Sunday, March 28, 2010

Louie Jay--Part I

When the phone rang in the Slocumb’s living room, Nancy dragged herself to it on wobbly legs. Since her favorite pot-bellied pig, Alton Louie, had died the day before, December 7th 2009, she just couldn’t get herself off the sofa--blown into a catatonic depression. Her best friend was gone. Alton and she had carried on many an intelligent conversation while Nancy networked on the computer or did the household accounting chores. She would ask him what snack he felt like eating, and he responded with a quick grunt that signified a strawberry would be fantastic. And Nancy popped the juicy morsel into Alton’s mouth while he munched, open-mouthed, a giant smile on his face. The memories, so happy and now so sad, flooded over her.
And the space where Alton Louie always lay in the living room was deafeningly empty.
“Hello?” she answered. She couldn’t have cared less who was on the other line.
“Nan?” her good friend said. “You okay?” Chrissy knew Alton had lost his battle with cancer and that the loss had thrown her friend into a funk, but, though Chrissy wanted to comfort Nan in person, the four-hour driving distance made a personal visit impossible.
“Hi, Chrissy,” Nan said. “I still can’t function very well. This one hit me hard.”
“I know—Alton was your fave—it was bound to hit you like a truckload of concrete. I wish I could be there. Look, I just came across an ad on Craig’s list. There’s a pot-bellied piglet for sale here in New Jersey—at some breeder. This pig is the last of the litter, and the ad says the piglet may have a broken leg. But the guy still wants $250 for her. Who would pay that kind of money for a pig with a problem? I thought I’d run it past you. What do you think?”
“Oh, I think it’s just too early, Chrissy. My Alton’s only been gone a day, and I’m still upset. I need time—a lot of time--to adjust to life without Altie.”
Chrissy said, “Yeah, I thought you’d say that. I’m just worried about this piglet, though. You’re the only person I know who would care for her properly.”
“Like I said--I don’t think I can handle that right now, Chrissy,” Nan said. Then they said good-bye and hung up.
Nancy plopped back on the sofa and stared at Alton’s spot beside the TV. If Chrissy was worried about the injured piglet, then there was certainly something real to be concerned about because Chrissy wasn’t a drama queen. What would, ultimately, happen to a piglet with a broken leg—a pig that probably no one would want as a pet? Would she ever get a home, especially since the breeder wants to be paid for her? And, if someone bought her purely out of pity, would they be able to have enough money to fix the leg properly? Nancy thought about the little pig for some time, and then she called Chrissy for the breeder’s number.
By the end of the day, Nancy had spoken with Earl of Earl’s Pot-Bellied Pig Farm in southwest New Jersey. He said it was true, as Chrissy had said, that the female pig probably had a broken leg—most likely sat on and smashed by the mother. Earl also said the mother had actually kicked the little pig out of the nest at four days old but that he brought the piglet into his house and out of the cold. He was feeding her calf manna, antibiotics, and other supplements because she was so frail. Then, he finally said, “Oh, and she doesn’t seem to have a tail.”
Before she could even check herself, Nancy said, “I want her. Please don’t sell her to anyone else before I’m able to get up there from Virginia.”
“Well, I don’t know ma’am. My business is sellin’ pigs. If anyone else calls, . . .”
“Look, I’ll give you three hundred dollars for her, then.”
Earl was suspicious. “Lady, why do you want this crippled pig so bad?” He thought perhaps she was with an animal rights group that might have heard bad things about his animal breeding business. He’d heard about how rescue centers and animal adoption agencies hassled breeders all the time. “Naw, I don’t think I even want to sell her anymore.” He had to discourage this one, or he might find himself in a peck of trouble.
Nancy said, “Please, Mister. No one else is going to want or properly take care of a pig with a broken leg. And you don’t know—if you do manage to sell her to someone else—whether they are going to do right by her or, God forbid, butcher her for meat or, more likely, just get tired of having a pig that is a lot of trouble or an embarrassment. I don’t care about any of that. I just want to give this animal a good life. I’ll even provide you with references and friends who know how I keep my animals. They’ll vouch for the care I give them all. Please. Just hold her until my husband and I can get up there this weekend.”
Earl detected honesty in her voice. And who else was going to pay another fifty bucks for a messed-up piglet? “Okay, lady. I’ll hold her until Sunday. But it you don’t pick her up by then, she goes back on Craig’s list.”

