You're not supposed to have favorites, I know. Every animal at the sanctuary holds a special place in my heart, but (you knew it was coming) there are specific animals who I really adore. Patty is one. I'm so embarrassed to admit this, but I don't have any great photos of Patty. She's a black and white sow who is just not very photogenic. I've tried different lighting, different angles, different lenses, different everything and yet her pigmentation thwarts me at every turn. Her big floppy ears cover beautifully small eyes, making it all the more difficult.
But this isn't about how hard it is to photograph Patty.
This is about how a couple of days ago Patty woke up with an awful limp. I heard the animal care staff talking about her on the radio and immediately left my desk to check her out. Patty is a belted hampshire and, as such, has been bred to produce a lot of weight in a short amount of time ("meat" pigs are killed at six months old). Even though the pigs at the sanctuary are trim, their legs and hooves find it difficult to support 700-900 lbs of pig awesomeness.
When I saw Patty move, it was difficult. She had to fling her entire head up in the air to counterbalance the severe limp in her left leg. I crouched low and grunted loud, then softly in the friendly, almost airy way pigs do. And she responded, widening her mouth and making these precious breathy exhalations. Even amidst what was obviously a painful event, she was happy to see me. As we talked, another pig, Susie, sashayed up and paused by Patty, grunting her greeting.
I began to move slowly away from Patty to try and guide her up to the barn and a stall. She followed, uncomfortable. And then Susie became concerned. You could see her look at Patty and take it in, see her tense and relax and then she stood right in front of Patty, not letting her by. In my silly human way, I tried explaining to Susie that Patty needed to get to the barn to lie down. Susie was having none of that. She waited thirty seconds, then slowly moved forward, giving Patty another 10 feet to move forward. Then she would come up behind Patty and nudge her ever so gently ahead. After Patty moved another 15 feet, Susie raced ahead and forced Patty to stop. They repeated that until they were about 20 feet from the barn. The whole time Susie alternated between encouraging grunts to these odd, screechy cries of concern.
Patty went to a stall, nestling deep in its comfortable confines. Susie wandered off to rub her head on a post, clearly satisfied with her role. I marveled at how graceful Susie had been in her kindness, her simple stoic pause for Patty to regroup, her gentle prodding forward. Pigs can be incredibly selfish (read when food is around) but they are even more gregarious. They aren't perfect, of course, having bad days and quarreling with their herd-mates. That's all fine and normal. So are these friendships, where one finds comfort in the other.
Patty will be on stall rest for a few days. After some palpation and rotation, staff cannot tell whether Patty is just being tough or, for whatever reason, isn't exhibiting pain responses. If need be, she'll go into the vet next Tuesday with another pig and we'll do everything in our power to help her feel better. It's nice to know she has a caring friend to look after her when we cannot.