June 7, 2012
I missed my blog last week, and now the old guy (Giacomo) is trying to hijack this week’s post. The truth is, we lost one of our own last week, and he’d been here a long time. I think he was one of Giacomo’s favorites—myself excluded, of course.
Anyway, I guess Giacomo feels like he has something to say. So listen up.
Life on the Sanctuary
About ten years ago we decided we couldn’t accept any more animals on our sanctuary. We were up to 29 and that was taxing both our physical and financial resources. It takes a lot of work to care for so many animals—feeding, watering, tending to fences, cleaning barns, and many other things, including vet bills. My wife and I both agreed that we had reached our limit.
Then a call came in. The woman said she had two potbellied pigs who needed a home. I told her we couldn’t help, and suggested she try a few other places. Several hours later she called again. No one would take the pigs, and she only had until the next day to find a home or they would be put to sleep. I mumbled something, then told her to bring them over, “but I was only keeping them until we could find them a home,” I quickly added.
When the pigs arrived, I knew we were in trouble. I had convinced myself we would take these pigs for a week or so, until we found a home for them. As soon as I saw them I knew that was not an option. Spike, the young one, had a spine injury and could barely walk, and Cool Pig was grossly overweight and nearly blind.
That was ten years ago.
Spike passed on a few years after we got him. Within a year Cool Pig was completely blind, and deaf, but following a strict diet, he dropped almost 100 pounds in two years. We thought his blindness would be a huge handicap, but he soon surprised us. There is an old saying—Even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while. I mentioned it in an earlier post, and I can tell you from ten years of first-hand experience that it is wrong. A blind pig finds the acorns ALL the time.
Making the Most of Each Day
On warm sunny days, I watched Cool Pig from my office window, slowly making his way around the property, grazing on shoots of grass or digging up roots and nuts. And always, his tail wagging. (yes, pigs do wag their tails.) During the fall, when the acorns started dropping, Cool Pig would sneak out of the barn before the sun rose. He would meander down a small path, then make his way through a tangled web of stickers to a far corner of the property where the biggest oaks grew. There he would graze on acorns, all day. If it was a sunny day, he’d come out to bask for a while, but then he’d go back to grazing.
Cool Pig was amazing in other ways too. Though he couldn’t see or hear, he seemed to know when it was time to eat. During the winter he liked to stay in his barn, but when it got to be dinner time, Cool would come out and find his way to the feeding area. He never missed a meal.
Two weeks ago, I went to feed, and Cool Pig wasn’t there. I walked to the barn and stomped my feet outside (he could feel the vibrations) but he didn’t come out. I found him in the barn, trying to get up, but struggling. With help he made it to his feet and then out to eat, but I knew something was wrong. My wife checked him over and felt a tumor on his side, so we called the vet to come out.
The Toughest Decision of All
The next week, every day was the same. Cool couldn’t make it to his feet. “It’s time,” my wife said.
I have always had trouble making these decisions. Calling the shot that it is time to go. And on a sanctuary, with so many animals, it is far too frequent an occurrence. The problem, is that I am an eternal optimist, and I keep thinking “maybe he/she can fight it. Maybe they’re just having a bad day.”
Thank goodness my wife is there, because she seems to know. Actually we make a good team. There have been times that the vets and her have thought it was time to let an animal go, and I have seen something in their eyes that said “no.” We’ve been right about those. But at other times, when my wife is absolutely positive, I know she’s been right.
The vet came on Tuesday. We got up early and moved Cool to the front yard, where none of the animals are allowed. The grass is lush and he could graze. He found new vigor, and for two hours he walked around, grazing, wagging that damn tail, and looking like he had all the time in the world. Now he had me wondering. I turned to Mikki, my wife, but she shook her head. “He’s ready.”
The Long Journey
Mikki sat with him, scrubbed him up good, cleaned him, clipped his hooves, all in prepartion for his final journey. She got his favorite blanket washed, and the pillow he loved to sleep on, which she fitted with a new pillow case. We tried feeding him his favorite meal, but he wouldn’t eat. As sad as it sounds, that was the comfort I needed. If Cool Pig wasn’t eating, I knew we were making the right decision.
After the vet finished, I dug the hole with our tractor, real deep, then we moved a huge rock on top. Mikki said a few words and we said our goodbyes.
A few days later the vet called and said the tumor was cancerous, more confirmation that we made the right decision.
Cool Pig was 17 years old. He lived a long and happy life, despite all his troubles. And he gave us a lot of inspiration, a constant reminder that no matter what little problems we had, they didn’t amount to much compared to his. We buried him over by his special acorn spot. I think he would have liked that.
This coming fall, when a windy day peppers our roof with acorns, and I hear them make their awkward roll down to the ground, or when I feel them crunch under my feet as I walk to feed the pigs, I will think of Cool Pig.
Ciao, and thanks for listening,
Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of Murder Takes Time, and A Bullet For Carlos.
He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 41 loving “friends.”