“Who” refers to People, Right?

…and “that” refers to non-people. At least that’s what I learned in English class. Then I ran into this:

Volunteers looking for abandoned animals in rural North Carolina came across a cow who had escaped her flooded barn, but was having a hard time staying afloat in deep storm surge.

and this:

After what was surely a traumatic experience, the cow, nicknamed Ricky, settled into her new cushy life at a New Jersey animal sanctuary alongside another cow who had been rescued from Hurricane Harvey

and this:

It’s unclear what will happen to the cows who were swept out to sea this fall.

These are from a Washington Post article about some cattle washed out to sea by a hurricane. (See how I avoided using “who” there?)

It happened three times, so I don’t think this usage was an accident. I confess, using “who” feels, um, closer to the animals, as if treating them as individuals.

Maybe we can do this when we refer to our pets, too, eh?

Oh yes. A picture:

Wild cows lounge on North Carolina's Cedar Island in May 2019. (Paula O'Malley Photography/Paula O'Malley Photography)