Promoting understanding
and compassion for animals

Mar

07

Three pardons for a pig – Part 1

Posted in: AnimalsBe the first to comment

I have been meaning to put this up for a while but time is so hard to find these days…

Last year I entered a writing competition run by Voiceless to advance understanding of animal sentience and the ethical treatment of animals. My entry focused on Duncan the pig who we had adopted the previous year. I was thinking there might be 50 or 60 entries but there were over 350 and sadly my entry did not gain a place.

But I think it is a good story and I’m sure many people would be interested to hear “the full story” of how Duncan came to live with us. There are three sections and I will post them in three different entries:

The first section is partly fictitious. Neither Ian or I have any idea how Duncan came to be wandering around in the bush that day. So I took the liberty of making up what I thought had happened…I hope you enjoy my imaginings. The story becomes fact at the point where the people capture Duncan. Yes, he was actually captured with a Mars bar. God bless him.

The second section is the one that I think you will find the most interesting. It outlines how Ian and Duncan’s relationship gradually developed and the main events that led to Duncan’s life being spared. I for one had never been exposed to the thought processes that lead someone to kill animals for food and then consciously decide not to kill an animal. I found it absolutely fascinating. In retrospect, maybe I could have elaborated on the ‘killing mindset’ more but at the time it just didn’t happen.

The third section involves Duncan’s arrival here at Tallara Park which I have written about before but for continuity sake, will include here.

So read on… enjoy ….. but just for one moment, consider. That if someone like Ian who was a pig hunter and quite okay with killing animals for his own consumption, was so affected by getting to know Duncan that he totally changed his outlook and was unable to kill him – what would do if you were in the same situation?  I know that this is impossible – most of you would never get the opportunity to really form a bond with such an animal … and meat in its polystyrene packing is so removed from the actual being that once owned its flesh that it has been made almost impossible to make a connection.

But please … try to put the two together.

Three Pardons for a Pig – Duncan’s story

It was a simple wire clip, slightly rusty from years of exposure, holding together two pieces of wire mesh. It had performed its function for many years, just like the thousands of other clips used in the construction of the fence.

Who would have thought that such a simple object would have the potential to profoundly change so many lives?

****************************

Autumn was fading quickly; the leaves on the ground no longer lay silent but crackled and crunched as the piglets walked across them. They liked the texture of the leaves and the sound they made. They used their short snouts to throw clumps up into the air where they would float momentarily before cascading down like snowflakes.  On warmer days they would stretch out in the shade and rest, but these days were becoming few and far between. The air now had a briskness that they had not encountered before and the sun did not seem to warm their bodies as it had in the past. They spent more and more time sleeping together or, if their mother was agreeable, pressed up against her side. She didn’t mind her piglets’ contact, although she was trying hard to wean them as they had grown so big and boisterous.

There were ten of them, eleven including their mother. Each piglet had a different personality and different likes and dislikes. Some were placid and docile while others were highly strung. All were inquisitive but one, more so than the rest. He wasn’t the biggest or the smallest, just an average size but he didn’t seem to need as much sleep as his siblings. Usually waking first, he would go out on his own for a wander. There in the peace and stillness of the early morning, he would dig up a few clumps of earth in search of worms or push on the fence occasionally to try and reach some tender shoots on the other side.

This particular morning he had spied a dandelion flower through the wire.  Try as he might it eluded him, even when he turned his head sideways and tried to reach it with his tongue. Then he heard a sound behind him and instantly forgot about the flower. Out of the shed spilled his brothers and sisters, pushing and shoving, glad that the day had dawned fine and dry. They knew that food would come soon and bellowed in anticipation, their cries of delight forming a chorus that crescendoed both in volume and in pitch.

The farmer’s wife was in the kitchen drinking her coffee when she heard them. Her brow creased and she stiffened her jaw. Why had it become her responsibility to feed these god forsaken animals?  She never wanted them in the first place. She resented the fact that she had lost part of her garden to them and hated what they had done to it. What was once an immaculate lawn was now like a battlefield with huge craters littering the landscape. The shrubs and bushes had long gone, being uprooted, sat on or eaten, but the worst thing about them was the noise. Their shrill cries cut through her like a knife and she could actually feel her blood pressure rising. To her the noise was not an outburst of unbridled joy; it was a systematic and deliberate attempt to drive her crazy.

