Promoting understanding
and compassion for animals

Apr

10

Three pardons for a pig – Part 2

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It was the fear that started it. I didn’t want him to be afraid of me. That may sound strange because I was planning to kill the little chap anyway but I like to think that the animals I do kill have a happy life. They are free to enjoy their environment and they have shelter and good feed.

They meet their end painlessly and with no distress. I walk into the paddock, straight up to them and put a bullet in their brain. They are dead before they even hit the ground. I’d like to think that when my time comes, I will leave the earth in a similar manner, maybe without the bullet, but just as quickly. Some people might think I am cruel. I think I am realistic. I eat meat and I take responsibility for that. To me it’s far crueller to stuff your face with food and be totally ignorant as to how it is obtained – usually from animals who are denied their most basic rights, transported long distances in appalling conditions and then slaughtered on mass, watching those who go before them die and be strung up.

Anyway he was afraid. He huddled under the ramp of the chook-house and shivered violently. I covered him with wood shavings to make him a bit warmer. He didn’t move, somehow sensing that I was doing him a favour. The next morning he was still there. Two small eyes peaked out at me as if trying to gauge my next move. I wasn’t exactly sure myself what to do but I figured he must be hungry so I got him a bowl of milk.

As I stood there watching him, I realised I knew little about pigs. I wondered whether he would bite and if it would be safe to turn my back on him as he got older. Then I told myself that Christmas wasn’t far away so I probably wouldn’t have to worry. I wondered how big he would be by then and what I should feed him in the meantime. By the end of the day he had settled down and seemed happy enough with the chooks. I put down some food and left him alone.

My partner, Felicity, had seen him that morning and remarked how cute he was but, having some experience with pigs, she also warned me that they were very smart and very destructive. I nodded solemnly but in the back of my mind I thought “how much trouble can he cause in five months?” When she got home from work we both went out to check on the new arrival. We found him, once again, hiding under the ramp. The wind was starting to howl and I thought about picking him up and putting him in with the chooks but Felicity had a better idea. She got a piece of bread and coaxed him up the ramp. Once he was in the hen house he instantly recognised that this was a much better place to be and settled down happily.

I think we pretty much broke the golden rule about raising animals for food straight away. He was just so damn cute we couldn’t help but name him Percy. It didn’t help that he had a very cheeky personality. He would constantly grunt and squeak, displaying a very impressive array of sounds. Not only that but he would look at you intently as if trying to communicate. If I was late with his food he would squeal at me disapprovingly. I got the feeling that he was training me to fit in with his routine rather than the other way round. I think even at this early stage I was aware that I quite enjoyed just having him around and I started to dismiss thoughts of Christmas, telling myself that it was still a long way off.

One day I noticed him digging. At first there didn’t seem to be any great purpose in the activity, just random ploughing up the ground but he definitely seemed to be enjoying himself. Later, when I went to feed him, I found that he had created his very own wallow, and what a masterpiece it was. A hole expertly chiselled out of the ground, just big enough for him to climb into and roll around. Not only that but he had built it right under the automatic water dispenser so that if he tipped it, his wallow would fill with water. I was very impressed and he was quite proud of himself. As the weather grew hotter it became obvious how important this wallow was to him. The mud protected his pink skin from the sun and formed a protective barrier to biting insects. His chicken friends also helped him out, picking the parasites off him as he lay on his side. He seemed very happy with the chooks so I started letting him out with them of an afternoon so that they could free range together.

Free ranging with the chooks

Now Pig had done a few things which surprised me, but one afternoon he did something that was completely astounding. By now I had dropped the name Percy, not because I wanted to distance myself from him, more that Percy seemed a tacky name for such a great character. I mean everyone would name a piglet Percy! Anyway, on this particular afternoon, he was free ranging with the chooks when he wandered past my office. He was in another paddock about ten metres away when he stopped and gazed at my window. I looked at him and waved, thinking that he probably couldn’t see me anyway, but he did. He let out a series of excited grunts and started spinning around in delight. I wondered whether he could possibly be responding to me so I opened the window and called out to him. He became even more frantic, jumping up into the air and huffing and barking almost like a dog. I instantly forgot what I was working on and went outside to pat him. He seemed so pleased that he had finally worked out where I spent most of my time. The chooks continued on their way but he stayed there, eventually lying down, just gazing at the window. In fact he didn’t move until I arrived with his feed and walked him back to the chook house.

I was confused. How had this animal that I was planning to kill, become so attached to me and why did I feel so honoured? People often say that a dog looks up to you; a cat looks down on you, whereas a pig looks at you as their equal. I was slowly beginning to believe this and in return I changed the name Pig to ‘Mr Pig’ – deciding his loyalty had earned him the extra respect.

However a different name would soon surface, again a product of his quirky personality and character.

