Pig in Heaven
I recently had the chance to visit Facebook celebrity WeeWee the Pig, who fell off a truck last winter and landed at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, where he now leads the life all pigs should lead: happy, safe, and loved.
Here at Viva!, 2016 is the ‘Year of the Pig’. We’ve taken our ‘Face Off’ campaign to the streets, showing the public how pigs live – and suffer – on British farms. We’ve published a new report documenting the horrific findings from our 12-month investigation into the British pig industry. Ten million pigs are killed every year in the UK alone, 1.3 billion worldwide.
Constantly being aware of all this suffering can at times be overwhelming, which is why it is imperative that we animal activists recharge our batteries every once in a while – and I found just the place for it: pig heaven, a.k.a Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary.
I first came across Poplar Spring when a story made the rounds on social media: everyone from the BBC to The Washington Post was reporting about a little piglet who had been found by the side of a road in a raging blizzard last January. The family who rescued him took him to the sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland.
WeeWee’s clipped tail and tattooed ear indicate that he was born in a factory farm. He most likely escaped by falling off a truck on the way to a rearing facility. Instead of facing certain death, he’s now living it up with his BFF Scooter, a black Ossabaw pig who arrived at the sanctuary around the same time.
I’ve been following their antics on Facebook from day one. So when I happened to be in Maryland visiting relatives this summer, I just had to meet WeeWee and friends.
Founded in 1996 by Terry Cummings and her husband, Dave Hoerauf, Poplar Spring is a picturesque 400-acre safe haven for over 200 animals: pigs, cows, sheep, goats, horses, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, and even a peacock and a deer.
The sanctuary is open to visitors on weekends, but fortunately I got a special tour by Poplarite Maureen McGowan and got to hang out with the animals for a bit longer. It was a blistering hot day, so, unsurprisingly, we found WeeWee lounging in a mud hole. At the prospect of receiving belly rubs, however, he came ambling over.
WeeWee limps a little bit, because, at only nine months, he already has the early stages of arthritis. He and other pigs like him are (over)bred for meat. Grow fast, grow big! He’s already three months older than he would’ve been had he not escaped; most pigs are killed at six months. But not WeeWee. He now gets to spend his days with mud spas, treats, and belly rubs – the way it should be! And he gets to grow up and grow old with his friend, Scooter. Although he and WeeWee have become more independent (they used to be inseparable), you still often see them napping snout-to-snout, a clear sign of affection among pigs.
Each resident, like WeeWee, has a unique story. Take little Elliot the calf. He was found in a kill pen after he’d been left there for three days without food or water. People were just “waiting for him to die”. His mother, Lucy, was bound for the slaughterhouse. Luckily, a kind soul rescued them both just in time.
We found Rose the goat ‘holding hooves’ with her son Ash, enjoying the sun. Rose grew up on a dairy farm and managed to escape from a slaughterhouse. No one knows how many babies had been taken away from her by the time she was rescued. When she arrived at Poplar Spring, she was pregnant. She always stays very close to her two children, Ash and Heather.
Other highlights of my visit included feeding Evie the three-legged goat cookies and giving Dasha the deer carrot sticks. But the best part, hands down, was meeting WeeWee.
I was sad to leave, but felt replenished. It was beautiful seeing these animals treated with love and respect, and being reminded that there is good and there is hope in the world.
How many people went “aww” when reading WeeWee’s story in the news, but had a bacon sandwich the same day? Probably most of them – but not all of them. Many people who follow WeeWee on Facebook or visit the sanctuary give up meat or even go vegan, after they experience first-hand that farmed animals, too, have unique personalities. Sanctuaries like Poplar Spring are vital, not only for the rescued animals there, but for billions of others like them – by changing the hearts and minds of people and reminding them that animals don’t belong on our plates.
Thinking of adopting a WeeWee-friendly diet? Check out our free 30 Day Vegan program.