Who could have guessed that gawking at a pig emptying her bladder would be the highlight of my recent visit to the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary? My Toronto Vegetarian Association travel companions and I had been warned that we might not even glimpse Esther, the so-called Wonder Pig who shares the Sanctuary’s comfortable house with her dads, Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, and her dog buddies, Shelby and Reuben.
“Esther is unpredictable,” we were told. “Sometimes she comes outside when we have visitors. Other times, she just feels like lounging around inside the house all day.”
Esther’s story is well known, shared in documentaries and television interviews and a truly beautiful book, Esther the Wonder Pig: Changing the World One Heart at a Time. In 2012, when Steve succumbed to a friend’s plea to adopt a four-pound micro-piglet, he had no inkling that little Esther would gain several hundred pounds, the genetic fate she shares with millions of other pigs raised in factory farms and destined for slaughterhouses.
Long before she reached her present weight of six hundred and fifty pounds, it was too late. Steve and Derek had made a lifelong commitment to care for their huge, loving and deeply loved pig. That commitment extended far beyond Esther, to all farmed animals. In 2015, Derek and Steve left their suburban lives behind and moved into Cedar Row Farm, now home to the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary.
And so, on that sunniest of Sunday mornings, as the majestic pig ambled down into the garden, I joined the throng lining the fence, gazing at her. Esther paid us scant attention. She took a few careful steps forward and then, standing stock still, began to release a deluge of liquid. As the minutes passed, she turned by slow inches in a semi-circle, her rear hoofs tap-dancing up and down as she moved.
We were astounded at the seemingly inexhaustible volume of urine she was pumping out. “Esther would shame a gang of boys lined up in a pissing contest! If she weren’t housetrained, the furniture would be floating around the living room!”
“But she is housetrained,” Steve Jenkins assured us. “She goes outside whenever she needs to. She can even open the door to let herself in and out.”
Finally, the flow trickled off, the slow motion tap-dance ended. Now Esther was focused on the mini-watermelon Steve held out for her and which she quickly dispatched, leaving only one red-fleshed rind for her best friend Shelby, who shares her love for melons. As the old dog ripped off the juicy fruit, Esther made her way back up onto the deck and into the house.
Oh no! Was that it? Won’t we get to see her again?
“Not to worry. She just wants a smoothie.” And Steve disappeared behind his pig, and soon reappeared carrying a large stainless steel container. Esther followed, nimbly picking her way down the rubber-covered deck stairs and over to the giant smoothie, which she proceeded to slurp up until there was more froth on her snout than in the dish. Then, casting a sly sideways glance at her admiring audience, she began to walk around the backyard toward her bathing pool, which consists of four swimming pools inserted one on top of the other to provide this hefty pig enough strength and stability.
We were in for a treat! Esther tromped into her pool with all four hooves, sank heavily down onto her side, and had a lovely, watery lie-down. Another messy, splashy turnaround, and she plunked herself down on her other side. Finally, with all but her mid-back soaked and dripping, Esther laboriously heaved herself up and out of the pool, shook herself mightily, and made her way back up to the house.
Suddenly we heard a crashing sound, and Steve and Derek, who had just arrived, exchanged shocked looks and then raced into the house. They emerged a minute later, laughing. Uh, what had caused that concerning noise? Was everyone and everything still alright?
Derek chuckled and explained. Esther knows her status here, and so when she went inside and found Shelby and Reuben sleeping in her bed, she asked them to move. But Shelby, sixteen years old and hard of hearing, slept on. Reuben, too, did not stir. Esther was not pleased, and took action, ramming her bulk into a chair and slamming it onto the ground.
Success! Shelby and Reuben woke up and scrambled out of Esther’s bed, freeing it for their bossy sister to flop down into.
Relationships! That was the underlying theme of our visit to the Happily Forever Esther Sanctuary, Esther’s with her canine siblings and human dads first and foremost, but not her only ones. How does Esther relate to the pigs, goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, rabbits and fowl who live nearby in barns and coops in her Sanctuary?
Mostly, Esther pays no attention to animals other than the dogs she was raised with, and the humans who did the raising. The main exception is pigs, whom she dislikes and perhaps even fears. If curious pigs come over to the fence to investigate this beautiful, familiar creature strolling around the Sanctuary, Esther runs away and has zero interest in greeting them.
Does she think she is a dog like Shelby and Reuben? Quite possibly, Steve and Derek concur. What is certain is that she loves them, and they love her.
We snap photos, ask questions, take notes. Will Esther make another appearance? Not likely. She’s fast asleep in her bed, dreaming of watermelons and smoothies and hanging out with Shelby and Reuben. And we can’t linger, our bus is waiting to return us to the big city. So sleep soundly, Esther and friends, and we’ll see you soon, because this is surely just the first of our many visits to your wonderful Sanctuary.