Last week, surrounded by a dozen witnesses, our 3-year old pig, Charles, sat on command and stayed until I told him he could get up. Even when I released him from his stay, he didn’t move a muscle, aside from his big, goofy smile that grew wider and wider when he realized he’d finally mastered a skill that had eluded him from the time he’d arrived here at the age of 4-months. It has been several days since his epiphany, and every time I pass “the boys’” pen, Charles slams his bottom into the ground and gives me that huge, shit-eatin’ grin.
“I got it, Mama!” he says. “I finally got it!”
His brother Oliver stands next to him, puzzled. He still doesn’t get it, but oh how we love him.
Every other Sunday we open the farm to visitors and give tours during which I tell the tragic stories of the animals who now live in our sanctuary, Locket’s Meadow, and their long road home to safety. We have almost every kind of farm animal, but the truth is, I favor the pigs; they are what human beings would be if we were much, much better people.
I start our “pig tour” with Petunia Buttercup, whose pen is closest to the house because she sleeps in the kitchen every night. Then Iris Magnolia follows; during the summer months she actually keeps a garden in her pen and tends to it every evening before bed. The third pen in the row belongs to Charles and Oliver. The first thing I tell visitors is that while they are gentle and affectionate, they aren’t very bright. In fact, they are the only healthy pigs I have never been able to teach to sit and stay, which is very important, as pigs are VERY ENTHUSIASTIC eaters and are capable of knocking you over when you approach them with a food bucket. Sit/stay saves us a lot of hard landings on our posteriors. Our boys, however, get a pass, because they have the ultimate excuse.
Charles and Oliver, AKA Ben and Gus when they lived at Farm Sanctuary where they were born, are the sons of a pig named Julia. In July of 2012, Julia was a gestation sow at a Midwestern farm. That means her job was to remain constantly pregnant and deliver the next batch of “bacon” over and over and over again while being constantly confined to a crate no bigger than her body.
Seriously, the exact measurements of a gestation crate are 6’6” by 2’, the size of an average human coffin. They live like this, on hard cement floors, hundreds of them crammed side by side, for four months. A few days before delivering, they are moved to a farrowing crate, which is just a few inches wider and allows them to lie on their sides so the babies, which live in an attached crate, can nurse. The mama is never allowed to handle her babies, clean them, nuzzle or love them (and believe me, pigs are capable of tremendous love!)
Julia is one of my heroes (most of my heroes are animals, which is not surprising to those who know me.) When a factory worker attempted to move her from her cramped gestation crate to a cramped farrowing crate, she resisted. The worker, whose job had clearly desensitized him to the pain of other living creatures, beat her to a bloody pulp, then took a cattle prod and ran it back and forth over the length of her body until she was a limp, convulsing mass. Clearly, poor Julia had not yet suffered enough to make this scumbag feel better about his hangover/finding-out-his-wife-had-an-affair/toilet-overflowed-after-his-morning-bowel-movement piece of crap (hey, this is an OPINION blog!) so he grabbed her by the ears and dragged her into the farrowing crate and went on about his business.
Just so you know, when a fellow factory farm worker reports you to the police for animal abuse, it means you went well above and beyond the call of the normal abuse heaped on these poor beings. But that’s exactly what happened, and the authorities were compassionate enough to call Farm Sanctuary to come and rescue poor battered Julia from her living hell. The abusive worker, by the way, was eventually arrested and charged with cruelty, also unheard of in the factory farming industry.
The short version of the story is this – Julia delivered her babies very prematurely just hours after arriving at the sanctuary, then survived a very long and painful recovery. The babies, due to the expert care they received, also survived against all odds. When I read the story of their brave and feisty mama, I called and asked if we could adopt one or two piglets, and as we had already adopted pigs from them when they’d had a large influx in the past, they immediately agreed, and our new babies arrived soon afterwards.
For months I attempted to teach the boys the basics of pig manners, but no matter how hard I tried, neither of them could grasp the concepts. Oh, they tilted their heads and puzzled over it, gave me goofy smiles and asked for nose rubs, but I finally concluded the circumstances of their mother’s abuse and early delivery may have affected their prenatal oxygen supply. So each time I gave the farm tour and arrived at the story of Charlie and Ollie, I mentioned that I have never met a pig that wasn’t brilliant, but the boys . . . well . . . we love them so much, and here’s the horror story of their birth . . . and please, please reconsider eating pig products as they are the result of so much pain and agony on every level . . . until last week, when Charlie sat on command during the tour and I saw rainbows and unicorns, shooting stars and fireworks! Oh, how happy he was that he'd finally figured out what Mama was asking of him! How happy Mama was! Our visitors never heard the entirety of the boys’ story, as all I could do was repeat, over and over again, what a good boy Charles was. I have tears in my eyes as I type this, and the boys’ happy ending is all the more sweet that I witnessed Charles’ aha moment after years of his trying to understand my instruction.
So 1,000 words later, I finally arrive at the point of this blog. No, really – this is it!
Just yesterday, August 3, 2015, a federal judge ruled that Idaho’s ag gag law, which prohibits secret filming of atrocities and abuse in factory farms, was struck down as it flagrantly violated first amendment rights and made it impossible for animal protection agencies to do their job. Also, the people who exposed atrocities such as the above mentioned were subject to far more severe penalties than those who committed them. Like, how F’d up is that?
While I can’t find documentation of which state Julia is from, I remember being told she was from Ohio, which has never had an ag-gag bill proposed. In fact, in 2011, Ohio state legislators took proactive measures and enacted livestock care standards as well as established a farm animal abuse hotline and website for filing complaints about farms. If I am correct, the only reason Julia and our boys are alive today is because the person who reported her gruesome and horrifying abuse was not automatically subjected to arrest for speaking up. In the many ag gag states, people who secretly record and report animal abuse are actually branded “terrorists” and added to a “terrorist registry.” Oh, how proud I would be to land on that list . . .if ever I could leave the farm and become a spy . . .
In my state of Connecticut, there are no ag-gag regulations, but there ARE gestation crates. Each year, state lawmakers propose legislation to ban them, and every year, despite the fact that 91% of the population believes they are inhumane, the proposal gets voted down. How is this possible? Agriculture has some seriously BIG MONEY behind it, that’s how. Locket’s Meadow has absolutely no money, but we have heart, and we have Charles the Sitter and Stayer with the big, goofy grin, and his adoptive mama (me!!!) will not rest until we make some changes around this neck of the woods. We are so much better than this!
I don’t expect to change the world overnight, but I do hope my words help to slowly and steadily move humanity towards actually behaving “humanely” (“humane” being defined by Webster’s as “having or showing compassion or benevolence.”) This is not just about my sweet, dear pigs . . . it’s about us as a species. Despite the horrors I see so regularly in the animal rescue business, I will believe, until my dying breath, that we are better than this current greed-driven version of humanity and that if people understand the consequences of their choices and actions, they CAN make changes despite overpowering precedent. WE CAN BE COMPASSIONATE! It’s good for animals and for us, as members of the League of Living Species of Planet Earth.
And if perchance you momentarily forget your humanity, take a moment and look at this face, one that overcame adversity and won. If Charlie, with his handicap and difficult beginnings can learn a new trick, so can we!
Kathleen Schurman, along with her husband, David, own Locket’s Meadow rescue and sanctuary where they purchase upwards of 30 pounds of bananas each week as treats for their pigs, causing many raised eyebrows in the line at their local WalMart Super Store. They are currently fundraising for Locket’s Meadow, and invite you to check them out on Facebook.
More from entertainment