calf named Olive. 

"It was love at first sight for her," said the proud father from Ontario.

Uninterested in showing off Olive in a show ring and teaching her tricks, Zoe instead spent her summer forming an intimate bond and true friendship with the calf. (Submitted by John Serrati)

You could also call it a fated encounter. Olive was a surplus of the dairy industry at her farm and was set to be slaughtered for meat earlier this year. But when Zoe became involved with the youth organization and calf club 4-H Ontario, the farm lent the young girl the calf to use in the organization's cow shows. 

Uninterested in showing off Olive in a show ring and teaching her tricks, Zoe instead spent her summer forming an intimate bond and true friendship with the calf. 

"She's my best friend, I love her so much," said Zoe, who wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up

Zoe's father, John Serrati, says Olive recognizes Zoe and lets only her scratch her neck like she's pictured doing. (Submitted by John Serrati)

After the summer program came to an end, Olive was set to be returned to the farm. Fearing the worst for her, the father-daughter duo became determined to find Olive a forever home. The pair negotiated a price with the farm, adopted the calf as their own and began searching for a place that would take her in. 

"We didn't want her to be a dairy calf, we just wanted her to live her life," said Zoe.

John got in touch with Refuge RR, an animal shelter in Ontario. Touting them for their professionalism and care, he says that although the farm was at capacity, the team helped get Olive — through enrolment and physical labour — into the Quebec sanctuary she calls home today.

Zoe and her father have cut out meat from their diets since adopting their new family member, whom John will be sponsoring for the rest of her life. (Submitted by John Serrati)

Olive's days consist of grazing the pastures of Monkey Spaces sanctuary in Saint-Jérôme, about 45 kilometres northwest of Montreal. Home to a collection of other animals, including two other calves, a bunch of pigs and some horses, the shelter also raises awareness toward veganism and the benefits of a plant-based diet. 

Zoe and her father are one step ahead, having cut out meat from their diets since adopting their new family member, whom John will be sponsoring for the rest of her life.

"It's been really hard going to see Olive then eating meat and technically her," said Zoe.

"They're not only sentient beings... but they have a deep capacity to love and a deep capacity to express emotion," said John. (Submitted by John Serrati)

While an adjustment in the kitchen, John said he's determined to stick with vegetarianism as he says it's "pretty tough" to look at meat and not think of Olive. That's just one way the cow has enriched his life, he said. 

Zoe and John make the two-hour trip to the sanctuary every two or three weeks to see Olive and spend quality time with her. John says not only does Olive recognize Zoe, the animal feels deeply.

Listen: 11-year-old adopts pandemic cow

Pandemic puppies have been a hot topic this past year. But for one family they adopted another species of pandemic pet: a cow. Guest host Peter Tardif is joined by a father and daughter duo to find out about their new four legged friend they saved from the slaughterhouse. 10:51

"They're not only sentient beings... but they have a deep capacity to love and a deep capacity to express emotion," said John, describing the heartwarming displays of affection between Zoe and Olive when they're together. 

"If Zoe's had a bad day, Olive can almost sense that," he said. 

With files from CBC's Quebec AM

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