Thursday, July 21, 2011


The other day as I carried a container of slops from Benedict House toward the pig pen I passed by Lori next to the Chicken Hilton and stopped to say hi.

Lori glanced at my offering and muttered, "I hate those pigs."

I laughed and she looked startled and said quickly, "Oh, well, no, I don't really hate them, you know, I didn't mean to say that, it's just that..."

"It's just that they're such pigs!" I said.  "I totally understand."

And I did.  The three pigs we've been raising all live together in a largish pen, their collective and individual goal in life consisting of a fierce determination to hog as much available food for themselves whenever it's around. 

It's not a pretty sight.

I then reminisced about pigs I didn't feel that way about, like Francine, our first pig, who became the Mayor of Ranch Camp.

Francine was a fine pig, well-mannered and loved by all.  She happily joined in all the Ranch Camp activities, loved to have her belly scratched, and enjoyed nothing so much as a cool, sudsy bath with the garden hose and a stiff brush, followed by a rubdown of udder ointment, in the late afternoon.

Francine and I shared a special bond, as she was mutilated by a stray dog within a few days of being given to the Ranch.  This was back in the fall of '94.  She was only six weeks old, when I found her brother dead in their pen, Francine heaving on her side with deep wounds clear through to her lungs.  I was heartbroken.

I picked her up and washed out her wounds with the garden hose.  She seemed close to death.  I went into the house and got a clean towel and wrapped her in it and lay her on some straw in the feed room. 

Bravely, I went out and found a five gallon bucket and began filling it with water, although at that point more water was pouring out of my eyes than from the hose.

Our little piggie was suffering, I figured, and though I'd never taken the life of anything bigger than a scorpion, I was duty-bound to end her misery.

We were expecting about 40 people to show up in a few hours, parents of kids with disabilities, coming to hear about our dreams for Down Home Ranch, which at that point consisted of a tiny mobile home, where we lived with Kelly, and a 100-year old barn, where Blossom the Donkey and, until that moment, two little pigs had lived.

Jerry returned just about that time from town, having gone in early to buy supplies.

Sobbing, I told him of my horrendous discovery, and my plan to put down the little pig, and he said bravely, "You don't have to do that, honey.  Here, I'll handle it."

I handed him the hose and went into the house to repair my face and get busy with the duties of the day. 

Everything went well, and after the last family pulled off the Ranch and I'd put away the folding chairs and tent we'd rented, I went inside to start supper.  Shortly Jerry appeared in the kitchen, and looking a little abashed, made a confession. 

"I didn't put down that little pig," he said.  "She was breathing okay, and didn't seem in that much pain, and when I wet some pig chow and put it to her mouth, she tried to eat it.  She didn't get very far with it, but that little pig wants to live.  I say we take her to see Dr. Graef in the morning."

I found a shoe box and padded it with a towel, and took it out to the barn.  I lifted the piglet and gently settled her on her side in the box, and brought her in and put her on the couch.  She didn't move, but her brown eyes followed me attentively whenever I was in sight.

I made some oatmeal, thinned it out with condensed milk and put it in the blender.  I didn't have an eyedropper on hand, but I had some straws, so I sucked the sweet concoction into a straw, capped it with my finger, and allowed a trickle to run slowly into the pig's tiny mouth.

You'd think I zapped her with a cattle prod!

Even though she couldn't get up, she rooted around frantically for more.  I obliged her with straw after straw of sweet oatmeal until finally she was sated, closed her eyes, and went to sleep.

I fed her twice more during the night, and after dropping Kelly off at school the next morning headed to Dr. Graef's clinic.

Dr. Graef came into the examination room, cocked an eyebrow, and scratched his head as I told my sad tale.  "What's her name?" he asked.

"Francine," I said.  Though we hadn't gotten around to giving her a name yet, I'd been praying all night to St. Francis, so it seemed apt.

"Well, Francine," said Dr. Graef, "let's have a look here."

It was too late to stitch up the gashes in her back, but Dr. Graef treated them and gave her shots of antibiotics, looked at me, shrugged, and said, "Well, let's see where it goes from here."

Francine lay in her box all that day, eating oatmeal every three or four hours.  I tried keeping gauze packing on her back, but nothing would hold it on.

Next morning I awoke to find Francine sitting by our bed next to her box, looking up at me.  I hustled to the kitched and she slowly and painfully ambled after me. 

After I'd fed her I had a bright idea.  I remembered some tiny undershirts for a new grandbaby expected soon that I'd bought, so I got one out of the package, dressed Francine's wounds, slipped a little undershirt on her, packed the gauze on her back and snugly wrapped and tied the shirt flaps over her bandages.

Worked like a charm!  Francine began to explore her surroundings, and was housebroken in about two days.  She quickly learned to eat her oatmeal and other treats with gusto out of a bowl.

Once her wounds were healed, she became an outside pig, always friendly, clean, and ready for a belly rub.  As evening came on each day, Francine went into the barn and began making her bed, tossing the hay and straw around until she got things just right, whereupon she snuggled down, closed her eyes, and commenced to snore.

Pigs are supposed to live a long time, but Francine only lived for seven more years, and then one day she just died, without showing signs of illness or snakebite, or anything we could figure out.

We cried, and buried her, a fine pig indeed.

As for the pigs Lori does (or doesn't) hate?  There are three of them, and I've no doubt they would have made fine pets. 

But though they've had a good life, for pigs, they share a different fate.

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