Whilst I don’t know the exact date or circumstance in which Mary entered the world, I most certainly do remember the day she entered ours. Snouting her way into a food shed at a wildlife shelter, accompanied by her sole remaining baby, Monique, Mary quickly proved her resilience after having been abandoned by her human carer, who should have known better. Unable to add a pig (or two) to their mix, the wildlife carers called for our assistance.
The first thing that struck us when we spied Mary meandering about the wildlife refuge, as if it was hers, was the pride and grace she took in each step. This she did despite her dishevelled and ragged state that said she should feel otherwise. With little to no fencing on the property, we wondered long and hard just how to corral Mary and her wayward babe. If you have any doubt as to how difficult a task this could be, you really don’t understand pigs. But a hint lies in the expression “pig headed” – it has been well earned by these strong-willed and equally strong-skulled animals. But wonder we need not have done, for Mary was not only a proud pig, she was smart, and so with the offer of food and a straw-lined chariot awaiting, she marched jovially and joyously right up the ramp and into our hearts. And we were in awe, as both mother and baby were soon Edgar’s Mission bound. And all of our lives would be richer for the experience.
Mary was one of the earliest pigs to ever call Edgar’s Mission home. A pig of, shall we say, unusual proportions (her belly hanging so far south its clearance from the ground but a bee’s knee) – a sad testament to the many litters of piglets she had borne, and sadder too that each one had been taken from her, save Monique. Monique, the only one she ever got to know and love with all the pride a mother can. Mary’s black body, with its rare white patches complete with stiff wiry hair, lent itself well to camouflage once she had immersed herself in her wallow, causing, on many an occasion, for me to gasp, “Oh no, where’s Mary?”, only for Mary to grunt, “Over here, silly”.
Oh, how I loved that pig, her resilience and humour – yes humour; Mary was a fun-loving pig, she inspired me daily (and still does) to continue to work and inspire others to see these much-maligned animals for the intelligent, sensitive and often fragile beings they really are, so worthy of our compassion and kindness. To know them means to understand that labelling them “farm animals” distorts the truth of who they really are, and simply conditions us to accept the products they become. And it is for all the Marys I will never get to know or serve that I am forever reminded of what a sanctuary should be – a model of how life can be with animals.
She was forever an explorer, with a penchant for belly rubs, and oh what a glorious belly it was. Mary too proved to be a friendly pig, despite her former life giving her every reason not to be. Always quick to offer her deep guttural greeting and snout to your hand for a high five, Mary was a stellar ambassador for her kind. Although sometimes she was just a little too friendly – I will never forget the hormonally charged Mary, desperate for a recipient of her affections, who set forth, generally in the earliest hours of the morning, looking for love in all of the wrong places: rubbish bins (contents strewn everywhere and lids never again able to return to their former glory), cat litter trays (I’ll leave that one to your imagination), and yes, my trouser leg fell victim on many an occasion (I never knew pig saliva could be so hard to evict from clothing). Then there was the time that Mary mistook several books of just-delivered Xmas flyers for a love interest, personally snouting each one once she had voraciously ripped open the boxes. “No” was a word Mary simply did not have in her rich vocabulary. But it is to Mary’s bouts with her reproductive challenges that many pigs today can take comfort, for Mary was one of the first pigs in this country to receive a hormone implant to calm her inner desires (and so too our lives) – knowledge that we and our veterinary team have since been able to share far and wide.
And although Mary escaped the system, she could not escape the ageing process, something none of us can do – a reminder too that regardless of form, we are all linked. And although she aged with pride, grace and humility (and if you think these words seem odd linked to a pig, it really is time you visited an animal sanctuary), it was in those final days that the happy-go-lucky pig that had defined her was gone, and I knew her time had come.
A portrait of her life would not be complete without sharing how much she meant to all around her, our staff, volunteers and veterinary team – she meant the world to them all and as I kissed her that one last time, I told her she was loved beyond words, that she would leave a hole bigger than Texas in the hearts of all who knew her but that hole would be filled with the magical memories of a quirky, fun-loving, endearing, witty and wise friend named Mary.
Hail Mary, I am proud to have known you. Rest in peace, dear girl, rest in peace.