If you haven't already, it's time you meet Esther the Wonder Pig--our favorite new internet star! When Esther was adopted, her family was told she would only grow to be about 70 pounds. What they quickly found out was that Esther is actually a full-size pig just like the ones suffering on factory farms.
Within mere days of its creation, Esther's Facebook page garnered thousands of likes (she can also be followed on Twitter and Instagram). Esther and her family are truly inspiring and reaching countless people with their message of compassion.
We were super excited to touch base with one of Esther's dads, Steve, and ask him some questions about the new addition to the family. Esther and family live in Toronto, Canada.
MFAC: What inspired you to invite a pig into your family?
It was a very unplanned thing. I got a call at about 9 p.m. on a Friday night from a girl who had brought Esther home to live with her family. I was told she wasn't getting along with their dogs and needed to be re-homed ASAP. I said I'd think about taking Esther and get back to her but no sooner had I spoken with her than I received another call telling me someone else was interested. I had first "dibs" but needed to let this girl know straight away. The pressure was on and by 9 a.m. Saturday we had Esther.
It all happened before I really had time to process it and more importantly, tell Derek! We now had a pig in the family and I had a few hours to figure how I was going to break the news. It was an interesting day.
MFAC: How quickly did you learn that Esther wasn't going to remain little? What was your initial reaction to the fact that Esther would grow to be hundreds of pounds instead of just 70?
It was on our first vet visit. He had immediately raised concerns about Esther's tail. He noted that it had been cropped, which is very rare in pet pigs but a practice seen in factory farming. He also noticed her ears weren't notched or clipped at all, which led him to believe she may have been the runt of a litter. He said most times the runts are just killed off so she may have been snuck off by a farmhand thinking they could make a quick buck. She was still pretty small but the wheels were definitely turning in our heads.
We tried to reach out to the girl we got her from but she dodged our questions and ultimately faded away without telling us anything. From then on it became a waiting and guessing game. We both panicked at first and asked ourselves the typical questions one asks when presented with this type of scenario: "How can we possibly keep her?" "What's the town going to say?" It was a very stressful few months while we came to grips with the situation we were facing. We had already fallen in love with her so giving her up was not an option.
MFAC: Can you tell us how living with Esther has changed your eating habits? Were you vegetarian/vegan before living with Esther?
We were not vegetarian or vegan before Esther. Once she came home we immediately gave up bacon. We weren't big "pork" eaters anyway but bacon was a staple for sure. It was only a day or two before we made that connection and stopped the bacon altogether. We also watched a few documentaries and actually started paying attention to how factory farms work.
We began to see Esther's personality and intelligence and couldn't stop thinking about what she would be like in those farms. Every day Esther became more and more like our dogs. She was learning tricks and settling into our family, and with each day we would be more and more emotional as we watched these documentaries and read the articles. We just had to stop, and haven't been able to watch those types of videos since. It's just too hard to separate them from Esther. She's all we see.
MFAC: How does Esther get along with her "siblings"?
Esther and the dogs get along great. We have the odd minor dispute over a bed or occasional dinner bowl, but for the most part Esther knows the rules and boundaries. She rarely pushes the dogs and the majority of the time they get along really well.
Shelby (the bigger one) cuddles with Esther a lot more than Reuben. He just "tolerates" her but never really plays or wrestles. She has learned whose food is whose and keeps her distance while they eat. She has a definite place in the pack and she knows it. Shelby is kingpin while Reuben and Esther do their thing in the background.
MFAC: Our "Why Love One but Eat the Other?" campaign features a picture of a puppy and piglet side-by-side. Can you further speak to how Esther is similar/different from your dogs?
Esther has a level of intelligence that is hard to explain. She is so smart it blows our minds almost daily. Here's an example: Early on she learned where we kept our "human" food. She figured out how to open the cupboards and would pull everything out in a panic trying to eat anything she could. This usually resulted in her getting caught by us and sent for a "time out."
Within a couple of weeks she started breaking the process down into steps. She would open the cupboard then walk away as if she was waiting to see if we heard her. Then she would go back and pull out the basket, and walk away again. Finally, on the third trip she would grab what she wanted and literally RUN out of the kitchen to the bedrooms frantically trying to eat her prize. It was as if she knew her chances of success were greater if she took her time and didn't cause a fuss. She was right! We've since moved all food to upper cabinets. Hahahaha.
As for similarities, she loves to play and wrestle. Esther wants nothing more than to be cuddled on the couch or have her belly rubbed. She gets scared if we yell at her when she's bad, and gets excited to see us when we come home. She also goes to the door to let us know when she needs out and hates bad weather. Esther will refuse to go outside in the snow or rain; we have to bribe her with apples to get her out for the bathroom in bad weather.
She is also very vocal and we're slowly trying to figure out "what she's saying." So far we've been able to identify sounds she seemingly uses in the same scenarios all the time. For example, she has this one grunt kind of noise that if I hear it, could almost bet money she's standing beside Reuben. She doesn't make it any other time but when she's with Reuben. We have no idea what she's saying but we know she only says it to him!
MFAC: Esther's Facebook page racked up thousands of likes within days. What has been the overall reaction from her fans? What about from your friends and family?
The response we've received so far has been nothing short of mind-boggling. We had no idea so many people would want to hear our story. We figured it was a page for friends and family that would likely reach a few hundred likes over time. Within a couple days we hit 1,000 likes and all of a sudden it went crazy. We started getting the most heartfelt and touching messages from people. Both of us have sat at the computer with tears in our eyes as we read how a pig touched someone's life, or how lonely they were but seeing Esther brought a smile back to their faces.
We want to reach out and hug all of them, it's been so humbling and inspirational. We also get countless messages of motivation and encouragement, people telling us to keep pushing and doing what we're doing. To our surprise, we could count the negative messages on one hand. The reaction across the board has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging.
MFAC: Esther is truly an ambassador for pigs everywhere. Can you share with us what your hope is for everyone who learns about Esther?
Esther is the love of our lives. We want people to think of her and her smiling face when they're making their grocery list or surfing a menu. We want people to see how smart and loving pigs are and make the connection between the millions of pigs that suffer their whole lives in factory farms. She's exactly like them! The only difference is she got a chance.
We didn't do anything special. In fact, both of us had zero experience with pigs before Esther. We've been asked by people all over the world how we trained her and what our secrets were. There isn't one. We loved her, we treated her like part of the family and we made her feel safe.
The pig you all see and love is just giving it back to us like any pig would if you let them. They're terrified and heartbroken in those farms--all you have to do is look into their eyes to see it. We want to give your food a face, and make it harder for you to turn a blind eye to what you're supporting with every burger or slice of bacon you eat.
We also want to serve as a warning to people everywhere who want a pig. Do your research and know exactly what you're getting yourself into. We had no idea what we had done and thankfully it worked out. We made a commitment to Esther and we're going to keep it. Sadly, many people aren't in a position to do that, which results in thousands of homeless and abandoned pigs. Call a sanctuary or shelter if you want a pig and adopt!
Interview by Ari Solomon, MFA