reason-n argument, motive, cause, or justification, intellectual faculty by which conclusions are drawn from premises. plural reasons
On the 21st of September in 2005, a forlorn looking sow with a look of distrust in her eyes arrived at Edgar’s Mission. She arrived in the back of a trailer driven by the pig farmer who had used her as a breeding sow, and up until that point in time she had only been known by a number. I named her Alice, she was tragically beautiful and I instantly fell in love with her. As soon as her four trotters found terra firma she plunged her snout down and grabbed huge tufts of green grass, turned her head skyward and savoured the succulent juice like it was the most delicious thing in the world. And to her it no doubt was. For the first time in the life of this intelligent and emotional animal, she had the opportunity to see and do something so natural to her – this poignant moment as was not lost on all present, including the farmer who stood agog and in amazement said “wow, that’s the first time she’s seen grass”.
“All things are possible until they are proved impossible – and even the impossible may only be so as of now.”
– Pearl S. Buck
Alice, I was to learn, was about five years old and she had been a piglet making machine for her entire life, save the months prior to her sexual maturity. Her world, I believe, consisted of metal bars, concreted floors and the rations necessary to sustain life. No sunlight to bask under, wallow to splash about in or environment to explore, these would remain an impossible dream. She would produce 2.4 litters of piglets each year and they would be weaned off her at approximately 3 weeks of age, and I truly believe she would love and miss them. At around 4-5 years of age, like all breeding sows, her ‘productivity’ was in decline and a one way ticket for her servitude would be in order.
But Alice was one lucky pig: her ‘get out of jail’ card came when she was plucked from the obscurity of the factory farm to play the mother of Wilbur in the Paramount Pictures portrayal of E. B. White’s classic book, Charlotte’s Web. Charlotte’s Web indeed saved the lives of many more pigs than just those of the movies stars. While Paramount Pictures, ably assisted by Animals Australia, secured loving and lifelong homes for the 42 little piglets who played Wilbur, the movie took pigs into the hearts, homes and minds of people everywhere. But finding a suitable home for a full grown sow would be a challenge. We felt up for just that.
Unlike all the cute little piglets who had known little other than human kindness, Alice was a 200kg-plus adult pig who had barely taken more than a few steps in her entire life, had never seen sunlight or smelt fresh air. Her body was stiff from getting up and down on the barren hard floor, the many scratches on her sides bearing the legacy, and her interactions with humans had always been driven by human wants rather than hers. She would run from me when I entered her pen and showed little interest in the world around her. In fact, when I first met Alice I knew it would take some work for me to earn her trust – the look in her eye said hers was a world without hope. And so I began to give her reasons to live.
The first came with introducing her to the wondrous world of gastronomic delights far removed from the bland diet afforded commercial pigs. Deliciously sweet smelling pig mash, apples, carrots, kiwi fruit, mangoes, pears, grapes, fruit buns and wheetbix were all offered and she would just sniff at them, unsure of what to make of their inviting scents. But boy did she love grass, and so when she had eaten all the grass in her pen I would head out each day and cut her bucketfuls. I would even carry a bucket in the car and stop along the roadside and cut long grass whenever I saw it.
It was no accident that four of the porcine stars of Charlotte’s Web were to find sanctuary at Edgar’s Mission. E. B. White’s tale of Wilbur and his barnyard friends is the classic tale of loyalty, trust and sacrifice, all qualities those of us in the animal protection movement know well. When word got out that Wilbur’s day were numbered his friends, who had come to know him as a terrific and radiant pig, realised that it would take a miracle to save him. It was Charlotte, an unlikely spider who saw miracles in the ordinary, that made this possible and in doing-so convinced the farmer that Wilbur was indeed some pig and worth saving. Sometimes all it takes is one gentle pig to touch hearts and make us realise miracles can happen.
I gave Alice the most wondrously soft straw bed, but at first she was frightened by the sight of it. She would stand in the doorway and stare, waiting for the huge straw monster to move, then step by step she would inch closer. One of my most happy memories is finding that Alice had not morphed into Houdini and escaped the yard but had found sanctuary in the inner workings of my straw bed! Her happy piggy grunts were a dead give-away she was there. As the days grew warmer I made her a wallow, right there in the middle of the yard – that the muddy patch would spell ruin for the yard meant nothing to me, Alice was my friend and a wallow is a reason for a pig to live.
