A cow on the mooove

Popular Denver billboard fixture found posing in Steamboat art exhibit

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— A wayward cow was found Monday in Steamboat Springs, some 160 miles north of its home on a Denver-area interstate.

But how the cow missing an ear, a la Vincent van Gogh wound up amid an art exhibit in front of Steamboat's historic railroad depot remains a mystery. The depot houses the Steamboat Springs Arts Council.

The cow is a fiberglass Holstein that fast-food chicken-sandwich company Chick-Fil-A reported missing July 11 from one of its Denver billboards. Weighing 150 pounds and valued at $3,200, the cow is considerably more pricey than most of those found in Routt County fields the going price for slaughter cattle Monday was about 63 cents per pound.

The cow made national news after Atlanta-based Chick-Fil-A reported it missing, sparking human-interest stories in major newspapers and on newscasts around the country, including CNN.

The 6-foot cow is a well-recognized company mascot. It was displayed on a C-470 billboard near Littleton helping a fellow fiberglass bovine write "Eat Mor Chikin," company spokeswoman Gina Francis said.

"Our hope was that it had blown off," Francis said.

However, when company officials went to investigate, it was clear someone climbed 20 feet up the billboard and stole the cow.

Erin Gilbertson was the first Arts Council employee to spot the posing animal Monday. The Arts Council currently features an exhibit from local artists to celebrate the council's 30 years of existence, so when Gilbertson saw the cow between two sculptures, she initially thought it was part of the exhibit.

Not even the orange road construction cones placed on the cow's head and rear or its missing ear raised her suspicions.

"I've been out of town, so I was like, 'that's cool," she said.

Arts Council President Nancy Kramer also thought it had something to do with the exhibit, possibly a late entry she didn't know about.

"I think it was an obvious home for the cow," she said.

An anonymous caller reported the missing cow to Pilot & Today photographer Tyler Arroyo, who contacted the Steamboat Springs Police Department.

By 11 a.m. the cow was in the police impound lot, waiting for its rightful owner.

Despite the missing right ear, a spray painted peace sign and the word "Hi," the promotional ungulate was in good condition.

"It's unbelievable," officer Bill Stucker said. "I cannot believe it would have come all the way from Denver on top of a car and somebody didn't say, 'Hey, wait a minute.'"

He suspected a horse trailer could have been used.

Stucker said the theft was obviously a gag of some kind, but Chik-Fil-A officials didn't think it was funny.

The company had offered a reward of free chicken sandwiches for a year for information leading to the cow's safe return.

The cow is the centerpiece in the company's most successful advertising campaign and readers of 5280 Magazine in Denver voted it best billboard four years straight.

"Once we get our cow back, we will be all smiles," Francis said.

Francis also said someone could have been killed moving the cow from the billboard.

Since the cow is worth more than $1,000, its theft is a felony.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office is handling the case.

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