Starry, starry night
She first graced the silver screen way back in 2006. Her debut film was to be her one and only, but her mark was indelible. While no Oscar or Golden Globe award would ever grace her mantelpiece and no paparazzi ever camped outside her home, her starring role earned her a lifetime of every comfort imaginable. She was a star; she was a diva; she had many adoring fans—and she was a pig.
Lily Pig, along with 45 of her siblings, played Wilbur in the cinematic portrayal of E.B. White’s classic tale Charlotte’s Web. Plucked from the obscurity of the pigsty on a factory farm, these pigs did what so few pigs ever do—they lived. They lived rich, full and long lives, Paramount Pictures along with Animals Australia ensuring they did so.
Proving that pigs really do have wings, the porcine stars were flown to far-flung places around the country, settling into the hearts and homes of their new forever families. I was truly fortunate to be one of those families and Lily one of those pigs. Daisy Pig and Mrs Peaches were also to call Edgar’s Mission “home sweet home”.
About the same time, another famous piglet was to trot into my life. The world knew her as Bella but I loved her as Miss Pompy Do.
Pompy too rubbed shoulders with movie stars and the rich and famous. She circumnavigated the Sydney Opera House on the leash of Oscar-award-winning actor James Cromwell, she featured in women’s magazines in the arms of celebrities and she toured Australia squealing for a better deal for pigs.
Retiring from active duty, she quickly settled into her straw-filled stable with Lily and the two became lifelong best friends.
These two lasses with their distinct personalities were to teach me so much about pigs, people and myself.
It was Pompy who was to show me pigs can be real drama queens but they can also be chivalrous and kind. Pompy was in fact the second pig to trot into my life after the eponymous Edgar Alan Pig.
I had grand designs on the two of them becoming the best of buddies, but I hadn’t consulted the pigs on this one and I was soon to learn that pigs are indeed singularly determined when they set their minds to it. The term “pig headed” is apt. Right from the start, Edgar wanted nothing to do with Pompy Do and she felt the same and never was that to change.
However, one day when I had cause to pick up the then very much smaller Pompy Do, she began to scream and went into full overdrive with her “someone’s killing the pig” routine. Not wishing to put her down and give her the victory, I held firm. It became a battle of wills in which neither was going to surrender easily.
Then from nowhere, having heard the commotion, galloped dear Edgar, barking all the while as he raced at me. I could see his “Walter Raleigh” cape flying as he roared at me to “Put that pig down”. And who could argue with a 500 kg angry pig?
Up until that point Edgar had shown no interest in Pompy other than to chase her away and he had never uttered a cross oink my way.
Naturally I quickly succumbed to Edgar’s wishes and gently placed Pompy on the ground, stepping back timidly saying, “That’ll do pig, that’ll do”. Pompy trotting off into the sunset triumphantly, snout held high and Edgar returning to his lair, leaving me shaking my head and musing, “What just happened?”
I recall another time when a young teenager was visiting the farm. Not a particularly animal-loving kid—a rather shy, troubled individual but a good kid all the same. I took her to meet Miss Pompy Do and she became intrigued with the friendly young Pompy. We decided to take Pompy for a walk around the farm, or rather we decided to follow Pompy as she took us for a walk around the farm.
As we trotted on, the child came more and more out of her shell as she asked more and more questions about pigs. When it came time to head back to the barn, the three of us picked up speed as we started to cheer Pompy on: “Pompy Pig, Pompy Pig,” we chorused with delight. And as the girl left for the day she whispered in my ear, “I promise never to eat bacon again” and I did a little happy dance.
And dear Lily taught me to be careful what you wish for. I remember being so excited and proud when I learned that the favourite pig of the head pig trainer on the set of Charlotte’s Web was coming to me! I wondered what clever role she had played in the movie and I wondered what amazing abilities Lily Pig would have that earned her such an accolade. None, I was soon to find!
Whilst I loved Lily dearly from before I even met her, her attention span was short, her willingness to cooperate even less, and her circle of friends small. If she were a human child she would have been described as a brat, albeit a loveable one. Lily was her own woman; she was grumpy and only wanted cuddles on her terms. Once you understood that, you got on fine with her.
Ask anyone who has had a pig to tell you a story and the chapters will be many.
My favourite Lily story is the day a chap came to check the power pole in the paddock Pompy and Lily shared. I had seen him climb the pole earlier in the day and noticed him there some time later; I even returned his wave. “Friendly chap,” I thought.
I went inside to have some lunch only to return to see him still up the pole, and the friendly chap gave me another wave. I thought to myself that these guys must get paid by the hour.
Feeding time came and he was still up the pole and giving me yet another wave. Now it was getting a little weird so I had a closer look and saw he was not in fact waving but pointing to the hormonally charged, mouth-foaming Lily Pig standing in wait at the base of his ladder. Did I mention that hell hath no fury like Lily Pig in season?
Pigs come into season every 21 days, something exploited by the pig industry; it sees mother pigs undergo a continual cycle of pregnancies, 2.2 per year, until their poor bodies are worn out at around 5 years.
Back in those early days, knowledge about the keeping of pigs as companion animals was about as rare as the kindnesses legally afforded to them. Spaying of females was not heard of, so as they grew, both Lily and Pompy presented many challenges in both managing their oestrus cycles and keeping the peace.
Thanks to our dedicated vet and world research, the answer was found in the form of hormone implants. This knowledge we have been able to pass on to other pig guardians, greatly improving the lives of both piggies and their human friends.
Throughout their lives, Lily and Pompy grew, not only in size but also in the hearts and minds of those who came to know them and those who came to care for them. But one thing they could not outgrow was the genetic curse placed upon them of being factory-farmed animals.
The latter part of their lives presented us with many challenges managing the large forms into which they had morphed. Whilst special feeding regimes had greatly enhanced both the quality and quantity of their lives, over the last few months we knew the curtain would soon fall. Its cause would be our losing the battle of managing their mobility issues and tumours.
I will forever rejoice though, that both Lily and Pompy got to delight in the rolling fields of our new farm and wallow in its cool dam over the summer months.
When we first arrived here at the new sanctuary, all the pigs were settled into a large yard and covered stable area whilst the property was fenced to accommodate them. When the day came to move the pigs to their new grassy field, we decided that Pompy’s gammy leg would not make the distance and it would be best she stay behind in the yard.
And so as the pigs filed out one by one, following the rattle of the wheetbix box and trail of bread crumbs, we headed down the road and to the paddock. But then someone at the back squealed and we all turned to see the source.
It was Pompy: she had gotten herself out of her straw-filled bed, determined not to be left behind. And as she pumped her way down the path to join her pals I once again cheered “Pompy Pig, Pompy Pig” and the chorus became loud. There was not a dry eye in the house that day.
But as the sun rose last weekend, both Pompy and Lily were ever so slow to do so. Eating no longer thrilled them, wandering the fields they could not, the battle against their cursed bodies was being lost and I knew we had reached the point where we could no longer manage their pain, so I had no choice but to stop their suffering. Although the choice was the only one I had, it was the hardest one to accept.
I love pigs. I have dedicated my life to their protection and so that day will haunt me forever but I take great comfort in knowing that my beautiful girls, who graced and enriched my life for so many years, who taught me so much, who were such stellar champions of their kind, now gallop in the field of their dreams, a handsome pink pig at the helm. They are free from pain, suffering or ever ending up on a dinner plate, and they will revel in the company of their “bestest” friend in the world. And they will forever be remembered, like Zuckerman’s famous pig, as “some pigs indeed”.