Summer grilling season is in full swing - but while many are flipping burgers and steaks, one local community is firm in its dedication to keep mankind's bovine companions from harm.
The New Vrindaban community of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, better known as the Hare Krishnas, near Moundsville has operated a cow sanctuary since the community's inception in 1968 - the first of its kind in the United States.
At its peak, more than 400 cows grazed the fields of New Vrindaban. That number has since dropped to about 80, primarily for financial reasons, but the Hare Krishnas are determined to do their part to keep as many cows as possible away from the slaughterhouse.
"We appreciate them as living entities," said Doug Finteo, a Hare Krishna devotee who came to New Vrindaban in 1977 to pursue a more spiritual life. Finteo has spent much of his time since then caring for the cows at the sanctuary.
"It's a peaceful existence, you might say," he said.
Cows are sacred in the Hindu faith, as the Hindu deity Krishna is believed to have been a cow herder and taught his followers to revere the animals. Many cow by-products, including clarified butter and dung, are used in worship rituals, Finteo said.
Most states in India have outlawed the slaughter of cattle, and in many areas the animals are free to walk the streets undisturbed.
"They give us so much," Finteo said, noting that cows are useful to humans in ways other than as a meat provider. "They're a very gentle animal. They ask nothing, really."
And while the cows may ask for nothing, at New Vrindaban they are provided pastures in which to graze, a 240-foot by 80-foot barn for shelter during the winter, and - most importantly to the Hare Krishnas - the opportunity to complete their natural life cycle in peace.
Finteo said it's not right to send a cow to the slaughterhouse simply because its milk production level has gone down, pointing out that only about a half-dozen of the cows at New Vrindaban are milk producers.
"For us, it's like the cows are a part of your family," he said. "Cows cannot defend themselves without humans."
In today's economic climate, it can be costly to keep an animal that eats up to 40 pounds of hay daily.
Finteo estimated it costs between $70,000 and $80,000 yearly to provide care for all the cows there.
For that reason, the community cannot keep as many as it once did.
According to Finteo, most of the interest received from surrounding communities comes from people of Indian descent and animal rights activists.
"Most people are fixed in their ways," he said.
Finteo said donations of any amount are welcome. He noted that some people, mostly from the Indian community, provide monthly stipends to help defray the cost of care.
Additionally, anyone can "adopt a cow" by going to the community's Web site and donating the yearly cost of caring for a bovine, about $1,000.
Other options include simply feeding a cow for a year, at $501; feeding a cow during the winter months, at $251; providing special care for aging cows, at $108; and feeding a cow for a month, at $51.
In comparison, Wayne Blake, owner of Blake Farms in Belmont, raises cattle and sells them to feed lots where they are fattened up for consumption.
He estimated the cost of feeding a single cow enough to help it grow - but not enough to fatten it for sale and slaughter as beef - at about $15-$16 a month.
He said his cattle get 2 pounds of feed daily, for a total of about 60 pounds a month.