While chatting with Janice from Hearts on Noses Pig Sanctuary today, I expressed concern for a sick pig at another rescue facility. Janice pointed out that Petunia was really my very first piggy, and it was no wonder I felt some concern for her wellbeing.
And she’s right. I was volunteering at that facility when Janice contacted the owner to see if she could take in a potbellied pig, as Hearts on Noses was full and Petunia badly needed help. Tunie, as she came to be called, was nine years old and so obese that she was fat blind (an overfed potbellied pig will develop such rolls of fat on her face that her eyes will literally be hidden and she will be unable to see). Her nails were so overgrown they dug into the underside of her huge belly, making it painful to walk. Her belly was rubbed raw where it dragged on the ground. She was frightened and sad and confused, but -oh my! - did that pig have attitude!
I had never met a pig before, and certainly never thought of them as having personality and character and likes and dislikes; I never dreamed how intelligent and clever and sneaky and mischievous they are. I never knew that they cried real tears, or that they had a wicked sense of humour and an ability to laugh. I never knew that pigs NEED mud holes and/or pools of water to keep their bodies cool in summer, or that they love to pull a warm cozy wool blanket over their shoulders in winter. And I never realized how well Jim Henson had captured the personality of female pigs when he developed his Ms.Piggy character for the Muppets. I never knew how much piggies could make a person laugh.
Back then, I was a regular contributor to that facility’s blog, and also wrote a weekly column about the animals for a local paper. And so this morning I went back over my stories of Petunia to recapture some of the magic of getting to know her and to put together a mosaic of images of the very first pig to steal my heart.
Tunie arrived at the facility at the end of September 2006. As the Jill-of-all-trades, I was assigned the task of renovating the feed area and work bench to accommodate space for Petunia. On Sept 30th I wrote of my first up-close-and-personal interaction with Petunia the Pig:
I spent the afternoon fixing and installing some shelves in the feed room of the barn, which has now become Petunia’s stall. I’ve never met a pig close up before…..she is quite fascinating. Huge, but fascinating. She voiced her objections to my intrusion in very vocal fashion….
Poor Tunie – piggies hate change, and her whole world had changed. But if the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, the proverb is even more true for piggies. And so I set to work to win her heart. I posted a question to Janice which reflected not only my ignorance of their diet but also of their table manners:
Janice, can you tell me what kind of (presumably non-fattening) treats piggies like? I’m assuming fudge nut brownies aren’t on the list of things she should be bribed with. Do piggies eat carrots? apple pieces?And how does one feed Petunia - just hold it out in the proximity of her chubby cheeks and hope there’s a mouth in there somewhere? Will she take it right from my hand (without taste testing my fingers)?
Of course, a pig cannot live on love and food alone – she needs grooming. And we knew we had to tackle those long overgrown toenails very soon after her arrival. Pigs do not like to be confined, and Tunie had obviously not had her nails done for a very long time. Sometimes a little alcohol and bread can go a long way to helping a pig relax and so, on Janice’s advice, I prepared for the ordeal:
I’ll go over there today to introduce her to beer and bread (just a little) so hopefully she will have developed a taste for it tomorrow. I’ll also take her some cooked carrots and rindless cantaloupe, as you suggested in the email - I’ll get this girl to think I’m her personal slave and....her best buddy in the world. Bribery…pure bribery. But at least her nails won’t dig into her belly if she will trust us enough to do them.
It was only a matter of days before Tunie and I were forming a bond that would only be severed when unrelated events later forced an end to my volunteer work at that facility. One of my favourite memories of that developing bond occurred only ten days after her arrival: On Oct 9th, 2006 I wrote:
Today, I sat on the floor of Gideon’s stall, side by side with Petunia piggy, stroking her coarse sparse hairs and singing to her as I tried to regain her trust after her stressful encounter with the nail clippers. The sun was streaming in through the open stall window, the woodchips smelled sweet and the beautiful solid barn interior felt comforting. Petunia and I enjoyed a quiet twenty minutes of alone time, and I felt the stresses drain away from us both. And I couldn’t help but smile as I imagined my dad, who passed away almost thirty years ago, looking on indulgently at his youngest daughter finding peace with a piggy on a damp horse stall floor. And although he was not an animal lover, I know he would have approved - because he did believe that each of his children had the right to find their own path to contentment. And I’ve sure found mine.
But I bet he never thought it would be on a barn floor with a pig for company.
And within a few days, scared, crippled, obese Petunia was starting to move.
By October 11th, I was writing:
When I entered the barn this afternoon, Petunia was roaming the centre aisle and about to check out the donkey stall had she been able to figure out how to open the door to it.
When I went in, she took my cooked carrot stick offering, and then walked back down to the other end with me, and stood on her patio enjoying the fresh air while I cleaned the stalls. Her snout was up, sniffing the air with interest.
The donkeys came over to talk with her. I’m pretty sure I heard Jenny [one of the donkeys] say something like “Yo! Pig! Toss us some food, would ya?” To which Petunia replied “Buzz off jackass, unless you can make this itty bitty patio much bigger for me” - at which the donkeys started shaking the patio fence while Petunia snorted and snuffled along the bottom of it in a vain attempt to enlarge her personal space.
Eventually, the donkeys decided they might have better luck breaking in the other end of the barn, and Miss Piggy went to her stall for an afternoon nap.
So nice to see her moving about - she says thanks, Janice!
