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After bull attack, second thoughts and a long recovery

Sunday, August 10, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:23 a.m. CDT, Monday, August 11, 2014
Judy Gibson continues to recover after an attack July 17 by her pet bull, Slick.

COLUMBIA — Judy Gibson found herself lying on her back on a dusty patch of grass in the pasture on her farm southeast of Columbia. She had 10 broken ribs, a puncture wound in her breast, a broken vertebrae at the top of her spine and her forehead had been slit from one side to the other, causing her scalp to slide backward.

She had always doted so much on Slick, her pet bull. Her family believed her love often tiptoed a precarious line, as she would go into his pen without a herding stick. She loved him. No matter how uneasy her behavior made her family, Judy kept right on spending time with Slick.

And then this.

* * *

About five and a half years ago, Judy and Bill Gibson made their way to Lolli Bros. Livestock Market in Macon. The couple wanted to breed cattle, so Judy handpicked two cows and a bull who was a mixed breed of Highland and White Park. His fur was white, his nose and ears were black and his name was Slick.

Slick was about 1 1/2 years old and previously lived in a petting zoo. The Gibsons' took him home to their farm southeast of Columbia. 

“Slick would always come over and let her rub his nose,” Bill Gibson said. “Judy loved that bull.”

The couple had plenty of animals. One of their five dogs is likely to greet guests as they walk up the drive. Two parrots whistle and click their beaks in the living room. But Judy paid special attention to Slick.

“We’d be sitting on the couch watching TV, and Slick would be out in the pasture, bellowing and chatting away,” said Jessica Gibson, one of Bill and Judy’s granddaughters. “Nana would say, 'Aww Slick,' and I would be like, 'No, Slick.'”

Judy seemed to be the only one who was affectionate toward the 1,200-pound bull. When asked if the rest of the family liked him, they didn’t hesitate to respond with a disagreeing shake of the head.

“Just Judy,” Bill Gibson said.

Slick was a Highland bull, a breed brought to the U.S. from the Scottish Highlands in the 1890s, which produce both beef and milk. Slick was always more aggressive than the average Highland bull, he said.

“Not to the point of hurting someone,” Bill Gibson said. “He was just always pawing dirt, shaking his head, bellowing. That sort of thing.”

Judy would often go into Slick’s pasture when nobody was around or without a herding stick, something her husband frequently advised her not to do. She used her hands to tap the bull on the nose when he was misbehaving. She would tell him “no” when he was acting up.

“She would just tell me, ‘He’s a good bull,’” Bill Gibson said.

* * *

Bill Gibson first saw Judy in 1960 when he was 19. She was wearing a crinoline under her skirt, keeping with the style of the time. He saw her walking in front of the agriculture building at MU. She was 16, her hair was long and blond, and he knew right away he wanted to marry her.

Three years later, on June 5, 1963, Gibson did marry her.

“My dad said, ‘Now son, I don’t want you to get married until you’re graduated from college,’” he said. “I told him, ‘I won’t.’ So I graduated on June 4 and got married on June 5.”

The couple traveled together, living here and there for a couple years at a time while Bill Gibson taught science at various schools. For 40 years they moved around. Polo, Mo. Colorado. Samoa. Guam. Jennings, Mo. Florida. Finally, in 2003, they retired to Judy’s family farm on Barnes Chapel Road southeast of Columbia.

The land had been in Judy’s family since 1910. When her uncle passed away, Judy was next in line to inherit the farm. Much to Bill’s dismay, Judy had plans to fill it with animals.

“I said to Judy, 'Let’s settle for the first two years of our retirement. Let’s have no animals, except the ones we already have, so we can travel,'" Bill Gibson said. When she moved out to the farm three months before Bill to care for her sick mother, she'd already bought a horse.

Judy’s love for animals became more apparent as the farm grew. Horses, donkeys, miniature horses, miniature cattle, ducks, goats, a peacock and two dozen chickens inhabit the farm's 220 acres.

* * *

Bill Gibson was fixing a fence on their farm on July 17 when Slick approached.

“He was snorting and bellowing, pawing and throwing dirt. I didn’t pay any attention because that’s what he always did,” he said.

When Bill finished with the fence, he began driving down the hill. He saw Slick standing in the pasture with something at his feet, something that resembled Judy’s figure. He drove faster down the hill, through the fence.

“She only said two things to me when I got to her,” Bill Gibson said. “She said, 'Don’t leave me,’ and, 'Don’t hurt him, he’s a good bull.’ But I had to do both of those things.”

The Gibsons' phone line had been accidentally disconnected the day before when the phone company came out to install a new line in a house down the road, and there was no cell service on the Gibsons' farm.

“I had to drive five miles to call 911,” Bill Gibson said.

When he reached a phone he made two calls; one to 911 and another to his son, Jeff.

After a helicopter flew Judy to University Hospital, Jeff Gibson grabbed an assault rifle from the house and met Slick in the pasture.

“One shot to the forehead, and he was gone,” Jeff Gibson said.

***

As of Wednesday evening, Judy remained in the intensive care unit at University Hospital. She was given a tracheotomy, and her breathing was being supported by a ventilator. 

Since she's been unable to speak and too weak to grip a pen or pencil, the Gibsons have heard Judy's voice one time since the July 17 attack. The conversation was long enough for Judy to ask Bill, "Did you shoot him?" to which he replied with a solemn, "Yes."

She is making small strides towards recovery.

Earlier this week, she got out of bed and supported herself for three minutes, Bill Gibson said. The family hopes she will be able to breathe without the ventilator in the coming weeks. Regaining speech will come next.

Bill purchased an iPad Air on Wednesday morning in hopes the text-to-speak feature would let the family communicate with Judy in the meantime. He said Judy's doctors have told him it will take until December for a full recovery.

Supervising editor is Landon Woodroof.


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