Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Saga of Petunia

…or How We Became Unsuspecting Pig Parents
By Jennie Staub

Last Tuesday started out normal enough.  Little did we know how far from normal the next few days would become. My husband, Jay, and I woke up, fed dogs, cats, and chickens, drove to work, and decided to have lunch at one of our favorite restaurants where our friend Julie happens to work as a server.  As always, we asked to be seated in her section.  When she saw us, she immediately rushed over and without preamble asked if we had purchased our new farm yet.  We’ve been on the hunt for a new place with more acreage and more privacy and had told Julie a few weeks prior about a place we’d found further out in the country with eight acres and how, if we bought it, we planned to add to our menagerie of cats, dogs, and chickens with maybe some pigs and goats.  When we told Julie no, we didn’t have a new place yet, she sighed heavily and said how much she had hoped we did because she was going to ask a huge favor of us.  And here’s where the story gets really interesting, really fast.

Julie told us that her brother had been given a pot belly pig by a friend who, in turn, had gotten her from another friend who works at a local animal shelter.  When her brother mentioned to this friend in casual conversation that he was thinking of getting a pig to raise, his friend took him to mean a pig as a pet (we assume) and knew that a pot belly pig had been turned in at the shelter by some folks who said she wandered into their yard.  Since coming to the shelter no one had come to claim her so away she went to Julie’s brother. 

The only thing wrong with this picture is what Julie’s brother meant was he wanted to get a pig to raise for food and he had no intention of keeping a pig as a pet.  Some of his less enlightened friends (think Beverly Hillbillies-type folks) heard him mention that he needed to find a new home for the pig because he did not want to keep a pig for a pet.  Seeing a flashing neon sign saying “FREE PORK”, they offered to take the pig off his hands, have her carved into pork chops and bacon, and both sides would stock their freezers. 

Needless to say, Julie and her husband, Jerry, were appalled and beside themselves when they heard this but were in no position to take her since their neighborhood was not zoned for pet pigs.  They had been going to her brother’s house for the past week to feed and care for the pig, which they came to adore and had named Petunia, all the while trying in vain to find someone, anyone, willing to adopt her and NOT slaughter her.

I think Julie viewed us as Petunia’s last hope.  She was practically in tears telling us how the very next day her brother’s backwoods buds were coming to take Petunia away and straight to the butcher.  We agreed with her that these people were unconscionable to take and kill a pig that had never been anything other than someone’s pet.  Feeling awful, but not knowing what else to do, we left it at that, finished our lunch, and went on our way.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about that poor little girl and how I could possibly help save her from what seemed an almost inevitable fate.

On the way back to work, I thought of my sister who lives about 60 miles west of us and is very plugged in to the north Alabama animal rescue community.  I contacted her, told her the story, and she began working her contacts.Very soon she contacted me with good news.  It turned out one of her good friends, Amber, who is actively involved in rescue and fostering had her own pot belly pig, coincidentally also named Petunia, and was willing to foster our Petunia and try to find her a home…..but there was a catch.  We had to get the pig to her, some 60 miles away.  Neither Jay nor I could afford to take time off work.  Julie was scheduled to work also; however, Jerry had the time and a truck but not the financial means.  Julie doesn’t make a lot at her waitress job and Jerry is currently unemployed.  I gladly offered to give them gas money if they could deliver Petunia and they jumped at the offer.  It all seemed to be coming together and we both agreed we would sleep soundly that night knowing Petunia had a safe place to go.

The following morning, Wednesday, Jerry went to his brother-in-law’s house and got Petunia in his truck to make the long trip to drop Petunia off with Amber at the veterinarian office where she works.  Amber would get her home from there.  All seemed to going well and I breathed a sigh of relief that Petunia was safe from the butcher and would be well cared for until a home could be found.  The original plan was that Amber would keep our Petunia with her Petunia in her backyard, and work on finding her a forever home.  By this time in the process, I was already sold on adopting Petunia myself IF (and it was a big if) I could figure out a place to keep her.  My dear husband, on the other hand, was blissfully unaware of my decision.  We have two acres at our current residence but none of it is fenced except for a portion of the backyard where the dogs stay and three adjoining garden plots which are set up with welded wire fence.  We have been using them as extra roaming space for our flock of chickens.  I decided we could retrofit one area to be fit for a pig and estimated that we could have her back with us in a week or two. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans….

I awoke the next morning, Thursday, to an urgent text message from Amber that said she was terribly sorry but didn’t think this was going to work out after all and needed me to come get the pig.  It turned out that our Petunia was a good 70 pounds heavier and several inches taller and wider than her Petunia and she was afraid to leave them alone unsupervised, plus our Petunia had charged at her dogs upon seeing them.  To make matters even worse, Petunia had bitten Amber’s foot the previous evening in her anxiousness to get to the food that she was bringing her.  Amber was just afraid she was going to be too much to handle.  My heart sank.  What were we going to do now?  By this time, I had sold Jay on the idea of having a pet pig (surprisingly easier than I expected) and we had a quick brainstorming session.  We decided we could get something put together by Saturday. We asked Amber if she could possibly keep Petunia until we could make it over Saturday afternoon to pick her up.  She had a 10x10 chain-link kennel that she sometimes used for rescued dogs and she could put Petunia in there for a couple of days.  Now the clock was ticking louder and we really had to get to work.