One lesson led to another. Tunie quickly taught me how piggies like to make decisions, how they need to keep mentally and physically active within certain parameters. If you change their environment, they will change it again to suit themselves. I see this with Scotch and Soda and babes whenever I clean their stalls, but I learned it first from Petunia:
After doing the horse and donkey stalls, I decided to completely strip the sheep stall as it was getting quite damp and a little high. I cleared it right down to the stall mats and swept the aisle but before I could put down fresh woodchips, I was called away. I returned to the barn about 45 minutes later. Ms. Petunia Pig had taken the opportunity to decorate the sheep stall according to her tastes - mouthful after mouthful of hay which she had trucked from her own stall and from the open bale of clean hay stacked in the aisle - she was caught in the act!
She had been one very, very busy little piggy , though not the tidiest in her travels. There is a reason we call a messy room a pig sty, I think. My conversation with Petunia went something like this:
J: Ahemmm…Petunia, excuse me, but I just cleaned that stall.
P: And your point is?
J: Well, that’s the sheeps’ stall……your stall is over there.
P: My BED is over there; A pig needs variety and this stall looked inviting - a little sparsely furnished but I fixed that.
J: So I see. And that’s another thing, Petunia. I have noticed that your bed has gradually grown from half a bale of hay to about three bales….and the hay for the other barn animals is disappearing rather quickly.
J: You can’t help yourself to the hay that way, Petunia. You have a nice fluffy comforter for your bed. Hay costs money and money is tight around here. We need hay to feed the horses and all your other barnyard friends.
P: So you’re saying the other barn animals will starve to death if I use up all their hay?
J: Well, figurative speaking, yes.
P: And then I would have the whole barn to myself?
P: Okay, okay…I take it back. If you didn’t have to clean out their stinky stalls, you wouldn’t be in here to keep me company and sing to me and feed me melon and scratch my ears. And I do like that. I’ll leave the hay alone….but do you think you might reach that box of graham crackers for me? All that exercise decorating the stall made me a little hungry.
J. Sure, Petunia. Have two…….And, Petunia? Even if there were no other barnyard animals, I’d still come out here to keep you company. You warm my heart.
P. Thanks. You’re okay too. Oink, oink.
And then there was her insistence on marking the cleaned stalls with her trademark “piggy pearls” – the soft round marbles of piggy poop characteristic of a properly fed pig:
Petunia resumed her patrol of the stalls and set about leaving her version of chocolates in each and every stall….piggy poops. I don’t know how she does it. She carefully rations them out…five for this one, five for that one, ten for the donkeys because there’s two of them…..and she even went back to the sheep stall after I had cleaned up her gift and left them some more.
And it was Tunie who taught me that pigs are very social and love companionship.
I think Petunia is blossoming into the most social piggy in the world. She followed me around the barn today - not just going into the stalls after I clean them (as she usually does) but coming into each stall with me and chatting away while I worked. Of course, this meant I had to coax her out of each stall when I was nearly done so I could clean the very large spot hidden from view by Her Chubbiness! She made quite a game of it, and noisily cooperated most of the time.
And it was Tunie who taught me that piggies have a sense of humour and know how to laugh:
And I finally heard her laugh today!! When I was working on the last stall, I asked her if she thought we were nearly done. She let out a chortle - ha ha ha ha ha - and went over to the corner to leave a deposit. That pig has one BIG sense of humour!!
I am so in love with that pig!!!
And so, even though Tunie was only in my life for about six months, it was she who taught me to love pigs and it was she, with Janice’s help, who prepared me for my current role as piggy foster mom to Scotch and Soda and their babes. It was through Tunie that I discovered some of a pig’s favourite foods: strawberries and spinach and slightly cooked carrots, cantelope with the rind removed and watermelon with the rind still on, and very occasionally a sweet bun or a piece of licorice or a yummy graham cracker. And it was through Tunie that I learned a pig’s favourite pastimes: supervising the barn clean up (as long as the stalls being cleaned belong to other animals – piggies do not like people messing with their beds!), checking out the fresh green grass beyond the barn door, and being sung to in a soft gentle voice. It took less than two weeks before I could sit beside her in the stall, and she would rest her huge head on my lap as I scratched her ears and sang her favourite song.
It was from Tunie that I learned pigs love scritches and belly rubs from people they trust, and being brushed and talked to and even having stories read to them. They love company – piggies are not meant to live alone and when another potbellied companion is not available to them, bonding with a human is a second best thing – a human who will move slowly, talk softly, treat generously (but not so generously that their health is compromised), and most of all, just sit quietly beside them, humming and singing and stroking and just keeping them company. They like a body next to their body. It is part of what pigs do and who they are. They are family-oriented, social, and yet wise in their choice of friends: they are slow to trust but they form lasting bonds. Would that I could be so wise.
Thanks Tunie. I hope you get well soon. And if you listen very carefully tonight as you go to sleep, you'll hear the faint sounds of your favourite song riding the wind from my barn to yours:
For with every tear you've washed away,
All the things you've kept inside,
Just count your joys this lovely day
And you'll wonder why you cried.
There's a bluebird on your windowsill
There's a rainbow in your sky,
There are happy thoughts your heart to fill
Near enough to make you cry.
And if perchance your heart grows sad,
You still can smile again,
For every tear you've ever shed
Comes the sunshine after rain.
There's a bluebird on your window sill.....
(Words and music by Elizabeth Clarke, Winnipeg, 1947)