Dennis and Nancy Slocumb arrived late morning at Earl’s pig farm on Sunday, December 17th. Earl walked from his house with four dogs howling and jumping alongside him. Though his place wasn’t a palace for pigs, it wasn’t too bad. At least it was clean, and it was obvious that Earl loved his animals. Earl motioned them into a little side room built onto the main house. There in a large Tupperware box sat a tiny three-week piglet up t her hocks in her own waste. The odor coming from the box was over-powering, and the piglet was thin, her skin scaley. She sat with her back to them.
Nancy’s heart sank. She wanted to pick her up and hold her right away, but she knew a piglet wouldn’t like a stranger hoisting her into the air, and a pig scream could tear an eardrum. So, Nancy just sat beside the plastic box and petted the pig’s back. Nancy looked at her husband, who was standing over her shoulder, and she knew he wasn’t excited about the whole situation. This would be a huge commitment that would last the lifetime of the pig—at least fifteen years, and this piglet wasn’t even a normal pig. This one stank like a sewer; she couldn’t walk right and had obvious medical issues; and she had only a nubbin for a tail.
“You sure you want to do this, Nan?” Dennis said.
Earl stood at the door ready to bolt if one of them declared themselves with an animal rescue league.
Just then the little piglet twisted around on her hind end and looked up at Nancy. Nancy said, “Yes, Den. I want her. I have to take her. Alton sent her to us—to keep us going. I can feel it.”
Earl sighed relief. “Ma’am, when her mother threw her out of the nest, I brought her in for bottle feeding. She can’t get around very well with that broken leg, but maybe it can be fixed.” Earl’s look softened. “And I can’t take $300 from ya. Just give me $250. I can tell you’ll give her a good home.”
“She’ll get the best home,” Nan assured him. Then Dennis brought in a cardboard box, lifted the squealing piglet inside, and walked with her to the car.
For the next four hours’ ride to her new home in Alexandria, Virginia, the Slocombs heard little piggy grunts and squeaks coming from the seat of the car. “She knows; somehow she knows,” Nan said to Dennis, “that she’s in good hands. We all just need time to adjust. First thing tomorrow when we go to the vet, I’m going to get her thoroughly checked out—X-rays, the whole bit. For tonight, I’m just going to feed her pot-bellied pig food. I think she stinks so much because he was feeding her stuff for calves. She probably had a bellyache the whole time.”
The little pig spent the night in an upstairs bedroom inside her traveling box inside another large dog crate. Earlier she had gobbled up a bowlful of pig chow, and she had a water dish as well as a low-edged litter pan—better for getting into with a broken leg. The next morning at the vet hospital, Dr. Wilbers turned the protesting piglet round and round on the examining table, and the din from the pig’s screams was ear-splitting. Nancy had to cup her ears, the shrieking was so intense and high-pitched. Then, Dr. Wilbers took him into the back for a couple of X-rays of his hips and legs. The whole time Nancy could hear her piglet squealing somewhere in the far corners of the vet hospital. In a few minutes the vet entered the exam room with the pig in his arms.
After he was finished examining the pig, Dr. Wilbers said, “Well, first, Nancy--you got yourself a little boar here. He’s not a girl.”
Nancy was stunned. “But the breeder said he was a girl!”
“NOT,” the vet repeated. “He’s got fairly major problems with his backend. Nothing’s broken—he was born deformed. Looks like nature formed him properly from the head to his mid-section and then decided she didn’t have time for the rest of him. His right leg is missing most of its bones and ligaments and is incapable of touching the ground--he can’t use it at all. It’s like from the knee down nothing formed correctly.”
Nancy’s heart sank.
Wilbers continued, “Now, the left leg: he can support himself on this leg, but the hip joint doesn’t work well, causing the left leg to pivot when he puts weight on it. And what should be a hoof is more like one toe.” The vet put the piglet on the floor, and he ran-hopped to the door like a rabbit looking for escape. “See, he can run, but he has to muster everything he’s got to be able to do it.” As if on cue, the piglet sat down and looked around at them. “See, even that little bit of exercise tired him out.”
Nancy bent down to pat the pig’s back, and he squeaked as if to say, “Don’t touch me!” If anyone could understand pig language, it was Nancy, having many years of conversations with her Alton. “I don’t think he likes me yet,” she said. “He doesn’t trust people--and I understand why.”
“Well, he’s healthy otherwise, though his anus is also a bit screwed up. But, it works, as you have seen already. He can get himself into a litter box, and, thanks to that left leg, he can get himself around well enough. But the right one is of no use to him.”
“What about his tail?”
“What tail? He’s got a nub where his tail should be. The most likely cause of these deformities is in-breeding. Even his color is weird: he’s all black except his back legs, which are white—almost like the normal black color stopped at his back end. Ya know, I’ve seen so many of these breeders go at this breeding business haphazardly. They breed mother to son and then that daughter to the same son and so on until the offspring are all screwed up. Then, the poor animal and some generous person such as yourself have to deal with all the problems. It’s a shame. I don’t know of anyone else other than you who would go to the trouble to take care of such an animal. Even his own mother didn’t want him.”
