Americans are paying $75 an hour to hug a cow. The bovine cuddles can boost oxytocin levels in humans.



One year ago, the coronavirus outbreak was officially named a global pandemic, and our ordinary routines came to a sudden halt. We have lost so many lives, each of them irreplaceable, and so many millions have lost their livelihoods and have had to live in deprivation and fear while the coronavirus has intensified the sharp inequality in America in which the poor and old and Black, Hispanic and Indigenous people are at the greatest risk.

At the same time, multiple coronavirus vaccines have been developed with historic speed. More than 2 million Americans are now being vaccinated each day. It's because of all of this that when I heard a story this week that would usually get me just to shrug and laugh, I was diverted and enthralled.

More Americans are cuddling cows. They're paying $75 an hour to be able to put their arms around a cow and hug. Cows are willing to be hugged, even eager. Sometimes, they'll flop down on their sides and place their heads in the laps of their - well, I don't really know what to call someone who pays $75 to cuddle a cow. Customer sounds so cold.

After the year we've had, I see the appeal. You cannot hug your friends or hug your grandkids, Suzanne Vullers, who owns the Mountain Horse Farm in Naples, N.Y., told us. But you can hug Bella and Bonnie, the half-Scottish Highland, half-Angus cows who reside at her farm. By the way, Bella and Bonnie's snuggling services are booked solid through May. Miss Vullers, who is originally from the Netherlands, says that cow cuddling is well-established there where it's called koe knuffelen, which sounds perfect. Other farms with cows for contract cuddling in New York state, Hawaii and Arizona seem to be booked, too. I wonder if a cow-cuddled share app is in the works.

There is some science to this elemental magnetism of cows. Because bovines are large, warm and have a heartbeat slower than ours, putting your arms around a cow can increase oxytocin levels in humans. That's the hormone released in social bonding. It's part of what makes support animals so comforting. Think of it as the milk of animal kindness.

I don't know if cow cuddling will outlast this pandemic. But in a way, it's a reminder that the memories we carry from these terrible times may be suffused by loss but also wound through with recollections of the courage and generosity of neighbors and strangers and the sometimes quirky discoveries we humans make as we find our way through the gloom of tough times and keep going.


DOJA CAT: (Singing) Moo, moo, moo, moo, moo, moo, moo, moo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.