'I almost got killed': CT farmer recounts corralling 'Buddy the beefalo'

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

PLYMOUTH — Police Capt. Ed Benecchi said he’s not likely to forget the last eight months of his life, as he and others in the community were involved in the case of “Buddy the beefalo,” who was captured this week after being on the run since last August.

“This was an eight-month adventure for the entire community — from those who spotted him, to the gentleman that fed him, and to the father, son and son’s friends who captured him,” Benecchi said of the animal that was found within a half-mile radius of where he was being fed on Bemis Street in Terryville.

About three weeks ago, Buddy discovered Sleepy Hollow Farm, which is owned by Ron Rice and his wife Martha.

One morning when Rice and his 10-year-old grandson, Cody Pleil, went to feed their cows, they discovered a surprise. Along with Rice’s 10 black cows, there was another animal — who was also black, but this one has horns.

“My grandson goes down to the gate he goes, ‘Pop Pop, a strange cow is in with us,’ and I looked and I see the horns and I said, ‘We ain’t got nothing with horns,’” said Rice, who works as a custodian at Eli Terry Middle School in Plymouth.

Rice, who initially thought it was a neighbor’s cow, called Plymouth police, who alerted him to Buddy’s history. Buddy’s owner was then contacted.

“The owner came over to my farm and we attempted to get him. We put the bull in a smaller corral, and he was able to lasso him,” Rice said. “We had Buddy, but things went sideways, and he snapped the rope.”

Rice then had a close call with the animal.

“I almost got killed. He slammed right into the gate to the trailer that I was holding. It happened so quick, I didn’t even have a chance to move and get out of the way,” said Rice, adding Buddy got loose and escaped.

Last week, Buddy came back to Sleepy Hollow Farm, and became very comfortable, according to Rice.

“Buddy made himself at home,” Rice said. “We were feeding everybody like normal, and he was getting less apprehensive. He was happy, he had free food and had female companionship — he wasn’t going to nowhere.”

When they felt the time was right to try again to capture Buddy, they called a friend who is a local veterinarian, who came over and tranquilized the animal.

“We got him to walk into the cattle trailer and kept him there overnight,” Rice said. “First thing in the morning, I gave him water, grain, hay, and he was fine.”

On Wednesday, they drove Buddy to the owner’s farm in Becket, Mass.

Rice said while some may think Buddy should have stayed locally and live on his farm, he strongly advised against it.

“Bulls are dangerous. They are a wild animal and can turn on you in a heartbeat. Farm animals are farm animals and a bull is a bull,” he said. “If you have a small farm in New England, you’re not going to keep a bull around.”

Buddy’s journey

Buddy’s long journey began at Plymouth Meats in Terryville.

“They were offloading him from the trailer into the building and he had an opportunity to escape and he took it, and he went into the woods,” Benecchi said.

Since Buddy’s escape, there have been hundreds of sightings, according to Benecchi, who would see the four-legged animal regularly.

“Myself and another gentleman, we’ve been feeding him, since we were able to set up a corral and get some food out,” he said about the beefalo, who weighs 1,000 pounds and is a cross between a cow and bison.

Buddy has been content, according to Benecchi.

“Summertime, he was grazing. As it got colder and his food source ran out, I had a gentleman who did a fantastic job and he’s the one who got Buddy through the winter. He fed him every day, making sure he had water,” he said.

Benecchi said the greatest challenge at the beginning was trying to follow Buddy.

“The biggest thing was trying to track his movements because he is a beefalo and he liked to roam. He had a giant area he was roaming in,” Benecchi said. “Probably 98 percent of the time I tried to capture him, I would see him. He would come within 15 or 20 feet.”

Others tracking buddy had a tree camera, and stationed themselves on two different sites.

“Between that and the 911 phone calls, we were able to predict his movements, set up a corral, and keep him away from traffic until we actually caught him.”

Throughout that time, he said his biggest worry was the health and safety of those who may have come into contact with Buddy.

“We were concerned someone was going to be driving and hit this 1,000-pound animal and his height and his weight would have been catastrophic for someone, and they would have been seriously injured if they had hit him,” he said. As a male bull, Buddy could respond aggressively if cornered.

While Benecchi said he never put himself directly “in the line of fire” with Buddy, there were a couple of times he could see the animal’s “raw power.” He shared instances where he had Buddy nearly trapped but had to turn back, due to the potential for danger.

“He would put his head down, scratch at the ground, and for safety, we’d have to retreat and get out of his way,” he said. “If he had an opportunity to hurt me to escape, just within his nature, he would have taken that opportunity and run me over.”

Buddy had been caught a few times in the corral, but due to poor design, he was able to escape, according to Benecchi.

Benecchi remembers a moment when he thought he would finally find success in catching the beast.

“It was in November 2020, and I had the gate closed, and he ran into the gate and I didn’t have it overlapping enough. He ripped the rope out of my hands, bent the gate open and took off running,” he said.

Benecchi said if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t change a thing.

“He was caught without injury, nobody got hurt and he’s not hurt. The people who caught him were experts in this field,” he said. “They are people who deal with cows on a regular basis. They had the skills, the knowledge, the equipment, they had everything needed to capture him safely.”

Buddy’s entire journey was an example of the community coming together, he added.

“There are many heroes in this story,” he said. “Everyone had a part to play in the safe capture of this animal. We had an unbelievable task in front of us to capture this animal. This was not a docile cow that everyone is use to seeing on TV. This was a pastured beefalo with a screw loose.”

Benecchi said he will be visiting Buddy this weekend in Massachusetts, where he’s being examined by a veterinarian. After that, Buddy will live the rest of his life at Critter Creek Farm Sanctuary in Florida.

sfox@milfordmirror.com