“Well, he’s my responsibility now. I love him already, although he obviously doesn’t love me yet. But he will. He can get around good enough, but I’m already thinking of having a set of wheels made for him so that he can run around.”
“That would be a great idea—just so that he can run and play without getting exhausted. He’d only wear it to go outside; otherwise, his left leg would work for him in the house—for normal activity.” Dr. Wilbers thought a while. “I believe the name of a company that makes carts for handicapped animals is K-9 Cart Company—somewhere around, I think, Oxford, Maryland. Its run by a vet by the name of Dr. Parkes. He fits all kinds of animals for wheels. I remember he fitted a rabbit, guinea pig, cats, dogs. Before you leave, I’ll give you the contact information. But let’s get this little guy castrated now. That’ll get rid of some of the stink, too.”
That evening little Louie Jay Slocumb arrived home tired from his long day at the veterinarian. Nancy named the piglet Louie in memory of Alton, whose middle name was Louie. And “Jay” was her husband’s middle name. Louie Jay gobbled his dinner, hopped over to go to the bathroom, and dived into his nest for a deep night’s sleep.
The next morning Louie Jay squealed for his breakfast. He ate his pig food, and while he ate, Nancy stroked him along his back so that he would get used to her touch and her smell. She knew all about training a piglet to respect and love a person. Her proof was her Alton, who grew to admire her during his lifetime. And, as she had done with her other pigs, after he was finished eating, she put his harness on and led him outside so he could go to the bathroom. Training Louie to love her would take time and patience. First, he needed to learn to trust people.
Nancy found it a bit strange at first having a piglet hopping and pivoting on one back leg as Louie did, but she could deal with it as long as Louie could, and Dennis had already set up a plywood ramp from the house to the back yard. There were many things to consider for her piglet, who was only disabled in his body but not in his mind. One thing was that she knew she’d have to keep Louie slim so that when he got to normal adult size that leg could still support him. Otherwise, he’d be prone to arthritis, and he could have other debilitating problems that could shorten his lifespan of twenty years.
Louie’s first few days at the Slocumbs were trying: he was bathed, which really got his ire up. He screamed like a banshee through the whole bath, but Nancy wasn’t about to give in. He thought for sure she would give up, completely frightened by his roaring and barking. But she didn’t. After the bath Nancy thought he looked fresh and more comfortable in his new skin because his bristles sparkled like patent leather.
Later that day while Nancy was busy in the kitchen, she heard a thump. She ran to check Louie and discovered him struggling to his feet alongside the fireplace hearth. He must have climbed onto the hearth, succeeded, but failed miserably when he tried to step down. Losing his balance, he fell head over his three heels and landed on his snout on the carpet.
A time later Louie had a run-in with the Slocumb’s Maltese terrier, Maggie--a mal-tempered, seven-year-old matriarch of a pooch who characteristically bullied any other animals on the property. She especially detested pigs, and, at sight of Louie, she attacked him with all of her six maniacal pounds--barking and snapping at the piglet. But Louie would have none of it. He set back upon Maggie, snapping and biting as well, only with more fury than even Maggie could muster. And when a pig bites, he doesn’t let go. With Louie attached to Maggie’s tail, the Maltese flew through the house, yelping and gurgling, until Louie released his grip. She ran, her tail between her legs. Louie would have no more hassles from Maggie again.
Those first few weeks acclimating to Louie Jay were tough, on both the piglet and Nancy. Though Nancy loved him at first sight, he still didn’t love her back. He considered her a hindrance, an irritation: she wanted to play with him too much, she monopolized the conversation, she bossed him around and made him do things he didn’t want to. He would have none of her. More than anything, he relished time outside by himself where he would spin, run, and dash about in the grass.
He loved to play by himself. He liked to be by himself. So, whenever Nancy tried to pick him up, he shrieked, warning her to put him down, “Right now, before I freak out” he seemed to say in his piggy language. And though she held him tight to her, he continued to protest--whining and barking in pig language that he was thoroughly irritated and wanted to be let alone.
Luckily for little Louie Jay, Nancy was a pig-person. She knew that only time would allow Louie to trust her and become her best friend. She realized that for an animal as intelligent as a pig, a person needs to prove her loyalty. She had no problem with that. She was in it for the haul. She’d need lots of understanding and diligence. She would need to be tougher than even Louie could be—for his own good. This was an obvious case of “tough love,” the love part of which she already had covered.
Part Two of Louie Jay coming soon with pictures.

