Sofia (AFP) - Bulgarian authorities announced Monday that Penka, the cow who risked death by straying over the EU border, will not be put down after all.
"Laboratory analyses of the cow that spent 15 days in Serbia and crossed the border back (into Bulgaria) are negative for all the tested diseases," Bulgaria's Food Safety Agency announced Monday.
"She will not be killed and will return to her herd by the end of the week," agency spokeswoman Ekaterina Stoilova confirmed to AFP.
Penka's plight went viral on social media and made headlines around the world after her owner Ivan Haralampiev, from the western village of Kopilovtsi, launched an appeal 10 days ago to save her.
The animal had wandered away from her herd near the western Bulgarian village of Mazarachevo on May 12 and spent more than two weeks in Serbia before local farmers identified her from her earmarks.
Penka then fell foul of strict EU rules on the import of live animals from third countries, which require extensive paperwork giving the animal a clean bill of health before it can enter the bloc.
Haralampiev lacked the necessary documents to authorise her return and was only allowed to take her back if he agreed to put her down within days.
But instead he launched an appeal on television to save her, sparking a worldwide outpouring of sympathy.
By Monday more than 30,750 people -- including former Beatle Paul McCartney -- had signed an online petition to save Penka addressed to EU institutions.
Penka's fans shared her story with the hashtag #SavePenka and even wrote a poem describing her odyssey.
Haralampiev told Bulgarian media on Monday that he was very grateful "to all the people from across the world who stood up for my poor animal".
"You have no idea how much stress this cost me but it was worth it," Haralampiev said, adding that he was looking forward to an emotional reunion.
Penka would have "luxury fodder" and "lots of caresses" to look forward to and had become "very special" for the family, he said.
Penka was even discussed during the European Commission's daily briefing on Friday with climate spokesperson Anna-Kaisa Itkonen answering extensive questions from journalists regarding the cow's situation.
Bulgarian food safety authorities say it is not an isolated case, with animals from Serbia and Macedonia often entering Bulgarian territory, and they are holding talks with the neighbouring countries to resolve the issue.