Police killed three runaway cows that escaped the slaughterhouse the past month in southeast Michigan. But such fights for life aren't always futile.

Jefferson, the polled Hereford steer, about 17 years old, lives in leisure more than 14 years after dashing desperately across Detroit's busy streets on Dec. 2, 2003, the day he was supposed to die.

"The steer's break for freedom began when it rammed through a door in Eastern Market as workers attempted to herd it into a slaughterhouse for its date with death. Police said they were told the steer was destined to become steaks and prime rib," the Free Press reported on Dec. 3, 2003. "The steer rambled across Gratiot, one of Detroit's busiest streets, and ambled without incident through the near east side before police cornered it in a vacant lot near (Martin Luther King Jr.) High School around noon."

It isn't clear how long the 1½-year-old steer was free, but one witness said she saw him on East Jefferson at about 10:30 a.m. The run ended more than a mile from the Al Badr Slaughter House after a veterinarian shot the steer with a tranquilizer dart. Police officers helped harness him to a tow-truck lift, heaving the sleeping steer onto a truck before he was transported to an undisclosed farm.

A two-week window was opened for negotiation on the animal's life, as a steer's system must be cleared of sedatives before it can be slaughtered. Workers at the time said the steer was worth about $1,500. And public attention was high after thousands saw the steer stamping and snorting on TV.

"He put a face on food," Dorothy Davies told the Free Press on Dec. 16, 2003. "Looking at hamburger meat wrapped in a cellophane package is not the same as looking at that face. He touched people. He got some people thinking. He became an ambassador for his species."

Davies and her husband, Monte Jackson, run the Sanctuary and Safe Haven for Animals in Manchester, a nonprofit organization that shelters more than 200 animals, including farm animals. They received numerous donations and made arrangements with the slaughterhouse to take custody of the steer, which they named Jefferson after the street where he was tranquilized.

Jefferson now enjoys 50 pounds of hay per day, salt licks, occasional fruits and vegetables, and the company of other similarly lucky bovines with space to roam and play.

"He lets people pet him if he's in the mood," Davies said of the 1,600-pound steer. "If he's not, and he walks away, that's just how it is."

When he dies, the body will be buried on the property.

Jefferson the steer, escaped slaughter in 2003 in Eastern Market, finding his way to the streets before he was tranquilized and, eventually, taken to Sasha Farm Sanctuary and Safe Haven for Animals in Manchester. Owner Monte Jackson tells his story.

In the past month, police killed three escaped cattle at the request of their owners in two southeast Michigan incidents. A cow escaped a butcher's farm Dec. 22 in Canton, and the owner chased it but was unable to catch it. So he called police and asked for it to be euthanized and they caught up with the cow and shot it, according to a report from Hometown Life. Arrangements were made to get the cow's body back to the butcher shop.

Two steers escaped Jan. 4 from a broken trailer door northeast of Ann Arbor. In that case, the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office issued a community alert, a helicopter was used, and eventually the two steers were found and killed.

While "cow" is frequently used to refer to any domesticated bovine, regardless of sex or age, a steer is a castrated male. Steers are easier to manage than bulls and their meat is known to be better quality.

Beef plays a major role in U.S. diets: In 2016, the average American ate 55.6 pounds of beef, according to USA TODAY.

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