It was nearing the end of November and I had finally managed to get the feeding routine down pat. Three litres of powdered milk, another bowl with boiled mixed grains and pollard, wet with more milk, and a loaf of bread on top, plus any scraps from the kitchen. This certainly wasn’t going to be any cheap leg of ham! Mr Pig would carefully pick up one or two slices of bread, drop them in the milk, dunk and slosh them around and then eat them, repeating the process till it was all gone. I remember the first time he did it. I stood there transfixed. How amazing, how peculiar, how human. I laughingly referred to him as Duncan and sometimes when I wanted to joke with him I’d call him ‘Dunkin Duncan.’

Feeding time

Christmas was fast approaching and I weighed up the facts. He was still too small to butcher and there was always Easter. That would be a much better time. It didn’t seem that much of a big deal to me but some friends who knew about pigs urged me to get him castrated. They stressed that just like a male dog, his hormones would start to kick in and he would become unmanageable. I reluctantly agreed although it seemed like an unnecessary expense and I really didn’t like the thought of it. The vet arrived and quickly sedated him. Even then it took three of us to hold him. When I saw how brutally it was performed I regretted the decision even more. It seemed so cruel to do this to him when he was going to be killed anyway but it was too late. He lurched around, falling and attempting to get back up several times before eventually succumbing to the situation and lying there, semi-conscious. He had a gaping hole in his backside where his testicles once were and blood oozed from the wound. I had to go to work so I decided to leave him where he was and placed a bucket of water beside him.

It was a fine spring day so I didn’t even consider the weather but by that afternoon a huge thunderstorm had descended on the mountains. I could see it from where I was working and started to worry. I thought of poor Mr Pig lying in the open, in pain and frightened and I drove home in panic. Hail framed the side of the road. The closer I got to home, the worse it was. I had a dreadful feeling about what I would find. When I got home he was nowhere to be found.

I immediately went to the shed but he wasn’t there so I hurried to the house to get a raincoat and found him fast asleep on the doormat. When he saw me he made a valiant effort to get up but I patted him and told him to stay where he was. I fetched a blanket and covered him up, then got him some food and sat beside him while he ate. I couldn’t believe that even though I was the cause of his pain and suffering, he bore me no malice. I was also amazed that although it would have been easier for him to go into the shed, he had chosen to come to the house and navigate the slippery steps because he knew this was where we would return.

I say ‘we’ because I wasn’t the only one he was attached to. He also had a soft spot for Felicity. It was as though he always remembered her kindness to him that first day. He also seemed to sense that she was a woman and acted somewhat more restrained around her. Sometimes she would follow him up into his house and lie down with him in the straw. It was touching to see her cuddled up to this enormous creature that she once used to cradle in her arms.

Summer was soon upon us and so were the snakes. Every couple of weeks I would get the tractor and slasher out and cut the three acres of grass around the house. Mr Pig was delighted by this and would run around like a lunatic, snorting and grunting in delight. When he was tired he would lie down to rest then get up and charge around again. It was hard to watch where I was driving because most of the time I was watching him play.

He was like a child in so many ways. The simplest pleasures made him happy. He had taken to following me everywhere so it was no surprise that one day, when I went to the dam to check on the pump, he came too. He nosed around the water’s edge and decided to take a dip but the spot he selected was a bit steep and he went under. Luckily he managed to climb out and never made that mistake again. Instead he found a shallow part and made an enormous wallow.

From that day on it became a bit of a ritual. I would get home from work, have a beer and we would head off to the dam. I decided that the exercise was doing us both good so I extended our walks further down the back, where there was a little creek. Like I said, I would usually have a beer before we left and one afternoon he came over and looked at me expectantly. I gave him a bit thinking that he would spit it out and leave me alone but he liked the taste and demanded more. Before long we were having a Coopers Ale together, him sculling his faster than anyone I knew, and then prodding me with his snout to get going. On our walks he would amble along beside me, occasionally giving me a gentle nudge to remind me he was there and if I got too far in front, a grunt to tell me to slow down. It was almost like taking an overweight, elderly Labrador for a walk except that he was about 150 kilograms heavier.

How could you not fall in love with him?

You may be wondering how on earth I could still entertain thoughts of eating this gentle creature. Believe me I was asking myself the same question. Some nights I would wake up and not be able to go back to sleep. I would lie there and think about my dilemma and wish that I had never met him. But then, on the other hand, I was glad I had. He was so funny and amusing that I often found myself laughing out loud at his antics. He was also great company, so much so that I was beginning to spend less time with friends and neighbours and more time strolling through the bush with him at my side. But I kept telling myself that it was just something that had to be done.

Even so, I was aware that many of the assumptions I had made about animals over the past sixty five years were being challenged. That’s not to say I’m not open to new ideas but this was at least one area where I thought I knew my mind. I really believed that the animals we eat for food did not possess complex thoughts or emotions, yet Mr Pig was proving otherwise. It wasn’t a case of thinking he was human, more just how similar we were. While he enjoyed his food, he was not ruled by it. He had many other needs as well: company, acceptance and fun. He also needed to be constantly stimulated and I could see how much he enjoyed learning new things.