The Emotional Lives of Farm Animals video

The welfare and well-being of farm animals has always been a concern of mine. When I explain to meat-raising farmers that they owe their animals kindness, a clean and social physical environment, and a safe way of being transported and then killed in the slaughterhouse, they look at me as though I'm nuts. But doesn't it make perfectly good common sense for a farmer to treat the animals he exploits for his and his family's livelihood and for his and other persons' food with as much kindness, happiness, and safe treatment as one can? When I talk to farmers, they shift uncomfortably and explain that the cost is too high to treat a steer or pig destined for the slaughter in such a way as to ensure its health, safety, and contentment. But I tell them that the cost to not be humane is much higher. I try to explain that providing the animals with decent and kind living conditions can only serve to enhance the farmer's own sense of what real value is: the profit line or the ethical treatment of animals plus a decent profit. I try to make my discussion real and avoid the extreme argument of suggesting he switch over to raising vegetables or get into another business other than animal husbandry. Extreme tactics only serve to alienate. I can help the animals better if I ask in moderation and according to reason.

So, I ask Farmer Everyman, "If raising and slaughtering animals provides you and your wife and kids with a nice life, don't you think you owe these animals, many of whom are slaughtered at six months of age, as nice and as natural a life as you can provide? That's a reasonable plan, don't you think? " My ideas is do-able, right? Allow animals time to socialize with each other outside every day. Let them play. Allow them to sleep and enjoy the sun on their backs outside in a barnyard kept reasonably clean. Allow them to lead the most natural, happy animal life possible until their doomsday. And when that day comes, don't load them into double decker, tractor trailers for days' shipping. Transport them in uncrowded trucks out of nasty weather. And kill them in the most humane way--in such a way that they don't realize they have premonition of their imminent death. Isn't it only right that you do this for the animals you raise and who provide you with a decent living?"

