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In October 2005 I was a new veterinarian doing work for an animal charity and gathering data for my doctoral thesis on stray dogs in the city of Jodhpur, India. One day, a couple of the veterinarians who worked for the same charity asked me to assist them with a surgery at a gaushala outside the city, where stray cows are brought for treatment.

Cows are not picky eaters. Basically, if it’s on the ground, they consider it food, and in India there is a lot of litter on the ground. This particular cow had severe indigestion as a result of eating a lot of things that she shouldn’t have, all of which were now wadded up in her stomach and needed to be removed.

The surgery was messier and more physically taxing than I’d anticipated. Imagine trying to wrestle 50 pounds of twisted, wet laundry out of a front-loading washing machine — only the laundry is slimy, slippery, and it doesn’t smell “April-fresh.” We pulled yards and yards of knotted plastic bags, fabric, rope, and unidentifiable matter out of that cow.

After we’d emptied the rumen (the largest chamber of the cow’s stomach), one of the vets, who had longer arms than mine, reached through the rumen and into the cow’s reticulum (the lowermost chamber), where the densest foreign bodies end up. Sometimes surgeons find gold and silver jewelry and semi-precious stones in there. Unfortunately, this cow did not have champagne tastes. Inside there was a button from a pair of jeans, a piece of glass, a one-rupee coin, some non-precious stones, little balls of leather, two nails, and a tiny brass key.

This last object I kept and put on my key ring as a memento of my time in India. It hasn’t been through the wars, but it has been halfway through a cow.

The cow made a full recovery.

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Key Ring Chronicles is a crowd-sourced project that explores the stories behind objects that people keep on their key rings. It was created and is overseen by Paul Lukas, who has kept a quarter with a hole drilled through it on his own key ring since 1987. Readers are encouraged to participate by sending photos and descriptions here.