'You've Got A Friend In Me: Lessons in Love I Learned At the Fair'
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I looked in his eyes and just knew. This was magic. I felt a connection. It was love. I promised him I would be back, no matter what.
He was a pig.
I was the unlikeliest of pig rescuers. I am a sensible attorney, not a rabid animal rights person. Apart from some sporadic attempts at being a vegetarian, I was a meat-eater up until my chance encounter at the fair. Although my grandma was from Kansas, I am not a farmer or a rancher. Although I had a vague notion of getting him into some kind of farm sanctuary, I had no concrete plan for how I would get this all to work out. All I knew at that time was that I loved him and wanted to try to save him. And to do that, I was going to have to buy him at auction.
My journey along the road of pig rescue led me to cross paths with many people with different world views, some helpful, some resistant, others merely mystified, but all of them sure of their convictions – the 4H leader who tried to find him a temporary home then, on the morning of the auction, told me it wasn’t possible; the ten-year-old girl who calmly recited “pigs are for consumption” in between petting and kissing her 4H pig who had already been sold for meat; the many who simply stared in disbelief when I asked for temporary help before getting the pig to a farm sanctuary; others who told me the pig would die in transport, that I should just give up and let him go for meat even though I had just bought him, and that no one would help me or let him stay at their place on even a temporary basis, even if I paid them.
Perhaps I was naive, but I was most shocked by the total obstructionism of the head person in the auction office. She initially told me she would find him a temporary place to stay, then never took any action to do so, leaving me to individually contact any 4H person I sighted. Worst of all, she, either willfully or through negligence, refused to even arrange transportation for me so that I could move my pig – property I had purchased – out of the fairgrounds. She assured me she had spoken to the transport person and promised that he would contact me, but claimed she didn’t have his phone number to give me. Needless to say, he never did contact me, not even by the time at which all livestock had to be moved out of the fairgrounds. What would have happened if I had not found one helpful soul to transport him? Would he have been considered “abandoned property9 D because I couldn’t move him out of the fairgrounds?
It seemed I had fallen into a strange world. Apparently my experience was not unusual and was actually not as tragic as some. In the course of trying to find a place for the pig, I spoke to Sue Foster, who runs Cuddly Critters Pig Rescue in Hollister. She told me her heart- breaking story of wanting to rescue a pig who had survived torture, healed, and then was put up for auction. When she and other animal rights activists pooled their resources to try to buy him and give him a second chance, she was told by the head of the auction that they couldn’t even bid on him because all the pigs, once purchased, had to go to slaughter. You can imagine the powerlessness she felt – to be able to save him and then to be prevented from doing so.
As we often find in our lives, even in seemingly dark situations, there are always rays of light that shine through and help up along, if we can only find the courage to keep going and not give up. The pig, now named Willie after Willie Nelson, would not have made it without so many people along the way: the 4H person willing to lend a helping hand by transporting Willie and letting him stay with him and his family temporarily, even going so far as to make a return trip to the fairgrounds after midnight to pick him up; the caring friends and family who tried to help with placements, offered encouragement, and always kept a good thought for Willie; the pi g sanctuary lady in Hollister who did her best to work out a temporary home with her friends; my friends at Return to Freedom Wild Mustang Sanctuary in Lompoc, who put the word out to everyone they knew; my mom, who sat with me by Willie’s pen until after midnight, waiting for his transportation in the cold and the fog, watching the sad scene of red- marked animals being herded toward the giant white “meat truck”; my dad who provided invaluable moral support at the auction; local animal rights activists Suza Francina and her friend Sholom who I had the honor of meeting through this experience; and even my ex-boyfriend who, while he may not have totally understood what had come over me or shared my point of view, was still there to support me just because he cared about me.
Perhaps the most important player in this story has been the lady behind Ojai Pig Sanctuary, whose compassion and dedication truly saved the day for Willie. A tough lady with kind, bright eyes, she has devoted her life to rescuing pot-bellied pigs. Farm pigs and even a wild pig or two have also passed through her doors on their way to the wide open spaces of permanent, loving farm homes. When I first visited the sanctuary, I was so impressed with the overall feeling of the place, which I think comes from the spirit in which it was founded and the fact that the lady behind it truly cares about the welfare of all her pig “residents”. The Sanctuary has open areas for free roami ng, a giant mud hole, and spacious runs. The pigs enjoy the best diet supplemented by fruits and veggies, pools to play in, spacious houses with warm bedding, toys…and most importantly love and interaction. You can see that each pig has an individual relationship with the sanctuary founder and feels loved. I feel that Willie could not be in a better place as he continues on his journey toward the ultimate goal of reaching a free-roaming environment where he can enjoy life with fellow farm pigs, have space, and feel loved.
Willie was so happy to get to the Sanctuary. He greeted all the other pigs on his way to his run and made friends with his neighbors. He enjoyed a good long water spray and playing in the fresh mud. He explored his new sleeping area. He couldn’t wait to get in his pool. He loved his apples and carrots and just discovered grapes and bananas. To me, Willie is the sweetest, smartest, and cutest pig I have ever seen and, when I look in his eyes, I feel what I can only describe as a pig spirit there, something I am connecting with in a real way. But no doubt all pigs, when you take the time to know them, are just as sweet, just as special as Willie, which leads us to the larger question: Don’t pigs and all living things deserve our love, our kindness, our help, and not our cruelty, our abuse, or our consumption?
After this experience, I can no longer look at a piece of meat on my plate and look away from the reality of what lies behind it. Pigs are so much more than that. And we too can be so much more than that and change how we relate to animals, the environment, and even to each other. Life is strange. Sometimes it gives us chances to help others and, if we take them, it gives us so much more in return. Ultimately, I am writing this because this experience moved me in a real way. I am writing this because I hope my experience, as unexpected as it was, can illuminate some larger truths in life – that we all try to save what we love; that resistance is something to overcome, not to give in to; that sometimes there are roadblocks in life, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get through them; that when your heart is open, however briefly, something beautiful can come inside; that all the good things out there start with love combined with the courage to fight for what we believe in; that sometimes you just have to leap and follow your heart, even when you are not sure how it might all work out; that we should try to never let our friends down, whether they be human or animal; that loving someone means standing by them, no matter what; that some encounters in life happen for a reason, like so we can help others, feel love, grow as people, and make a difference; that love does ultimately save the day; and finally that when the going gets tough, the tough get going… and sometimes they even get pigs.