Last January, a week-old black-and-white Holstein calf stood in a truck with a lot of other calves on his way to slaughter in Merced County.
But the little calf fell off the truck and ended up in an orchard near Stevinson. He wandered the orchard until the next day, when an officer from the Merced County Humane Shelter picked him up.
The calf was hungry and tired, but that wasn't what captivated the people who saw him -- and ultimately helped save him.
It was the valentine on his head.
The calf had a perfect heart on his forehead. He was named Cupid, and a rescue operation went into effect.
First, Kristen Lucas, the animal control officer for Livingston, found Cupid a home for a couple of nights with a rescuer who could take care of the calf.
Then the rescuers got serious.
No one wanted the calf to end up at the animal shelter. He needed to go where he could be cared for by people who knew how to feed and care for a baby calf.
Sharon Lohman, a volunteer with the rescue group, Trails of Happy Tails, got on the phone to the Santa Cruz SPCA. That organization rescues a lot of farm animals. The executive director of the Santa Cruz shelter told Lohman to bring Cupid on over to the coast.
Cupid went to Santa Cruz in a dog crate in a van driven by another volunteer, Lucy Zimmer. He was bundled up in blankets and made the trip with no problems.
Once Cupid got to Santa Cruz, the executive director of the shelter contacted Farm Sanctuary, a rescue group that takes in farm animals in both New York and Orland.
Leanne Cronquist, director for the Orland shelter, said it would take the calf. Cupid was bundled back into a truck and driven north. The sanctuary has about 300 acres, with about 350 animals rescued farm animals on it. The animals range from chickens to donkeys, Cronquist said.
Now almost 10 months later, Cupid has changed. He is much bigger, he loves people and he still has that big white heart on his head.
"He is doing wonderful — everyone loves him," said Cronquist. "He was introduced to a mother cow named Loretta and her calf named Harrison just recently."
Harrison and Cupid are now fast friends, and even the wary Loretta has finally taken to Cupid. The three cows are turned out in a small pasture by themselves. Harrison is a big, red-and-white beef-bred steer, while Cupid is a smaller black-and-white dairy steer that will never weigh as much as Harrison, although he might be taller. But that doesn't stop the two from being friends.
Cronquist said eventually the two steers and Loretta will join the main herd of cattle at the sanctuary. There are 29 cattle in that herd, and it may be hard for Cupid at first.
"It will be a shock to him," Cronquist said. "Being an orphan, he loves people, not cows. But we'll take it easy."
Cronquist said one of the hardest things Cupid went through was getting weaned off the bottle. "When it was feeding time, boy, did he let us know!" Cronquist said.
Now that he's a big boy, Harrison eats alfalfa hay along with supplemental feed. And there are more calves like Cupid currently growing up at the sanctuary.
"In the past year, we've had about six baby calves come in," Cronquist said.
For the people who helped rescue Cupid almost 10 months ago, hearing that he is doing well made them all happy.
"It's always worthwhile to rescue an animal, no matter what kind of animal it is," said Lucas, the officer who helped Cupid. "He was the only calf I ever rescued. It feels good to know that he's got a life of luxury now."
Lucy Zimmer, who transported the calf to Santa Cruz, has taken many animals to rescue organizations all over the state and the West Coast.
"I think that it's pretty darn good that he's where he is," Zimmer said.
And after hearing from Cupid's caregivers, it seems that Cupid feels it's pretty darn good too. You might say he's got a lot of heart.
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org