One day I took him for a stroll over to the neighbours. I was very proud of him as he behaved impeccably. My neighbours were impressed with his size and with his manners. We came home but little did I realise that Mr Pig had stored this information for later use. Sure enough, some weeks later when I was at work and he was bored, he took himself off on a little jaunt to visit them again. He stopped and had a good rub on their nicely polished car and then ate their dog’s biscuits. When I returned home from work there was a polite message asking me to “Please come and get your pig”.

After this, I decided that Mr Pig would have to stay with the chooks whenever I was out. He didn’t like being locked up in such a small space, and when I came home he would run about making huffy grunts of disapproval until I let him out. Then he would act like I had returned from the dead. Some people’s dogs greet them enthusiastically, but I’m sure they are nothing compared to Mr Pig.

One afternoon I was frantically trying to get ready for a young friend’s graduation dinner in Sydney. I had just arrived home from work and was due to be picked up in half an hour. Mr Pig was still locked in the chook yard so I went to let him out. He got so excited on seeing me that he jumped into the air and started spinning around. As I opened the gate he charged through and took off toward the shed then came racing back, doing little leaps of joy.

Next thing I knew his head appeared between my legs and he gave me a cheeky look before throwing me onto his back and taking off. Riding a pig was the last thing I had time for, not that it really mattered because I didn’t stay on very long. After a few strides I fell backwards onto his rump and we both crashed to the ground. I sat up and laughed and looked over at him. I swear he had the biggest grin on his face and a look as if to say, “That was great, can we do it again?”

After this episode I did some thinking. The dilemma I faced was not a dilemma at all. I didn’t need to kill Mr Pig. What I was doing was responding to social conditioning that told me I couldn’t be sentimental, I couldn’t change my mind, and that I had to be a man. I felt a great weight lift off my shoulders when I realised that I alone was free to decide what to do and I chose to let him live.

Now people may say I’m silly, that he was just a pig, but the truth is he wasn’t just a pig. In fact when I looked at him I didn’t even see a pig anymore. What I saw was a friend and a companion, someone who made me laugh and smile, someone who knew me even better than I knew myself. I loved spending time with him, and I missed him when we were apart.

Not only that, but I knew he felt the same way. I had a pretty good idea that some friends would think I was crazy, but hey, I could live with that. What I couldn’t live with was the regret I knew I would feel if I killed him.

However, the elation I felt at finally deciding to spare Mr Pig’s life was short lived. I had forgotten one important thing. Felicity’s long service leave was due and we had planned a holiday across Australia. Now, if he was a dog it wouldn’t have been a problem. We could have found someone to mind him, or taken him with us. But he was a 180 kilogram pig. My chances of finding someone to mind him were slim. Even if they were willing to come and feed him he would most certainly fret, possibly even die from loneliness. It would be kinder to kill him now. At least he wouldn’t die thinking he’d been abandoned.

People who did offer to take him did so for all the wrong reasons. I went online to see if there were any refuges that might be able to help. Sadly they couldn’t. I even rang some council farms but to no avail. I did find a truffle grower who was interested, but after a week she rang me back to say that he was just too big and they had decided to train a dog instead. She did mention that she knew someone who could take him away and ‘do the job for me’. I was horrified. The thought of Mr Pig being carted away by someone, to be killed I knew not how, was totally unacceptable. If he was going to die, I would do it. I would ensure that his last moments were peaceful and I would bury him under the Bunya Pine that he loved so much.

Time was ticking away. Every week I would set a deadline for the end of the week and then, when nothing had happened, I would extend it again. I had never known such desperation. I tried to be happy about our trip, especially for Felicity’s sake, but all I could think about was what I had to do first.

I had managed to find a house sitter who was willing to look after the dog and the chooks but he didn’t feel at all confident about Mr Pig. He did, however, throw me a lifeline. He asked me if I knew Greg and Di. I told him that I knew Greg, but had never met his partner. “Well, why don’t you give her a call, she’s a real animal lover, and she might take him, or at least mind him ‘til you get back”. I didn’t have much faith. I’d had so many knock backs. On the other hand I had seen a long haired highland bull at their place, not to mention a lot of other animals and had often wondered what she did with them. As it turned out, not a lot! My friend told me that the animals lived their lives in peace, being pampered and admired and they all died of natural causes. I couldn’t believe my luck, the most perfect home for Mr Pig was only a stone’s throw from my own home… that was of course if she would take him?

This pig had already cheated death twice, once when he escaped from the place where he was born and then a second time just recently. Was it possible that the universe could grant three pardons for a pig?

I picked up the phone and dialled the number…

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