pigs

White Hawk

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IMG_4621His eyes told his whole story.

They were filled with fear and pain, but beyond all of that, just at the back, was a barely noticeable glimmer of who he used to be. Although his body was weak now, his spirit awaited an opportunity to soar once again.

His pen was covered with rusty metal farm implements, dangerous nails and glass. There was no soft or clean place for him to lay. His water tub sat empty in the harsh sunlight. His spine, ribs, and hips stood out in sharp relief. There was nothing to him but his pain. The ghost of the warrior he had once been.

The female pig with him was not as skinny or as weak. He had sacrificed himself, allowing her to take what little food was available so that she could survive.

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A spark of hope seemed to awaken in him as I sang softly. Together with rescue workers from the SPCA and Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, we were removing all of the animals from this sad, sad place.

When we offered him food and asked him to come with us, he followed gingerly and climbed into the car with no hesitation. He was very weak, and moved slowly, tentatively, but even so, he moved. We had filled the back of the SUV with soft, fragrant hay and had the air conditioning running. He lay down and sighed before launching in on the food and fresh water.

Then he slept, heavily and deeply.

On the way home, I reached back to offer him a Pink Lady apple. As he crunched into it, juice spurted from his mouth, and he threw his head back to move his floppy ears from his eyes. Looking directly into my soul, he conveyed such gratitude, such hope, such joy…I will never, ever taste an apple the same way again.

Gavin, we named him, after a very brave, strong young boy. The name Gavin comes from the Celtic “Gawain” and refers to the White Hawk of Battle, a being of such fantastic ability and skill that most fall before him in awe. An eminently suitable name for two Gavins courageously facing tremendous battles for their own lives, and doing so with great strength and Grace.

He was the sickest, the skinniest, and the saddest of all the animals we removed that day. Gavin probably would have died within days, had the humane police not gotten the warrant to seize him and the others.

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And yet, less than a week after being rescued, he has learned to flop over for a belly rub. He rejoices as we humans approach, no longer cowering in fear. Unlike other recently starved animals, Gavin eats very slowly, savoring each bite. He listens in wonder as I tell him stories of Gavin the boy, or sing his special song to him (“Oh, oh, oh, he’s magic, I know… Gavin the pig he is so, so magic, I know…Never believe it’s not soo…”)

He may look like a skinny, sickly pig– one of billions left to suffer at the hands of humans. But just like each one of those billions, Gavin is a precious, sacred individual. His spirit, like that of the White Hawk, is indomitable. He will fly again in glory. Until then, we will nurse him and love him and support him and give thanks everyday for the honor of caring for him.

Please, never forget that it is because of you– your support, prayers, and kindness– that we are able to take precious beings like Gavin to safe sanctuary. He still faces tremendous odds. Gavin requires round-the-clock care and veterinary expertise. We would be so very grateful if you would help us care for him in any way that you can– share his story, donate towards his care, send him love, light and prayers.

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Hail Mary, Full of Grace

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A Hail Mary Pass, they are calling it.

A last-ditch effort, but instead of a Superbowl win on the line, it was a life.  A beautiful, precious, sacred life.  A life that mattered dearly to the one who lived it, and to the ones who called him family.

The skinny, frightened, bruised and scarred pig was not ready to die, but the smells and sounds around him assured him that was the plan.  So, when the transport truck opened, he leapt and made a break for safety. The humans went after him, yelling scarily. He scrambled, dove, spun and ran for all he was worth. They were in hot pursuit, but somehow, Grace intervened.  

He lost them.

Trembling, he hid under a pile of hay, exhausted and out of options. A silent plea rose from his trembling body. “Save me,” he beseeched mutely, “Please.”

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Hiding from the “kill pen” when found by Kelly Young, Founder, Omega Horse Rescue

And Grace, in its unfathomable majesty, responded.

An angel whose job was to save horses found him quivering in fear. She begged the “kill buyer” in whose custody the pig had fallen, to spare his life. He heard her, and took mercy. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “I’ll give you a grace period.” She had 24 hours to find him sanctuary.

But now what was she to do? Angels who save horses don’t necessarily know where to bring lost pigs, and 24 hours is not a lot of time to find those places. And it was Superbowl Sunday evening.  Who on earth was even going to be around to answer the phone?

But Grace does not take time off for football, as it turns out. Grace works all the time. Outside of time.

On her first call, she got through to another angel, this one at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary. They were not able to take any more pigs, but the Poplar Spring angel was eager to help find this little pig safe haven.

