Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Pig Preserve; A Contrast

It seems kind of ironic that the more we become connected the deeper the heartache. As I have been recollecting The Pig Preserve visit, I have received several messages from people bearing witness to truckloads of pigs being transported down the highway, to slaughter. A comment was waiting for me as I logged-in today, saying the hardest think about living in "Kentuckiana" is seeing the constant flow of  transport trucks full of pigs - and then seeing them go, empty. Everyday. Right here. In the middle of a major metropolitan area - Louisville, Ky - the self deemed; Compassionate City. I beg to differ this proclaimed title as I know my pig friends do too. I always wonder, how many people even notice their journey or much less consider their destination. (More on JBSwift Plant here)
The JBS hog-slaughtering plant slaughters around 10,000 hogs a day, six days a week.
Knowing this, visiting a place like The Pig Preserve seems like a foreign land. The Preserve is about 100 acres of land mixed with woods providing refuge for approximately 100 pigs. I had the pleasure of visiting a couple of weeks ago with Uplands PEAK board member, Kelly Cramer. On our arrival we were greeted by three of the resident dogs; Travis, Maxwell, and Big Brown Dog. Apparently, dogs and pigs can co-exist much like dogs and cats, with some monitoring.  One of the things that struck me was the mild manners of  the pigs. They seemed so content and relaxed. Of course, our visit was between meals, SO, we can't 100% attest to that always being the case.
Baby Bella 
 Rich, the owner, graciously took us around the property on his 4wheeler, while Bella, the piglet, ran along side. She stopped when we stopped checking the food bowls and testing the mud holes at each dwelling. Rich made the comment that she "was full of herself" that day. How could she not be, look at how darn cute she is!
 The Pig Preserve is unique in that they have the space to allow pigs to choose their own social group and dwelling. The traditional barn is near the house, there are more dwellings out in the woods, and near the big swimming hole. I would imagine that is why we didn't hear too much fussing that day, they have space. Space to choose how they want to spend their day and with whom. And most importantly, they can live in peace.
Of course, a sanctuary visit is not complete without a group cry! Rich shared stories of friendship and grieving. When Miss Fergy, the alpha female of the Preserve passed, all her friends came to pay respect to her body. He has witnessed pigs laying with a passed pigs friend body while crying. Yes, a pig crying over their deceased friend pig.
We have much to understand about these "gentle giants", as Rich often refers to them. But we also have to stop denying that their lives matter. That they enjoy being in nature. And that they to want to life as a pig should......
We are so grateful to Rich and his wife, Laura for all the time they took with us on our visit. But most importantly, all that they are doing for our pig friends.
Enjoying the woods
Dogs and Pigs CAN get along!

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Dose of Reality, In the Bubble

     I have been in a vegan bubble for over five weeks now with the occasional non-vegan visitor. While a bubble can be a utopia and possibly uneventful, it can also provide learning opportunities.  My bubble experience thus far has been eye opening and a great dose of reality. I have learned more than I could have imagined and found questions, that I may not have the answers to just yet.  And while I came here to gain experience and a comfort level with animal care, so much more of what I have gained has been life lessons. My hope is  that I can remember to live them out often without needing much of a nudge.
     Envisioning my own sanctuary, I hadn't given much consideration to the number of lives that would end in our care, and how I might handle it. I am more in touch with this reality, as it is very much a part of  rescuing and rehabilitating farmed animals. Animal who have been genetically manipulated to be a producing "machine".

   During my first week I experienced the deaths of several animals and since then there have been a few more. Two of which, I had the honor of being with during their last breathes, Pansy and Mars, whom both  ultimately died of heart attacks. Witnessing another being gasping for air shakes you to the core. I have been with humans and animals as they grasped for their last breath... and it is no different. Both want to survive, both keep fighting. I am now more keenly aware of the calling to be present to those that may have died alone, without a name, any kindness, peace or love. And understand that that is a part of "sanctuary" too.
    As many times as we are reminded of life's impermanence, we still tend to get caught in the idea that there will be a tomorrow. I have learned, being here, that each day is different and each day is precious. But haven't we all had experiences that have taught us this lesson? Over and over again.   I noticed myself getting caught up in "working" after a few weeks, once I had more of a routine. I have made a conscious effort these past few weeks, to pay attention. To consciously stop throughout my day and take-in the sounds of pigs anticipating their meal, of the sheep stomping their feet inviting play with one another, of the cows mooing in demand of a treat....... one of us may not be here tomorrow. This is the reality,even in the bubble.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Being a Witness for my New Friends

  This week I have been getting to know the Sanctuary a bit, learning the routine, and becoming more familiar with some of the residents. A few mornings, I have been on water duty in the Goat/Sheep and Pig Barns. I have found myself working like a bank robber while changing the water bowls (well more like mud bowls) in the pig barn. Pigs are like cats, they eat and sleep about 18 hours a day. They say at the Sanctuary, that Miss Piggy is like a sun dial, look at which way her belly is turned and you will find the sun. She is SO pink! She loves the sun.