She wondered whether she would last the distance. They were only eight weeks old and they wouldn’t be ready for the table for another five months. She focused on the reward – the new fridge her husband had promised they would buy with the proceeds from the pigs (although she suspected that some piece of machinery would probably break down and need replacing, so all her sacrifices would be in vain). She finished the dregs of her coffee, sat the cup on the bench and steeled herself for the morning feed.

She walked to the shed and began mixing the revolting concoction of pollards, grains and water that was their meal. Stirring it until it achieved a soupy consistency; she poured it into two buckets and made her way to the fence. The piglets jostled and pushed while the old sow stood quietly at the back. Occasionally the farmer’s wife felt a tinge of rapport with the old girl. She typified mothers the world over – patient and kind… even self-sacrificing (if you could give that label to a pig). Then, in the next breath, she would tell herself that the sow was just a stupid, dirty animal with no concept of yesterday, today or tomorrow. She tipped the buckets of food into the troughs, cursing as some of it splashed her jeans. At least the job was finished until the afternoon.

When the piglets had had their fill, they played for a while then settled down to take a nap. All except one. That piglet remembered the dandelion that had cruelly taunted him earlier that morning and he decided go back and try again. Even at this young age, his memory and sense of problem solving was finely tuned. He made his way to the fence and found the flower. He pushed and strained in an effort to reach it. Suddenly he heard a ‘twang’ and pulled back to see what had made the noise. There was no wind or rain, no branches had fallen and he was alone – but something was different. 

The fence that had previously been rigid and taut was now loose. In fact there was a small hole in the mesh where one of the wire clips had broken. The dandelion was now easy picking and he gobbled it up, savouring the bitter taste. He pushed a bit further to see if there were any more. Much to his surprise, he was able to push his whole head through and with only a little effort, the rest of his body followed. He stood on the other side of the fence trying to decide what to do next.

The shed door was open and spying the feedbags he trotted over to investigate. Sure enough a mouth-watering feast awaited him – a floor strewn with spilt grains and bran as well as buckets of fruit and bags of stale bread that ripped open with the greatest of ease. The sound of the paper tearing delighted him so much he started ripping for the sheer sake of it. After about an hour of mayhem he retreated to the hole in the fence, in dire need of a rest. As he put his head through he heard a noise that sent shockwaves through his body. It was a scream, a human scream, a scream so full of venom and hate that it sent him reeling.

The farmer’s wife was returning from the clothesline, when she saw him. Her worst fears were realised, the pigs were out and nothing would be safe. Her carefully planted annuals would be ruined: stray children would be in danger. Weeks of pent up rage erupted and she screamed. By the time her husband arrived, the piglet had long gone. He had turned and fled to the back of the property. Through the Pittosporum hedge and out into the bush he ran, intent on getting as far away as possible from the noise that had terrified him so.

Over the next three days, a sense of loneliness and desperation swept over the piglet. It permeated his whole being and his sprightly step turned into a soulful stagger. He trudged on through the bush not knowing where he was going or what he would find. He was freezing cold and had no idea why his once bright world had suddenly turned grey. Gradually his despair was replaced with a new feeling. A survival instinct, a remnant of ancestors long past, began to stir in his veins. His thoughts became consumed with finding food and water and his body was now constantly primed for action. The slightest noise made him edgy and he did not sleep soundly anymore.

Given this change in his brain function, it was somewhat ironic that his new found freedom came to an abrupt end with, above all things, a mars bar.

The soft, gooey chocolate sat in a handbag on the floor of a car while its occupants drove around looking for a place to have lunch and enjoy the crisp mountain air. It was quite a civilized sojourn really … that was until they drove past a pig.