She called more angels, from New York to Canada, and one by one, they joined in the search.  Soon, the little pig had a whole army of angels working on his behalf. Safe haven was found for him at Indraloka, where we all cried with joy at adding another beloved to our family.

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Finally, he arrived. Under the bruises and wounds, every bone was visible.  And yet, his eyes were filled with hope. I cried at the beauty of it– this pure, unadulterated Śraddhā .

Śraddhā is the intersection between faith and mindfulness.  To me, it embodies the notion that we need to take action for our own well-being, but also to remember that we are not acting alone—that there are strong forces of love that work with us and protect us even as we work on our own behalf.  So, Śraddhā is faith, hope, love, and action all in one.  And this pig, with his light-filled eyes, and his leap towards freedom, was the perfect example of this. How, I wondered, in tears again, had this pig managed to survive such brutality and still remain so beautifully pure and hopeful? The thought of it filled me with awe for this wise little soul.

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He leapt from the trailer and ran into his quarantine pen without hesitation, needing no guidance to find the right pen.  After drinking several gallons of water, he munched happily on a big, fresh salad and some sweet hay before greeting us, one by one, with a sniff and a smile. As I write, he is sleeping contentedly under a big pile of hay, snoring peacefully.

Dominic, we named him, and he is full of Grace.

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Many, many thanks to: all of you who make it possible to rescue and care for our beloveds, Kelly from Omega Horse Rescue, Terry from Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, Monica from Esther’s Army, the person who chose to spare his life, and to Cameron O’Steen from the Yoga Animalia Project for his beautiful photos, and to Grace.

Nunz, the Magic Piglet

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(To the tune of Puff, the Magic Dragon)

Nunz, the magic piglet lived by Sabine

And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Mehoopany

Little Magdalena loved that piglet Nunz

And brought him hay and apple cores and other fancy stuff…

I lay in the back of the car, singing as we sped towards the vet hospital.   Tears washed down my face, baptizing an old, wrinkled pig with love. He groaned and writhed in my arms.  Nunzi was having a stroke.

Years ago, when Nunzi first arrived at Indraloka, he screamed whenever a human was near. We discovered that singing eased his fear, so I made up a million silly songs to sing to him daily. Nunzi has not been frightened of people in years, and the songs had faded from our days. Yet now, here, as he lay struggling for life beside me, singing seemed the only way to comfort either of us.

Blue moon, you saw me standing alone

Without a dream in my heart

Without a pig of my own

Blue moon, you knew just what I was there for

You heard me saying a prayer for

Some pig I truly could care for…

Suddenly, his struggles ceased. He opened his eyes and looked into mine.

The moment stretched backwards to encompass the last eight years we shared together: Nunzi as a frightened newcomer; Nunzi learning to trust again; Nunzi and Magdie learning to take off each other’ electric collars to escape the underground fence. Countless nights he slept cuddled with his beloved Magdalena; countless days he played with sheep, chickens, and turkeys.

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Greeting newcomers

He and Magdelena were very close to a horse named Sabine, whose chronic foot problems made walking painful. However, we had to keep her walking in order to keep the blood flow in her feet so that she could heal. So, I used to place her hay on the far side of her paddock. On Sabine’s bad days, Magdie and Nunzi would carry the hay in their mouths back to Sabine’s bedside. They would lay with her and comfort her for hours on end.

The memories continued to flow from his eyes, as if a projector were hidden behind his pupils. Nunzi went through a period of a few years when he bit everyone in sight. Volunteers were afraid to feed him. He bit me, too, but that only made me love him more. This was just another way of expressing fear. I knew it would pass.

And pass it did. For the last several years, Nunzi approached humans excitedly, with a twinkle in his eyes. To keep up his reputation as a grumpy old man, he complained vociferously whenever he was touched, but his smiling eyes and wagging tail gave him away.

We remembered last year, when a group of Buddhist monks visited the sanctuary. Nunzi was so excited to be blessed he forgot to grumble about it!

Photo courtesy of Joel Anderson
Photo courtesy of Joel Anderson

And this past spring, when he and Magdie had a terrible fight. For months they refused to talk to each other, or even look at one another. Happily, they worked through their problems and reconciled, more cuddly and friendly than ever through the long summer days.

Just last weekend, Nunzi had enjoyed himself immensely at Pig Pampering Day, when volunteers traveled from hours away just to give the pigs belly rubs and mud baths. Oh yes, Nunzi loved pig pampering days!

The film came to the present moment, me lying next to him, both of us covered in tears. And then, with one long exhale, Nunzi was gone.