My greatest challenge was for Alice to see me as a friend. As the months rolled on Alice did find reasons to live, but sadly I had not become one of them. It would be nine long months before I could lay a hand comfortably on Alice and from there I was to dextrously manoeuvre it to her tummy, then she got the idea – my smile could not betray my joy. I think the greatest things that Alice ever showed me was the capacity to forgive and the importance of trust.
Many people measure their life in awards won or prizes gained. That Alice did find reasons to live will stand as one of my greatest lifetime achievements and her antics with her buddy Daisy were truly heart-warming. There was the time when we had a pile of screenings delivered to make pathways around the farm, in readiness for one of our open days. After a heavy morning shovelling we knocked off for lunch only to return and find the ever adventurous Alice and Daisy had found the pile and made themselves a comfy bed. We didn’t have the heart to move the two sleeping beauties.
Countless were the times we would open a stable door, go to the straw stack or shavings pile and find the intrepid Alice and Daisy all curled up asleep, no one having spied their entry. And Alice loved Edgar and she would go in search of him each day, but sadly this was unrequited love, or so I thought. If Edgar hadn’t already made his way to his day bed he would scoot off as fast as his short, fat, little piggy legs would trot, screaming all the while. If Alice stood on guard outside his day yard grunting her love, Edgar would lie really, really still and hope she would not notice his mammoth form amidst the straw. While Edgar became famous for the raucous belly grunts he would deliver whenever he heard my voice, he would refuse to answer my calls to him when Alice lay in wait, least he give the game away. Alice could often be found in the stable Edgar had just vacated lying stretched out in the straw drinking in Edgar’s masculine piggy smells.
A priceless moment came when I spied Edgar on one of his daily jaunts about the farm, standing outside Alice and Daisy’s paddock grunting piggy delights to Alice. “Edgar, you sly one” I uttered.
Alice’s world indeed became rich and full, she loved watermelons, wallows and walking with branches. Boy did she love branches! Whenever she found one in what had become her vast home, she would seize it between her teeth, carting it back to her bed and fashioning a nest. Each day when I would tidy her bed I would move the branches out, Alice in clear indifference would storm past me, grab the branch and storm back past me giving me one of ‘those’ glances as she would defiantly plonk the branch back down. I learned that mother pigs would go to great lengths to fashion a nest to safely give birth to her babies in, something Alice was never allowed to do, yet something so clearly natural. Mother Nature did not get it wrong.
Over the years I was able to find so many reasons for Alice to live and I truly believe hers became a life worth living, but sadly I am all too keenly aware that pigs do not live as long as humans. I guess I saw the writing on the wall a little while back when Alice’s dear buddy, Daisy, passed away. For two days and nights Alice slept on Daisy’s grave, refusing to eat or move. While grief is one of the most natural of human emotions, it is not ours alone. Elephants grieving their kind is something that is becoming well documented and here before me was a pig grieving her buddy. I do not believe it is anthropomorphic to think this, but that it’s really human arrogance to not do so. I knew then that it was going to be tough to keep coming up with reasons for the ageing Alice.
Each day Alice would move less and less and getting up and down, even on the huge straw bed, became more difficult. Her favourite treats failed to excite her, her back became more roached and walking tougher. I dug deep into my bag of tricks with pain relief, sweet smelling food and kindness beyond belief. Each day I could see the light dimming and me facing yet another of life’s great challenges. Many sleepless nights would follow.
And today I ran out reasons and I recognised my mortality in that I am not God and that I cannot wave a magic wand to restore youth and remove the pain of old age, yet today I would play God. A good age for a pig is about 10, for Alice to reach almost 12 was incredible. I told Alice softly I loved her and said, “go find that handsome big pig, he will be waiting this time”.
I tell the stories of the animals who have found a special place in my heart by finding their way to Edgar’s Mission not to break people’s hearts, but to help put them back together again. I believe in an age not too far off humanity that can rebuild its fractured relationship with the animal kingdom, for when we love unconditionally all creatures with whom we share the planet, we are whole. My heart aches for dear Alice as salt water wells in my eyes. One truly has not lived until they have loved a pig.
“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”