Polly Pig sets off at full pace – whilst to many this may seem a polite amble, to those who know Polly, it is her signature “run”. If you are thinking at this point Polly doesn’t do anything quickly – you’re on the money! She’s making her way from her daily sojourn in Piggy Paradise to the barn where she sleeps at night with her buddy Snuffles, who, more than likely, has done a runner; yet somehow she’ll manage to arrive at the barn a “pig’s whisker” before Polly, as she does on just about every night. However, on this night things were to be a little different. Someone had left a wheelbarrow full of plastic feeding tubs just inside the barn, a place normally reserved for, well, nothing at all. “Polly, Polly,” I cry, “come on Pol Pol, Snuffles is going to beat you”. These words become a self-fulfilling prophecy as yet again Snuffles darts past the now-dawdling Polly. Inching closer, Polly is set to round the corner into the barn, a point at which she speeds up to a brisk walk, but now she balks, and taking a step backwards she brings herself to her full height and then some. The hair on her back raises like that of an ancestral menacing warthog as she spies the foreign wheelbarrow. She takes two steps to the right, putting a calculated distance between that “alien” intruder and herself. Locking her left eye on the wheelbarrow, she remains stationary for a moment, then it is short, pointed and cautious steps that take Polly closer to her stall, but she keeps that left eye firmly on the intruder as she moves further away from the source of her angst.
Polly has made such a “sprint” into the barn for almost five years, each time with little fuss ‒save the rarest of occasions when she has managed to touch down before Snuffles. However this night it was different, because her world was not as she anticipated it to be. A wheelbarrow full of tubs was not what she envisaged the barn to hold. From Polly’s lens of the world, things were not as they should have been, and her startled behaviour reflected such a knowledge. This event shows us much more than that someone forgot to put the wheelbarrow away and that Polly is an observant pig.
It informs us pigs have a vision about the future based on their knowledge of past events. Such a seemingly insignificant event can be seen as the harbinger of a bigger picture, one that should compel us to review much of our current thinking about pigs and how the world should be.
“Cognitive abilities”, “rich emotional worlds” and even “culture” are generally terms used when speaking of our species and sometimes intelligent apes, but when used in relation to the largest number of animals in human care ‒ those who are farmed for food and fibre ‒ it causes a degree of discomfort in our ethical world. So much of our treatment of farmed animals is not only at odds with who they really are and who we really should be.
In trying to reconcile the two causes, some people seek out ways of more compassionate living, yet others seek out ways to justify the current status quo. Regardless of where one sits on this scale, it is hard to deny that an ethical spotlight is shining brightly and oft times in places it has never shone before when it comes to the treatment of farmed animals. And it reveals that our world is not as it should be.
There is little doubt of this: our relationship with the animal kingdom is fractured at best. Just when our world view of animals shifted from one of fascination to commodification, I am not sure. But what I do know is there has never been a better time than now to heal this relationship – for animals’ sake as much as ours. Kindness towards animals has so many benefits: quite literally it is good for the soul. Science and our hearts tell us this. Just try it ‒ stroking an animal, watching them at play, seeing a mother sheep nicker to her newborn baby, getting a kick out of watching a pig race about with unbridled glee, drinking in the clarity of mind that comes from watching an industrious chicken scratching about in the soil, and something we witness here at Edgar’s Mission each day – finding hope in the most hopeless of situations as rescued animals beat insurmountable odds ‒ all send that feel-good hormone oxytocin cascading through our brains and our bodies. But we must remember that we cannot change the lives of animals until we change ourselves. It is so easy to look and see the world is not as it should be, and cast a finger of judgement, but sometimes, too, we are not as we should be. Judgement, blame, unforgiveness ‒ all deny us the ability to be better versions of ourselves.
Perhaps our forefathers did take the wrong fork in the evolution of our humanity, and our role in this world is not to dominate, conquer and enslave, but to nurture through stewardship, benevolence, expanding our circle of compassion to its greatest bandwidth. The slaughtering of animals in their billions, incarcerating, mutilating and denying basic decency to other sentient beings, the taking of babies from their mothers, all simply because we can, and all at odds with our innate attraction and reverence of the natural world and the goodness of the human heart.
Amidst the turmoil of our world, greed, unrest and hate, people undermining one another, road rage, home invasions, along with all the terrible atrocities committed against animals both legal and illegal, and the unending bad news that bombards us each day via multiple news mediums, few could argue that the world is as it should be; even Polly Pig knows that. But it can be, and each and every one of us can contribute to that goal through the simple act of kindness to the most vulnerable and least heard amongst us. Now I’m off to put that wheelbarrow away, what about you?