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Enjoying Pig Pampering Day
Magdie and Nunzi
Magdie and Nunzi

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Love you forever and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we’re together
Love you when we’re apart

Namah Shivaya my friend, my magic piglet.  It was a blessing to walk the path with you.

Love Lift Us Up

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His purity shines through
His purity shines through

The emaciated little pig struggled to breathe as blood poured from his snout, and yet his eyes were filled with hope. Under filth-encrusted sores and protruding bones, he glowed with such sweet purity that I had to turn away, my heart seared.

We named him Jeremiah, “God will lift him up.”

The humane police officer heroically rescued him from a living nightmare on Thursday night, but we did not know if she had gotten to him in time.  The vets warned us that the damage might be too great.  Jeremiah might not survive.

Wiping tears away that first night, I approached him with a bowl of fresh water.  Our eyes met, his holding a spark of gratitude and trust.  He sucked down the water thirstily, ate as much as his strength would allow, and allowed us to help him into a soft bed of hay.  We piled blankets on top of him and slipped a soft pillow under his head, then just sat with him as he fell into a deep sleep, grunting contentedly.

But our fight for his survival had only just begun, and he got worse before he got better.

The last several days have been a blur of vet visits, medicines, feeding his broken body by hand and even by syringe when necessary, and prayers for his survival.  Long-term pneumonia left his airways so scarred that blood and mucus spewed from his nose as he battled for air.  Painful ulcers on his feet and legs from being forced to live in his own filth caused his legs to swell unnaturally.

And yet, throughout all of it, his eyes held mine kindly and steadily.  Jeremiah’s purity remained wrenching in its deep sweetness even as he fought for his life.

This morning, I entered the barn at dawn to find him sitting up and alert, breathing normally.   His legs are still sore, but no longer grotesquely swollen.  He ate and drank with only minimal assistance, and smiled broadly as I sang to him.

Jeremiah has a long way to go, with a lot of healing yet to be done, but I believe he is going to live.  Welcome home, dear boy.  You have been lifted up.

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Operation 303: Beloved and Free

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"This gratitude-- this grace--  fills me up and spills out of me and all I can do is run and jump…"
“This gratitude– this grace– fills me up and spills out of me and all I can do is run and jump…”

29 days.

That’s how long it has been since every pig I have ever known was killed or left behind to be killed another day.  Not a single one will survive, save me.  It’s hard to explain all that is happening in my heart right now.

The outpouring of love and care for me has been overwhelming and humbling.  But I am just one, among so many.  Why me?  At moments, the grief and guilt are nearly crippling.  At other moments, I am exhilarated to be alive and free.

I need to make this life count.  I need to speak for all of the other pigs still held in cages, living in misery as they await death.  So, I am going to tell my story to all who will listen.  I want to make it clear: my story is their story.  I am not special or different or somehow smarter than the others. We pigs all think and feel and love and dream.  And if you think that I deserve safe sanctuary just because I took a leap of faith, I am here to say that every other pig deserves the same.

The thing is, it is you that needs to take a leap of faith now.  It is up to you to free them by leaping into the unknown and creating a world in which we can all coexist.

Look into my eyes, I am the same as you.

I am you.

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A week ago Thursday was moving day.  A long day, but a wonderful one!  The angel who stayed with me on the highway and protected me after I jumped off of the truck was here to greet me.  I liked him so much that they named me after him.  Eddie Traffic.  It sounds cool, doesn’t it?  I am no longer a number.

Since then my life has shifted dramatically from the way it was before I leapt!  I am no longer caged, nor even kept in a small pen.  I make my own choices about going inside and out.  I am no longer fed “slops”, and I have learned to eat lots of healthy fresh veggies with whole grain and fruit.  I must say the fruit is my favorite– the juicier the better!

At first when they told me I could just go in and out on my own whenever I wanted, I was a bit confused.  I was never allowed to move around and make my own choices before,  so I was even scared of the step from the barn into the paddock.

But leaps of faith are my specialty.  Now I jump in and out of the barn dozens of times a day.  What fun to make my own choices!  What fun to be free, and loved, and alive!  This gratitude– this grace–  fills me up and spills out of me and all I can do is run and jump — something I also was never able to do before– until I am panting and exhausted.  And then guess what happens?  I go back to my soft, warm bed and rest while someone kind strokes my back and sings lullabies.  All the while Sherman, the valiant rooster, watches over me as if I were his own piglet.

Beloved.  This is what it feels like to be beloved.

