Wonder Pig

Lay of the Land
Art by James Wardell

A PIG CELEBRITY named Esther (formally, if playfully, known as “Esther the Wonder Pig”) lives in the home of Derek Walter and Steve Jenkins in Ontario, Canada. The pair bought Esther in 2012 when she weighed four pounds and was touted by the seller as a micropig, predicted to top out at about seventy pounds. Esther wasn’t a micropig then, and she certainly isn’™t now at 650 pounds. As the British newspaper the Daily Mail, not known for nuance, shouted in its headline, “The Giant Porker Is Now the Size of a Polar Bear!” Esther nonetheless fits comfortably into the Walter-Jenkins family, where she can be seen in photographs and videos sleeping in her own bed or joining the family’s two dogs in the kitchen for treats.

When I show these images to friends, inevitably they are startled by Esther’™s size. The dogs who bed down in our living rooms or rush to the kitchen with us for a snack, even quite large dogs, make for fabulous but familiar moments; the sight of Esther doing the same produces a jolt. Based on my friends’™ responses, I would predict Jenkins and Walter are asked more often than they care to count, “Is it normal for a pig to grow that large? And by the way, how and where does Esther go to the bathroom?”

Esther has no control over her growing girth, the men note, and they vow to keep her with them as long as she lives. Esther makes it relatively easy on them. When toilet needs arise, she simply opens the back door on her own, trots outside, and relieves herself. (She can close the door too.) And yes, domestic pigs do run large: over six hundred pounds is far from unusual. Wild European boars may reach seven hundred pounds, but generally it’s pigs specifically bred for size who achieve this heft.

Esther’™s daily routine gives us a window on the nature of animal sentience. Jenkins and Walter note Esther’s quickness in learning how to unlock doors throughout their house—including the freezer door. Given a “treat ball,” a mini-“mental puzzle that challenges the receiver to extract peanut butter, Esther succeeds more rapidly than do her dog companions. More than formal problem-solving, though, it’™s Esther’™s vivid presentation of self that clues us in to her mental life. She’s keenly attentive to people and events around her; often she makes direct eye contact with the camera when being photographed. She loves frozen mango smoothies, bagpipe music, trotting around the spacious orchard outside her house, and cuddling with her dog and human companions.

A pig farmer named Bob Comis wants Esther’™s thousands of fans to note a central fact: “Esther is not cute, lovable and loving, smart, playful, mischievous, gentle, well-mannered, mirthful, gregariously snuggly and fastidious because she is special,” Comis writes. “She is all of those things, so powerfully all of those things, because she is a pig. That string of adjectives does not describe Esther alone. It describes the very heart and soul of every pig on the planet.” Comis’™s sentiment, recently published in Salon, is well-intentioned, but not grounded in a good grasp of intraspecific (within a species) variation in animal behavior. Not every pig is gentle and smart, just as there’s no essential “cat”€ nature expressed by each of the six indoor cats with whom we live. No need to discard Comis’s central point, though, because it conveys a vital truth: the pig destined to become bacon or barbecue might, with the right rearing conditions, have lived a life as thoughtful and sweet as Esther does now.

Barbara J. King is the author of How Animals Grieve and Evolving God, and her work has been featured in The Best American Science and Nature Writing. This piece is adapted from her new book, Personalities on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of the Animals We Eat, available now from University of Chicago Press.

Comments

  1. Wonderful article! I love Esther, Steve, Derek and all their friends at Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary. ❤❤

  2. Esther wasn’t bought by Steve Jenkins. Steve adopted little Esther from someone who claimed that she was a ‘micro-pig’. Steve didn’t go looking for a pet pig, and the person who gave — not sold — Esther to him wasn’t a ‘mini-pig’ breeder.

  3. Beautifuly written, I work every day with pigs at my sanctuary and every word you wrote is so true. Thank you for seeing , feeling and shareing.

  4. This is a beautiful story about two kind compassionate men that did not give up on Esthet like so many people do. They did not give up and I am so happy about that. Esther and her Dads changed my life for the better. Hugs and love to Rsther, her beautiful dads Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter plus the entire HEEFS Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary. Live them dearly. ☮❤🐷☮❤🐷

  5. My hope is that Esther is changing minds, one heart at a time and that there’ll come a day when society doesn’t eat pigs and other wonderful farm animals. Steve, Derek, Esther and the gang are showing us another way. 🐷🐷

  6. I love you Rsther and you have changed my life. Peace.Love.Esther=the Esther Effect

  7. I love Esther, her dads Steve & Derek and her entire HEEFS family! (Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary)
    If only the rest of the world could be as compassionate and kind as these 2 wonderful men! ❤️😘🐷

  8. I hope we all work at becoming aware that we are interspecies. We are not apart as beings, as we are now being taught, but all one. There is a story that I read about whereby in Italy a worker denounced cruelty on horses on a breeding farm. When interviewed the owners promised not to do it anymore. But later police were called to the farm, because the worker that denounced the situation had been tortured by the farm owners and had among other things both legs broken. In my mind there is a big picture where it does not surprise me at all that people that would torture horses would torture humans. It is the same with the world, if you torture pigs and eat them, what stops you from accepting that people be tortured. Stepping up to the next level and saying that no sentient being shall be “below” us means that there will be a lovelier world. I cannot write as well as you have about Esther, but she is a symbol of what will be.

  9. A year ago a friend of mine asked me if I’ve heard of Esther the Wonder Pig…I had not. I bought the Esther book and since then I have become a huge Esther, Derek & Steve fan. My family no longer eats anything with a hoof. I love reading the Esther posts on facebook every day. No matter what my mood Esther always cheers me up. I recently purchased a bench for the Esther Sanctuary in honour of my dad. My husband & I have tickets to go visit the sanctuary in July & can’t wait to see all the wonderful animals. The love & kindness that Derek & Steve have shared with the world has made a huge impact with so many people. They are true heros to me and my family.

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