Please view the following video on the emotional lives of farm animals. It's a wonderful, telling documentary--not depressing--but very enlightening. After seeing this video, you just might want to curl up and cuddle a cow or a pig, instead of your dog or cat. =

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Suzy the warthog--Part V

Says Suzy the warthog,

"Winter is such a positive boar--I loathe it. Except for my rooting box. I just love all the lovely colors of the balls--reminds me of my beautiful New Guinea impatiens. I play for an hour until I tire whence I retire to my mother's bed or my favorite chair. Warthogs know how to while away the winter willies, I say."

Suzy the warthhog--Part IV

Says Suzy the warthog:

"My dear mother knows how to occupy my time during the winter. She has bought me a rooting box in which I can exercise and toss balls to and fro. Winter is such a bore (or is it "boar"?) that I can't bear to have a moment without something to do, for warthogs are such Type A pigles. I say, I believe I've created a portmanteau for 'pig' and 'peoples': 'pigles.' Warthogs are so BRILLIANT."

Suzy the Warthog--Part III

Says Suzy the warthhog:

"Summertime makes me giddy. If I can't find a patch of flowers to complement my beautiful skin, then I often have to plant my own. This year while I perused the backyard, I found the most delightful pots. I have decided to plant New Guinea impatiens, for, living in the United States has left me slightly homesick for flowers of my homeland. They shall provide me undying comfort through the long, hazy summers of New York."

Suzy the Warthog--Part II

Says Suzy on brilliant summer days,

"I do so love the warm weather. But I am simply not content to lie about on the grass. It's much too cold for my delicate skin, and I can't bear the thought of insects touching my hide.

"What I truly enjoy are flowers! Flowers of every kind: geraniums, tulips, peonies, and grand roses. My favorites, however, are purple petunias, against which my coat looks so rich."

Suzy the warthog--Part I

Pig people stick together. They sniff each other out, are simpy hog-wild for the company of other pig persons.
I am one of those people. I seek out others who appreciate porcine personality, porkish passion, and pig perspicacity.
We pig enthusiasts belong to a cult that admires flat noses resembling electrical outlets, sympathetic tendencies, and gourmands.
In my search for piggish people like myself, I have met and become friends with a wonderful, creative, fun pig person named Carol Eiswald of The Tusk and Bristle Farm in New York state. But Carol doesn't simply devote her energy to the more simple pet pig such as the pot-belly. She's a hard-core pig fanatic. She has as companions at least one bearded Borneo pig and--Ta-Ta-a-a!--a true, blue warthog named Suzy.

Suzy enjoys living outside when it's warm, and she is able to dig holes in the yard with her ample snout. In cold weather, however Suzy lives indoors with Carol. While she has her own quarters within Carol's home, she prefers to spend her afternoon snoozing between the sheets in Carol's bed.
I've received numerous emails over the past year from Carol--all describing stories about Suzy. Suzy the warthog can be a love-bug, a busy-body, a brute, a comedianne, and a perpetrator of naughty deeds.
My readers deserve to learn and see a bit of what one animal, a domesticated wild animal has up her tusk. So, with Carol's permission, I am posting pictures of Miss Suzy, Warthog of the Year.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Spring Has Sprung

"C'mon, Pussies!" I yelled opening wide the front door. Elliot and Li'l Ralphie galloped to the threshold and put on the brakes as the cool, invigorating air whipped past their whiskers. The overwhelming smell-mix of moisture-laden ground with rich-crisp air joined the sounds of crows scolding cats beneath the birdfeeders. The forces of nature beckoned the kittens beyond the gates of their familiar home.

Elliot put one paw on the porch, Li'l Ralphie, cautious, right behind as if to say, "Go ahead, Elliot. Don't be afraid--just go; I'm right behind you." With trepidation and for the first time in their lives, they entered the great outdoors.