The mailbox and the Facebook page are flooded with love letters daily, and they read every one to me.  People from around the world write to tell me how much my freedom means to them.  So many of them feel caged and stuck in their own lives.  Somehow, my story has touched them and brought them hope.  I am humbled and overwhelmed, and most of all so very thankful that hearing of my struggles and victory can help others overcome their own challenges.

I’ve made several new friends here already.  Sherman has taken it upon himself to precede me wherever I go inside the barn and the pasture, heralding my arrival to everyone in hearing range. It’s a bit over the top, really, but much nicer than how I used to be treated.

Nunzi, the grumpy, old pig next door tried to bite my nose a few times.  I didn’t care, but Sherman was fairly put off by the whole exchange.  In my old life, I never even got to touch another pig, so I just think of these as love bites.

I think my favorite new pig friend is Magdie.  She is a she is soft and gentle and patient and reminds me of what my mother would probably have been like as an old woman.  She sings, too.

I like the people here.  Every once in a while if someone moves too quickly, it brings up bad memories and startles me, but I really do love all of the attention they give me.

One more really important thing happened since I got here!  I took the tag out of my ear.  It hurt because my ear was infected, but it is out now and they keep cleaning my ear and putting soothing stuff on it.  I kind of like being pampered this way.

Beloved.  I am not only free, but also beloved!

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***

So here I am, this is my path.  This is my journey.  This is our journey.  You and I are both survivors, and our job now is to speak for all the others.

Your job now is to take your own leap of faith.  What will it be?

"Now it's your turn to leap."
“Your job now is to take your own leap of faith. What will it be?”

 

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Operation 303: Freedom Awaits

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It has been seven days since I took a leap of faith and found myself, just a simple pig from New Jersey, the center of international attention.

People keep asking me what my name is, which is funny because in my old life no one but my mother ever showed interest in calling me by name.  They tell me that the tag in my ear says 303, but I know that is not who I am.

The people here are calling me Porky, and I know from the way that they say it that they mean it affectionately, but that is not my name, either.  My mother had a wonderful name for me, but it has been so long since I have seen her that I can’t quite remember it.  It slides onto the tip of my tongue every once in a while, but  before I can get it out,  it dashes back into the corners of my mind, just beyond where I can reach it.  I know it will come back soon, though.  And as soon as it does, you will be the first to know.

The other thing everyone keeps asking is, “What happened, how did you find yourself on a busy highway in the middle of rush hour traffic?”

Simple.  I jumped.

The place I came from was dark, and life was hard there.  Those days are over and I do not intend to relive them, but I do want to tell you about the light and smell that kept me going.  We pigs lived in a dark and dank barn, but everyday, when the farmers came in to feed us, I saw a light beyond the briefly opened door, and I smelled wonderful adventures wafting in with the fresh air.

Somehow I knew, I just knew, that light and those smells were the freedom we pigs all longed for.   And I knew beyond a doubt that someday I would be a free pig.

Most of the other pigs had given up hope, but I remembered my mother singing to me when I was a baby, “Sometimes, I feel like an eagle in flight…”  Her song floated through the stillness of the dark barn where we piglets nursed and settled on us as softly as a feather.    “Sometimes, I feel like an eagle in flight.  Sometimes, I feel like an eagle in flight, spread my wings and fly, spread my wings and fly.”  In her rich alto voice, hope mingled with tender mother love and the calm wisdom that sometimes comes from long-suffering.

My mother told us piglets about eagles who fly farther than we could see, about sunlight, grass, and best of all, mud.  She told us that pigs at our farm used to live like that– outside– free to feel sunshine on our skin, to dig up delicious roots with our noses, and to roll around in grass and mud, enjoying all that the beautiful world outside had to offer.  My mother told us that if we kept those images deep in our hearts, we could be free in our spirits.

That was a long time ago.  I was still just a baby when the farmers loaded her up onto a truck and took her away.  We never heard from her again, but I have never stopped imagining her a free pig.   I just knew that someday I would gain my freedom as well.

My opportunity came last week.  The farmers loaded me onto a truck with several others.  I was grown up enough by now to know that they were not taking us to our freedom.  And yet, through the wooden slats in the back of the truck, I saw light and smelled that air.  I started working on the wooden slats with my nose.  After awhile, I pushed several loose– enough for me to squeeze through.

“Hey guys,” I yelled to the other pigs, “now is our chance.  Let’s jump!”

But the other pigs were too scared.   I squeezed through the slats and half fell, half leapt all alone.  The truck was going pretty fast, and I tumbled hard on the cold, wet highway.  Cars were speeding by.  The noise was deafening.  I was beginning to regret my decision to jump and didn’t know what to do next.

