MOSCOW — Amid news dominated by war and tragedy, it's the kind of story that could make you laugh, rub your eyes twice, or yell at your news feed: "Well of course she was arrested!"
Alicia Day, 34, of New York City, was detained by Russian police while walking her pet baby cow — Dr. Calf — on Moscow's Red Square last month.
Coming at a time when Russian authorities have sentenced several Americans to lengthy prison terms over seemingly minor infractions, the obvious question: What was she thinking?
"Red Square is so beautiful. And I would love to spend some time there with a beloved animal. So that's what I did," she says with a knowing smile when asked by NPR before boarding a flight for Turkey.
"In general I do like to walk my farm animals around," she adds. "Because people have told me, 'Hey, after I met your animal I started eating less meat.' "
She insists she was surprised to be detained some five minutes into what she calls their "jaunt on Red Square."
"I didn't think it would be a bigger problem than walking a dog," she says — not entirely convincingly. "I would only imagine someone would say 'you should leave.' "
A Russian court sentenced her to 13 days in prison and a fine of 20,000 rubles ($285 at the time), alleging she resisted arrest — the one charge Day vehemently denies.
"OK, I understand they do what they feel to protect their country but I absolutely did not resist arrest," she says. "I'm a very peaceful person."
She admits feeling nervous before the Russian judge — acknowledging it would "suck" if the court added additional charges.
Prison was monotonous but she was treated well.
"The girls there were nice but it was very boring without a clock," she says. Russian animal rights activists — having read about Day's case — delivered vegan food packages to the jail.
Upon her release, Russian immigration authorities were less kind. They ordered Day to leave the country and banned her from reentry for 40 years.
Day will have to live without Russia — and Russia without Day — until 2063.
After embracing a vegan diet, her attention turned to activism
Day says her interest in animal welfare began when she was a teenager when she chose to become a vegan.
But it was only when she moved to Europe in her late 20s that she embraced animal activism — with a knack for publicity.
"I realized I'm an adult. I don't need anyone's permission," she says. "The next day I bought a pig." Again, the wry smile.
That decision made headlines in the United Kingdom in 2019 after her landlord discovered Day was living with "Jixy Pixy" in her London flat. Eviction for both pig and owner followed.
Day then started teaching English around Eastern Europe — a decision that found her in Dnpiro, Ukraine, as Russian troops invaded last year. In the early days of the conflict, she volunteered to treat animals affected by war.
"They only bombed our city twice within a few months, and we had a lot of refugees coming in. But it felt like we really came together as a community," she recounts.
Still, with the fighting heating up, she left for Poland last May.
Yet seeing Russia had always been a goal. Day taught herself the Russian language in high school. She made some Russian friends on social media. Despite the U.S. State Department strongly urging Americans not to travel to Russia, she applied for a tourist visa.
Day embarked on a path that led to Red Square — with a cow
Soon Day was scrolling online auction sites and discovered a cow in need of saving.
Dr. Calf's story begins on a farm in the Kirov region — nearly 600 miles east of Moscow. He's an average calf but with distinct brown markings around his eyes.
Next thing he knows, he's in a car. His new owner has hired a driver to take him — all expenses paid — to Moscow. The capital. Red Square.
In photographs, Dr. Calf seems admittedly impressed by the Kremlin clock tower. The grand St. Basil's Cathedral and the Lenin Mausoleum get a more casual glance. The luxury GUM shopping center? A definite no. Too many leather goods.
Then the men in uniform approach.
Dr. Calf has since been relocated to a "government rehabilitation farm" outside of Moscow, says Day. "He's safe," she assures NPR.
She's transferred power of attorney to Russian animal activist friends and made arrangements to pay for Dr. Calf's continued care.
And there's another twist to this story that has so, so many:
Day met someone in prison — a police officer. "Nothing inappropriate happened," Day says. The two struck up a conversation on her daily walk in the prison yard.
She's now appealing her travel ban — to see her cow and, if things work out, maybe her new boyfriend. "I want to fight this thing."
"I'm eccentric," she acknowledges. "I follow my heart and I only answer to my animals."
At last, a confession.
"If it was necessary to sit in jail for two weeks in order to get the chance to share my message of love for animals — that we don't have to eat them and we can love them in a different way — then it was worth it," she says.
"Why," she asks, "was this even known about in the U.S.?"
Again, the smile.