There she was one cold January morning. Waddling around, snuffling through the snow in the goat pen as if she belonged there. My footsteps crunched in the snow on the way to feed the goats at dawn, and then paused, confused, with a thunderbolt of shock. What… is… THAT?? The song from Sesame Street “Which one of these is not like the other ones…” played in my head.
She was pink and relatively small – maybe 40 lbs with a curly cue tail and an air of indifference as if I was obviously over-reacting. “What’s the problem?”
Boo Radley, the great pyrenees, had a big happy grin on his face as if his life was now complete. Goats and chickens were so uninspiring, but now he had a PIG! The world was rich with possibility.
The horses did not share his perspective. They stood stock still, wide-eyed, snorting. Eventually one or two got brave enough to touch noses and blow breath with her through the fence. They determined she was ok after all and returned to eating.
I watched as the pig and the dog chased each other, Boo with his fleece blanket in his mouth, running, teasing, the pig trotting along after him, tail happily swishing. The chasing was followed by full body wrestling. It was far more respectful than WWF. There was a give and take, and a commitment to keep things fun. Was this really happening?
I was convinced this must a practical joke. Our “community by-laws” were clear. Absolutely no pigs. I immediately texted each of my neighbors. “Thanks for the pig. Very funny.” No-one knew anything.
Well, I thought, it must have escaped from a pig farm. I called the farmer up the road. “Ummmm….does anyone around here have pigs?” Stunned silence on the other end of the line. I could practically hear his eyebrows shoot up. Nope. No one had pigs, but he used to raise them and even had one as a pet years ago. “Why?” He told me they would “come on down” and “see what we see.” He arrived with his grown son a few minutes later and confirmed that this pig was just a few months old, probably a pot-belly-York cross. Must have been someone’s pet that wandered off. He seemed to get a bit sentimental as he reminisced about his pet pig of years past. He liked pigs. I offered her to him. Nope.
I called animal shelters and farm rescues. No dice. They seemed to sniff out the fact she was in good hands and informed me they had too many pot-belly pigs already and didn’t need anymore.
In the meantime, Boo Radley, the reluctant goat guardian, and Rosie the pig had become fast friends. Boo looked pleased as punch about the turn of events.
So…I decided she could stay. I made an emergency trip to the farm store for pig feed, cut up organic vegetables for her breakfast, and engaged in Google searches about keeping pigs.
Ten days later, a sheepish man in overalls showed up in the middle of a snowstorm asking if we had seen a pig. “What kind of pig?” I demanded. “How old?” “What color?” I wasn’t giving in easily and I hoped he would get the answers wrong, but he didn’t. She was his family’s pet and had wandered off when they let her out of the pin. They lived about a quarter mile away through the cornfield. “My wife’s been worried about her.” No kidding, it was the middle of winter. She’d be dead by now if she hadn’t checked herself in to our bed and breakfast.
I reluctantly agreed to return her. Off we went to the goat pen where both Rosie and Boo Radley made every effort to sabotage the return efforts. Rosie ran and screamed the most soul-wrenching scream imaginable and Boo got so hot under the collar I thought he might actually attack.
We were all depressed after Rosie left. Boo was distraught and then deflated. I related. Every day when I drove by the house where Rosie lived, I wondered how she was doing.
Several months later, my friend in Arizona asked about her. I admitted I still thought about Rosie and worried about whether she was happy. “Just put it out there to the universe she said.” I rolled my eyes a little (I was on the phone after all) and did no such thing. We had plenty of animals to care for and it was probably for the best.
The next morning, I went out to feed the goats, and WHAT!??? there she was, ambling around like nothing was out of the ordinary. Rosie!! Boo looked pleased. Can I keep her? Please????? I called my friend and accused her of being a witch. “What did you do???”
I returned Rosie again, reluctantly, but several months after that I received a text from her owners that they were moving and couldn’t take her with them. She seemed to like it at our place. Would we like to keep her? “Yes” I texted back, surprised by my enthusiasm. My husband sighed. And so, Rosie, the empowered pig, arrived to stay for good. Maybe she was the witch? We finally figured out where she had gotten in and out- you would not believe how a rotund pig could squeeze through such a flat narrow space- but she never did leave again. She would simply let herself back into the goat pen when she was done browsing in the orchard. She seemed content. I set about taming her. Pretzels worked well.
Each day when I brought her food, I would reach out to try and stroke her. In the beginning, she was having none of it. Her body was a “no touch” zone. She would grunt her displeasure at my forwardness and swing her body around out of reach, all while continuing to eat.
She LOVED food, but savored it, chewing each bite at least 30 times, almost thoughtfully. I actually counted. She could have been the poster child for mindful eating. She did not like brussel sprouts or oranges. She loved celery, apples, pears, carrot shavings, and left-over dessert. My pig had a sweet tooth. She preferred cooked leftovers to raw vegetables. Who could blame her? We started asking our waitresses to box up any uneaten table scraps to feed to her. The waitresses were either fascinated or offended. We stopped mentioning the reason we wanted the uneaten celery. We became very interesting dinner guests.
Rosie started bossing Boo around as she gained stature, but the goats gave her a hardy head butt in response to her attempt to move them. They decided to establish clear boundaries right off the bat. I had to respect that.
One day when I was in the pen with the horses, I noticed Rosie standing at the fence, looking straight at me with……deliberate intention. It seemed as if she was trying to communicate something. That was weird. I paused. She held my eye, and then very deliberately marched over and touched the goat’s large water bucket with her nose and swung her head back to look directly at me. The goat’s water bucket was too tall for her to drink out of. Her shorter water bowl was behind it, hidden from view of where I was standing. She marched back to the fence, gazed at me again as if wondering if stupid humans could actually make this leap of understanding, and then very slowly, as if teaching a small child something new, she walked over again to the goat water bucket and touched it with her nose, then swung her head around again looking straight at me. Definitely weird. Is she out of water I wondered? I let myself out of the horse paddock and went to check her water bowl. Sure enough, bone dry. I brought the hose and filled it up. She grunted (in appreciation?), took a long drink, and then waddled off. I stood there in shock. Did she just demonstrate theory of mind?
Rosie deigns to allow an ear scratch now and then. She is showing me possibilities I had not considered before her arrival.
She reminds me that we all have the ability to change our circumstances, but only if we find the courage to step out of our comfort zone, leave what is familiar, and step toward uncertainty.
When you find what you’re looking for, claim it. Be persistent.
Intelligence does not just belong to humans. My pig is smart. It’s unclear if she thinks the same about me. I hope she thinks, at least, I am full of possibility.