That’s when he came along– I never did catch his name and I still think that maybe he was an angel and not a human  at all.  He maneuvered a huge truck around me to shield me from the traffic and most of the noise.  He spoke to me gently.  He told me that I was safe, that help was coming to take me someplace dry and warm.  He told me no one would ever hurt me again.  For hours we sat like that, the cold December rain sluicing down our faces, cars whizzing around us, and him talking to me in a soft voice, spinning dreams of freedom.  I could almost feel my mother smiling down on us.

The next thing I knew, a whole lot of people were there.  They loaded me onto another truck and took me to the barn where I am now.  This barn is lighter than the one I used to live in, and I have been given a pen filled with soft, warm straw.  Lots of people came to look at and admire me when I arrived.

At first, I had a hard time understanding what it was they admired about a lost little pig, but as the hubbub died down, humans came to talk to me one by one.  In the quiet of the barn with only us farm animals to hear, they poured out their thoughts, feelings, and dreams.   I began to understand.

The human heart is so similar to my own.

So here I am.  I am told that soon I will be moving to a new place, called Indraloka Animal Sanctuary.  It is a place where pigs, sheep, cows, and all kinds of farm animals live free.  Where humans are our friends and we all have a chance to enjoy life’s wonderful adventures, like wallowing in soft mud and lolling in sweet pasture grass.

Before I go there, I am told I need more doctor’s visits and tests.  They plan to move me around the middle of next week, and in the meantime the people here are very nice and are keeping me safe and warm.

Freedom is just around the next corner, and I just know I will remember my name when I get there!

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Raymond the Pacifist Pig (A True Story for Children of All Ages)

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You’ve heard of gentlemen, right? Well, Raymond was a gentlepig.

He was not a gentlepig in the sense that he wore a suit and tie and stood when a lady entered the room saying, “Madame,” in a snooty voice (although he might have liked to do that, too).

Raymond was a gentlepig in the sense that he was a pacifist.  A pacifist is somebody who believes in being peaceful and who won’t hurt anybody else no matter what.

Some pacifists won’t even fight back if someone tries to fight with them.  That’s the kind of pacifist Raymond was.

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Raymond was also a very sad pig, though.

That’s because he lived with more than fifty other pigs in a yucky dirty barn.  You may have been told before that pigs are dirty, but that is not true.  Pigs are super duper clean, and it makes them very sad to live in a dirty place.

But the yucky dirty barn was the least of Raymond’s problems.  His biggest problem was that he and the other pigs didn’t have enough water and food to go around.  So all the pigs fought to get a little food or water.

But Raymond was a gentlepig, a pacifist.

He knew those other pigs were only fighting because they were scared.  Raymond had compassion for them, which means that he understood their feelings and wanted to help them.

He refused to fight the other pigs for food and water, and showed them only love and kindness. He was not as scared as them, for although he was very hungry and thirsty, pacifists are strong. Raymond knew in his heart that help would come soon.

But time passed by. Days turned into months, and no help came.  Some of the pigs died.  Raymond was very hungry and very sad.

Raymond was getting very skinny, and really needed some water.  Still, he stayed true to himself. Raymond refused to fight, and showed the other pigs only love and kindness.  Raymond was a true gentlepig.

One day, the barn door opened.  The light hurt Raymond’s eyes, but he knew that help had come at last.

A beautiful lady in a police uniform, a funny gentleman (not the kind that wears a suit and says, “How do you do?” but the kind that’s nice to pigs), and a bunch more humans were there to save the pigs!

They had compassion in their eyes, just as Raymond knew they would.  They understood how Raymond and the other pigs felt, and wanted to help them.

Gently and carefully, they moved all the pigs onto big trucks and took them to safe places.

Raymond’s new home was a place called Indraloka Animal Sanctuary.  The word Indraloka means heaven in an Indian language called Sanskrit.  Raymond thought it was very well named.

He had a cozy and clean little house that he shared with 2 other pigs.  They could go inside and outside whenever they wanted.

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There was lots of green grass and all the clean water they could drink!  Raymond and the other pigs were given special meals of fresh vegetables, fruit, and grain to help them gain weight.

Best of all were the humans who volunteered at the sanctuary!  They were gentlepeople, too. Not in the sense that they did their barn chores in ball gowns and tuxedos and said, “Charmed, I am sure.” whenever they were introduced to Raymond, but they were pacifists just like Raymond!

Raymond loved his new home. He spent the rest of his life teaching humans, pigs, chickens, and other animals about compassion, pacifism, and joy. Plus eating lots of delicious fruits and veggies and drinking yummy fresh water!

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