  Besides, the waters in the morning, I have been working in the Medical Building most of the days. A caregiver, Dawnell (who is totally awesome, and such a calm presence), refers to the Med Building as "hospice". There are some roosters, who just have to be separated for the time being, they are raging teenagers right now. There are a few hens that are are waiting to be integrated into the flock. Then there are a few that are being made comfortable for their last days. 

  One of those, is a white bird, Dandy. Dandy is a what the industry refers to as a "broiler" because that was his destiny in the industry. At Woodstock, they refer to them as the white birds. They are chickens, however, they have been so insanely genetically manipulated, that they are also referred to as "frankenbirds".  They have been altered, to grow extremely fast and to have large white breasts, since that is what the consumer desires. Chickens in the industry live for 45 days. No longer.  Due to growing so fast so quickly, and not meaning to live beyond 45 days, white birds tend to have organ issues, are at risk for heart attacks, and mobility issues. Not to mention, they are STARVING all the time, because they have genetically manipulated to eat constantly so they can grow very large. At the sanctuary, they are a a very strict low fat diet, and have measured feedings. 

Dandy in the Med Building Yard enjoying some Sunshine
Dandy, my new friend, is such a calm sweet guy. He has lived some happy days out at the Sanctuary. He started walking with one leg sticking out behind him recently. He has received treatment but it is not getting better. His hock is quite inflamed. He is no longer mobile. He kinda of move  from one spot to the next but it isn't very pretty, and it takes a lot of effort. He can't support himself on his feet at all. Dandy is a very large chicken.

Since he is weak, he is in the Med Building and in a crate (a dog crate) with lots of cushion for comfort. He is on pain medication, as he is in lots of pain. To help reduce the swelling and some pain, he gets cold compressed on his leg a few times a day.  I have been able to hold him the last couple of days for his cold compress for his leg. He just lays snug in my lap for a about 20 minutes, kind of on his side, relieving some pressure on his chest, and I hold the compress on his foot. He closes his eyes a bit. Sometimes he makes a low chirp sound. He always starts to try to turn and flap his wings a bit when he is finished.  

Someone asked me if I was attached to him, as he won't be here for even a few more days. My reply "I am just honored to make his last few days (hopefully) a bit more comfortable..."  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Don't Jump Pigs are Drama Queens

     And it begins.... hand me a rake, pitch fork, and a bale of hay! 

     My first day as a intern at Woodstock Animal Sanctuary was cleaning and lots of it! Mark and I jumped in to lend a hand with the daily chores. We cleaned and prepared a stall for the arrival of two new sheep (more on these girls at a later date). We did poop patrol through the pig enclosure, cleaned out a pig stall, and cleaned and re-did a chicken coop.
Walter and I at Woodstock Animal Sanctuary 

   So, challenge number one, get wheelbarrow through the muddy pig enclosure full of poop without letting a pig dump it over. Yea, they think it's fun. Challenge number two if  "Little Dude" (who isn't little at all) comes towards you MOVE. Challenge number three, get more comfortable with the pigs! Yea, it's a natural reaction to flinch when you hear squeals and grunts coming out of a 300-400lb being. Everyone has assured me the pigs are "Drama Queens". Being a Leo, I totally get it. 
  Ya know, all that talk about how dirty pigs are? Well, their "nests" are spotless, that is where they sleep. And I actually said out out loud today "Pig poop actually isn't bad". Seriously, easy clean-up and not much smell. Well, until the wheelbarrow is full. Just a little more info on "Little Dude", he just gets overwhelmed a bit, as he is almost blind and is deaf.
 The next big job today, cleaning out one of the chicken coops. This involved, removing all the shavings, scraping cracks and the floor with a putty knife, sprinkling mite treatment down, and replacing the shavings. Pretty big task for the afternoon, but add to that a dozen chickens who are totally into your every move! We kept all the chickens out of the coop except one,"Tamulah". She kept trying to make a nest in our piles, and trying to get through the doors to the other areas. I loved having some time up close with the chickens today. One of my goals while here, is to get to know more about the birds.

  When we wake-up there is no going back to sleep. 

I found myself tearing up many times today for no obvious reason in the moment. But knowing that it is a culmination of moments. It is amazing to be here with these animals. For them to give us a chance. To be that human that that they can trust. That scratches that hard to reach place behind their horns. That stands with them in the moment, in complete peace. And all the while, realizing the horrible things that are happening to BILLIONS of other animals, in that same moment. And being very much aware of how much I have to learn, the doubt that can creep in.... and the "Yes" that is even louder - because they deserve better.