A Christmas To Remember

It is Friday, December 21, 2007, that special time of year with the Christmas holidays in full swing. Everywhere decorations adorn homes, shop windows and colored lights light up the nights. People everywhere seem friendlier, more giving and caring.

At Precious Life Animal Sanctuary, the celebration of life goes on for all the rescued animals. It is the same winter routine of feeding, added Christmas treats, cleaning, repairs and time taken to provide comforting, soothing talk to all.

It is very cold at the foot of the Olympics. Daylight is short and a white Christmas is expected. Upon reading the newspaper on this day, an ad appeared that diminished the spirit of the Christmas holidays. “Order Your Roasted Pig for Christmas, Raised in Oregon, butcher available.” Rationalizing the ad was easy, but forgetting about it was not. The reality is, at this time of year, every meat case in every supermarket is chock full of butchered pigs, labeled as Christmas hams wrapped to no longer resemble any living being. So, the question remained, was there any real difference between the cut-up pigs in the meat cases and the live pigs in the ad soon to meet the same fate?

The difference was those baby pigs were alive and one could still be saved and not sacrificed on the holiest day of the year for a Christmas feast. One was left to ponder the meaning of Christmas, with the birth of Jesus, surrounded by farm animals. Jesus believed in kindness and mercy for all of God’s creatures.

Regardless of religious beliefs, this Christmas holiday would not be trivialized when a baby pig could be spared. After all, he was born with a will to live and a fear of death no different than any human.

The next morning the long journey began in never-ending rain and sleet halfway up to Mount Hood. After exiting the main highway and leaving miles of happy skiers behind, the pig farm was located. The dilapidated barn stood at the bottom of a winding hill encased in rain-drenched mud. Inside were three pens. One housed huge sows with little room to maneuver. One housed the advertised roasters, only four months old, weighing between 50 and 65 pounds, and a few more of assorted sizes. The last pen housed newly-weaned piglets, classified and sold as wiener pigs.

In a corner of the barn hung one of the roasters, freshly slaughtered that morning by the common method of “shoot and stick”. A brother and a sister were all that was left of the litter. The pig farmer said most of the litter had been butchered for ethnic groups wanting to barbecue on spits or cook in the ground and a few had been sold to restaurants.

The pig farmer pointed out several in the roaster pen that were coughing, lethargic and being given medication for pneumonia and would not make it. He was informed that a healthy live pig was wanted and he quickly stated there was no guarantee that any would be free of pneumonia. He remarked, “What’s the difference? You’re going to eat it anyway.”

The female roaster kept her small head buried in straw next to others for security. The black spotted male walked to the side of the enclosure and listened to the farmer and myself and looked up with curious eyes. He had been castrated with no anesthetic which is a common procedure and his large ears were disfigured having pieces notched out for identification purposes within the litter, another common procedure. He was chosen, paid for and put squealing into the back of my van on blankets. The farmer was informed that he would be allowed to live and he replied, “one lucky pig”. Since no Christmas name seemed to fit, he was officially dubbed “Lucky”.

There was no sound from Lucky who was stressed after being taken from his only security, yet certain death, transported in a noisy van and completely powerless to know where or what was going to happen to him.

On the way up I-5, vegetables and fruits were purchased at a supermarket and laid next to Lucky. He nibbled on a piece of apple and lay motionless. It soon became apparent Lucky was not well with his labored breathing and liquid manure covering the blankets. Boarding the Edmonds ferry, all the windows remained closed due to the overpowering odor.

The next morning, Lucky was coaxed into a dog carrier and carried to his temporary home. He was put into a large fenced vegetable garden with a dog igloo in the middle filled with straw. Instinctively, he could now root, turning over soil and eating the remains of last year’s beet and carrot crops.

Lucky was still not well as evidenced by his drooped tail, runny eyes and cough. He shivered in his igloo. Several blankets were added which warmed his almost hairless body.

On Christmas day, Lucky was doing better. It had snowed on Christmas eve and Lucky was excited, running, snorting and burying his snout underneath the newly-fallen snow. This Christmas will be fondly remembered because of Lucky whose value was worth more than a meal. He can now live out his life and enjoy every day of it.

For us, our Christmas feast did not feature a roasted animal as a centerpiece, but the picture of Lucky enjoying his Christmas presents of chunks of wrapped, cut watermelon was enough. Ourselves, well we sat down to the widest assortment of healthy and delicious non-animal food imaginable and truly felt fulfilled.

Afterward

It’s the beginning of May at the end of the longest, coldest winter with the most snowfall in eight years. Lucky grew out of his dog igloo and an oversized doghouse was built for him.

His entire area is wet mud. He is healthy but bored and lonely by himself. Hopefully by summer, with the help of volunteers, he will be moved to his permanent area.

For now, Lucky loves company and likes me to lay with him in his dog house. He has met all of the dogs up close, except Harley (Saint Bernard who could harm him). After hearing their constant barking, Lucky actually barks himself when excited.