Speculating 'til the cows come home

Mystery shrouds campaign for BovineUnite.com

April 20, 2005|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

The cows are organized, and they're coming for us.

This was bound to happen. These gentle, docile creatures have provided us with milk and beef for so long, never asking anything in return. Those days are over. The cow uprising is near.

Like any group of aggrieved workers, they now have a Web site, BovineUnite.com, advertised on billboards that have cropped up across Maryland. The site features an alarming video of cows pumping iron and a manifesto worthy of Patrick Henry.

"Every day, the humans chase us with horses, rope us and milk us for all we're worth," the site declares. "The time has come to rise up and take destiny into our own hooves. The time has come to claim our right to play in greener pastures. It's time to live, cows. Oh yes. It's time to live."

Cows have been making appearances in Maryland bars and on college campuses, mooing and passing out cards printed with the Web site address. Since late last month, "Millie the Cow" of Easton has been blogging online and insulting the bipeds (that would be us). The site promises that all will be revealed on May 5, C-Day.

There are 50 million cows in the United States, greatly outnumbered by humans, but still enough to do some serious damage. For our own safety, then, we thought this Bovine Unite campaign was worth checking out.

The Web site is registered to a William A. Davis of Bel Air. We drive to his house, to see how the cows are faring. Exiting Interstate 95 in Bel Air we pull up behind a red Chevy Aveo with a "Meat is Gross" bumper sticker. This looks promising.

But it turns out the Davis house is a typical suburban single-family home - white brick with a one-car garage. The grass is long and lush: no sign of chomping here. A knock on the door elicits barking from inside, but no moos. We leave a note in the mailbox, asking Davis to call us back.

The "Talk to the Herd" section of BovineUnite.com includes a posting from someone named Gallery ID8: "My art, my cow art, shall be a symbol of defiance against the milkers." We find out that Gallery ID8 is an art gallery in Fells Point. A trip to the gallery reveals the owner is Tony Walker, who denies involvement though admits to posting on the site.

"I'm just trying to jump on anything that moves," he says. "No pun intended."

The campaign could be part of Chick-fil-A's "Eat Mor Chikin" campaign. The fast-food chain has sent cows to Oriole Park at Camden Yards recently, and is planning a nationwide Cow Appreciation Day for July 15. Could this whole thing be a plot to sell chicken?

"It sounds like something we would do," says Chick-fil-A spokesman Mark Baldwin. "But I don't think those are our cows."

A plausible denial, so we move on to the other usual suspect: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. They, too, deny involvement but say they're not surprised the cows are finally getting organized.

"It's about time for the bovines to unite," says spokesman Bruce Friedrich. "We will support them in their endeavors."

He adds, "People like to pretend that when they're eating an animal course, they're eating the equivalent of a vegetable. We're glad that people are thinking about the fact that if bovines could unite, they would."

Friedrich, finished with his public service announcement, directs us to Dana Lyons, a singer-songwriter who had a modest hit in the mid-'90s, "Cows with Guns." The song details a cow uprising ("They crashed the gate in a great stampede/Tipped over a milk truck, torched all the feed") in which police are called in to restore order. The chorus:

We will fight for bovine freedom

And hold our large heads high

We will run free with the buffalo, or die

Cows with guns

If there is a cow anthem, this would be it. But Lyons, reached at his home in Bellingham, Wash., says he knows nothing of this imminent uprising. But, like the folks at PETA, he's not surprised.

"Rumors of Cow Tse Tung have been circulating for years," he says. "So, you know, God forbid the cows get arms, that's all I can say."

So we circle back to William Davis. The registration for BovineUnite.com lists his phone number and e-mail address. We call him, find the number has been changed, and call the new number. We leave a message. We send him an e-mail. It bounces back as undeliverable.

But then, Steve Hall, who runs the advertising news and gossip site adrants.com, says he called Davis' number and was referred to an office number. Davis' employer is Eisner Interactive, associated with Eisner Communications - the biggest ad firm in Baltimore.

Hall says his readers are speculating that the Maryland Lottery is behind the bovine site and billboard. "The cows are cash cows," he says.

A lottery spokesman confirms the agency has an advertising contract with Eisner Communications. But the spokesman will not comment further.

The Eisner Interactive Web site lists Davis as vice president and director of operations. We call and leave a message.

Late yesterday, he returns our call. He will neither confirm nor deny anything.

"In my business I get to do a lot of pretty cool things," he says, "and along with that comes a confidentiality agreement. I can't give you any more information."

Does he believe cows have been mistreated by humans? Do they deserve greener pastures?

He says only that it's late, and he has to move on.

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