Out of curiosity the driver stopped. After all, it’s not every day that you see a wild pig wandering around in the bush.  Luckily everyone in the car was as inquisitive as he, so he backed up and they all got out. The piglet was nowhere to be seen.  They scouted around and found him hiding under a low shrub. He was not so much scared of them, but their vehicle. It had been loud and fast and big but now it was still and silent. He focused his attention on the people, thinking they might be able to provide him with a feed.

The people had the same idea and one of them barked a direction to “get some food, quick”. The piglet noticed that one of them ran off and returned with a curious smelling offering. “Break it in half” barked the order-maker again and the offering was quickly withdrawn before being offered again. The piglet stretched out his snout to snatch it. Even before he touched it his keen sense of smell engaged. A cocktail of amazing scents filled his nostrils and he knew that he just had to have this thing. One small gulp and it was gone. He wanted more and was pleased to find that another piece was being offered. But this time, as he leaned forward to take it, two vice like hands clasped him around the shoulders. He pulled back instinctively and began to struggle. Another set of hands grabbed him firmly around the waist. He squealed and fought but it was all in vain. He was lifted up off the ground and turned around so that his head faced away from his captor.

One of the women stepped forward. She fed him the remaining half of the chocolate bar and stroked him on the face. His tense body relaxed slightly. He nosed her, hoping for more. She understood his demand and went to the car to get him some bread. She was astounded by her reaction to the little creature. He was so beautiful, so vulnerable, and so sad. He stared at her and she saw a great presence in his eyes.

The others in the group were not so charitable. They joked about the amount of bacon they could get from him. The woman felt compelled to speak up for him and said, “I think he’s gorgeous, look at his face”. There was an uncomfortable silence. Maybe she wasn’t the only one to think that way. Then her husband responded, “Babe was a fairy tale, luv, anyway you eat pork”.

“Maybe I wouldn’t if I knew they were this cute,” she answered truthfully.

Her husband replied scornfully, “This pig would happily rip your arm off. They’re wild, mean beasts. Don’t let his face fool you”.

She fell silent. She had to admit she had no idea about a pig’s true nature and was probably being overly sentimental. She felt glad that her husband was so knowledgeable about things like this. Knowing they were callous, nasty individuals certainly made it easier for her to accept that animals were killed. Anyway, the bacon on her plate held absolutely no shred of resemblance to the little creature before her.

Meanwhile, the piglet was oblivious to the conversation, happily munching his way through half a loaf of bread, every now and then sighing in happiness.

A cloud of dust encircled the party as another four-wheel drive thundered past. The two male occupants saw the piglet and they too stopped a little way down the track. They climbed out and walked back to the group. A brief conversation ensured and before long the piglet was passed to one of the men. They had persuaded the people that letting the piglet go would be an irresponsible act.

The two men were pretty chuffed that, without any effort, they had scored a piglet worth about seventy dollars and not just any feral piglet, this was a Large White, one of the best eating pigs there are. They turned the ute around and headed for home, eager to get the piglet secured before nightfall.

Arriving back home they noticed their father’s friend and neighbour, Ian, sitting on the veranda having a beer with their dad. The two older men strolled over to the ute to greet them. As they got closer they noticed the piglet in a cage in the back. The piglet didn’t make eye contact with any of the men but flinched whenever one of the party bellowed in laughter.

The discussion turned to the real problem at hand. Who had a pen for the little bugger? What had started out as an exciting prospect had now become a burden. The piglet wasn’t big enough to be eaten; in fact it would take quite a few months of fattening before he could be slaughtered. Ian did the sums. That would roughly be Christmas – perfect timing. He had a secure chook pen that would house the animal in the meantime. “I’ll take him” he offered. “How much do you want for him?”  “Nah don’t worry, we got him for nothing” came the reply, “just give us a leg when you butcher him”.

So the deal was done.

Ian sat the caged piglet on his tractor and drove the short distance home. The piglet had no way of knowing but, through sheer luck, he had arrived at a place where his fate was not automatically sealed. It was not the best situation he could find himself in but it was by no means the worst. It was a place of possibilities.

Duncan on his first day at Ian's place

Duncan when he was first captured

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