Cautiously the kittens strode in slo-mo across the deck. Lyla squeaked through the door opening, too, just before I closed it. Evelyn, however, more the homey type, just peeked outside and turned her back on it--not in the least impressed.

I wasn't going to let my kittens, with their first taste of the woods and the other cats, explore unattended, so I sat down on a step and observed them. Their unadulterated awe at the outside resembled kids upon discovering their first Christmas tree all adorned with glitter and gleam. The kittens' faces were rapt, fixed on all and everything at once. Once assured that I would stay--just in case they ran into trouble--they became more bold, running to the edge of the deck where beyond loomed three foot piles of snow and from which spread the struggling pachysandra beneath a stand of oak and hickory trees.

Lyla, however, had stopped in her paw-tracks, and for a moment I considered the world from Lyla's perception. She had, after all, eyes the size of golf balls--eyes so big and unblinking that she looked almost alien. Lyla's head swiveled from side to side taking in the clean air, the older cats relaxing on the sun-deck, me, the guardian, in my winter coat. Her face skimming the woods as an up periscope looking for enemy ships, she surveyed every detail around her. I wondered just how keenly Lyla saw this new world around her, for nature was as new to her as it was to the kittens; afterall, she had been rescued from a shelter in North Carolina and had been taken from an irresponsible breeder before that. She had probably never even seen a tree other than through a window.

I watched Lyla survey her surroundings as the kittens leaped onto the snowpile in front of the deck. They picked up their paws delicately, flicking the wet from their toes like beach-children throwing sand off their feet. While Lyla stared up a sixty-foot oak tree, I wondered how those eyes--giant marbles--playthings for a leviathan, interpreted those images to her brain. And suddenly I burped a laugh. Of course! Her eyes allowed her to see everything in high definition. I envisioned the idea: Lyla was seeing everything in extraodinary clearness--in high definition. When I told Edgar later that night how I was certain Lyla's vision had to be super clear, he laughed and said, "Okay. We'll call her Lyla HD from now on."

For over an hour and a half I guarded the kittens and Lyla as they explored the woods and stalked the older and wiser cats: Kenny, Little Eggie, and the Deans: Regular Dean, Spitty Bottle Dean, and S.S. Dean. Elliot acted the trail blazer while Li'l Ralphie followed, rarely letting himself out of brother Elliot's and my sight. Then Elliot suddenly erupted with a burst of speed, leaping over stumps and downed branches. His body lengthened as he galloped, soared, over the melting snow, past Kenny who was watching complacently, and over the old wooden bench. But his finale was yet to come.

This youngster of a Siamese, who had never before seen the light of the outdoors, suddenly transformed into a beast of the jungle. He raced, hunkered down, stream-lining himself, and then he leaped onto the side of a two-foot-in-diameter oak tree. And there he stuck like an arrow into its target. I hiccuped a giggle: Elliot was as shocked as I that he had run vertically, instead of horizontally.

"Wow! Good job!" I yelled to Elliot, still clinging to the side of the tree. "C'mon . . . come on down now before you get yourself to high and can't get down." He looked at the ground and climbed another four feet until he reached a branch. Then he sat pondering the earth beneath.

My fingers danced over my cell phone: for sure Edgar would have to get the tractor to extricate Elliot from his tree. But just as my call went out, Elliot began his descent, head first, claws and paws stretched out awkwardly before him.

I cringed. He wasn't coming down the right way! I couldn't let him fall over ten feet! "Elliot. Turn around and come down backwards," I yelled running, arms out-stretched. Of course, he couldn't understand me, but to my complete surprise he did turn around. Then first one back foot stepped down--he looked at the ground, surely estimating the distance--and then the other placed next to the other. "Okay, Elliot," I shouted. "Now the front feet!" But I didn't have to advise him; he had his first descent from Mount Evertree well under control.

I put the phone down, and as I did, Elliot plopped to the ground. I clapped and hooted my congratulations, and Elliot raced past me, a victory lap for sure.