Friday afternoon we both left work after lunch and ran to our local feed store to purchase a truckload of straw bales and a large molded plastic dog house similar to the one Amber said Petunia was already sleeping in at her house.  The fenced area I wanted to put her in had been our garden this past summer and still had all of the tomato cages, the remains of the plants that had just recently died off, and snaking through it all a long half-buried soaker hose. 

All of that had to be torn down or pulled up, and the plants dug up and removed, specifically the tomato plants, because I know they are poisonous to many animals.  We worked HARD for several hours and finally had a double stacked row of straw bales along the fence Petunia would share with the main chicken run, effectively blocking her view just in case she decided to try and “play” with the chickens.  We had a large pallet we had kept to use as a foundation for a new dog house but hadn’t yet so we brought that out, put her house on top, and then stacked straw bales around it for insulation.  The last bales we stacked one tall along the opposite end of the pen where the fence is shared with one of the older garden plots that the chickens are allowed into each day to scratch and explore.

We knew from Amber’s description, and a few pictures she sent me, that our little Petunia was not so little after all.  She was a big girl weighing in at perhaps 100-120 pounds and just a little shorter than knee high.  Amber had also tried putting a makeshift harness on Petunia the day she got her and Petunia freaked out, telling Amber that no one had ever harness or leash trained her.  Our original idea of leading her out on a leash, picking her up and placing her into the bed of the truck went flying out the window.  After reading about ramps on the Pigs 4 Ever website, I told Jay that’s what we needed – a nice sturdy ramp with little cross sections of wood tacked on so she could get traction and not slip…AND it was a job I was assigning to him.  He nodded his head and assumed the mantle of patient long suffering he wears whenever I decide we need to adopt a new pet and he is tasked to help.  Soon after, the sound of his table saw could be heard whining away in the garage and soon there emerged a very nice ramp.

Amber worked until noon on Saturday so we planned to leave our house in the late morning.  This would give us plenty of time to stop at Tractor Supply on the way to pick up pig chow, suitable food and water bowls, then on to Amber’s house to load Petunia and get back home with plenty of daylight left to get her settled in.  One of our three dogs sleeps in an XL wire crate each night so we borrowed it to transport Petunia and put lots of nice fresh straw in the bottom so she would feel more secure and her hooves wouldn’t slide.  We loaded up the rapidly made but surprisingly sturdy ramp in the truck bed alongside the kennel and headed west.

For those of you who have pet pigs, I’m sure I’m not telling you anything new when I say wrangling a pig the size of Petunia and getting her to go where she doesn’t want to go and to do what she doesn’t want to do is no small feat indeed, but when that pig doesn’t know you and has recently been shaken up from being shuttled from one place to another and another, it’s practically impossible.  We were woefully unprepared for just how difficult it would be getting her out the small fenced area where she had been sequestered, along approximately 15 feet of fence line, around the corner, and through the gate where we had backed the truck and lowered the ramp.  I believe it took us at least seven attempts (maybe more), and several handfuls of dog food as an enticement, just to get her to the gate.  Once we got Petunia to the open gate, Jay got behind her and partially closed the gate so she couldn’t back up, and then it was up to all three of us, with more dog food dropped up the ramp, to push, pull, and bribe her all the way up the ramp and into the kennel.  Jay and I had just experienced our first, but I’m sure not last, up close and personal encounter with a creature whose personality traits had spawned the word “pigheaded”.  We caught our breath, thanked Amber again for being so gracious to take Petunia in,then we headed back home.

Once we arrived home, it was surprisingly easy to get her into her new pen.  We backed the truck as close to the gate as we could and lowered the ramp.  With Jay using a blunt wooden garden stake to gently encourage from behind and me waving a bowl of her new pig chow under her nose, it only took just two tries to get her to make the trip back down the ramp.  She made a beeline for the southwest corner of her new pen, squatted and pee’d a gallon.  With that accomplished, she leisurely explored all four sides of her pen, sniffing and grunting her apparent approval. She inspected her house by walking in, burying her nose in the straw, and coming back out with straw draped over her head.  Seemingly satisfied with her new digs, she settled in to eat her dinner.  I stayed out with her for a while to let her get used to me and eventually she stood still for me to scratch her back.  She bowed her back and the next thing I knew she flopped down on her side for a belly rub, grunting happily. At that point I knew I could tell Julie that the saga of Petunia was going to have a happy ending. 

It’s been only a week since she came to us and already she has grunted and squealed her way into our hearts.  Cold weather arrived here today, a bit earlier than expected, and next week is forecast to be even colder.  We will be building her a lean-to this weekend so she will have a better place to stay warm and dry that is much larger than just her little house in the midst of the straw bales.  Her new Busy Ball is on order and should arrive tomorrow.  Next up is a harness and leash so we can begin that training process.  I look forward to the day when we are comfortable enough to allow her to roam and graze outside her pen and she can finally know that she has nothing to fear ever again.