Photo: Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter
How Esther the Wonder Pig Changed This Family’s Life Forever
There’s little point to a life that lacks excitement. But there’s excitement, and then there’s a freight train hurtling towards your bedroom at 3 a.m. on a regular basis.
We call it the Piggy Parade.
There’s nothing peaceful about being awoken by a 295‐kilogram pig barrelling down a hallway. It’s something you feel first: a vibration that rumbles through the mattress into your consciousness. You have just moments to realize what’s happening and to react. Over the din of humans (me and my partner, Derek) and animals (dogs Reuben and Shelby, and cats Delores and Finnegan) rushing to move out of the way comes the sound of hooves racing across the hardwood floor, getting louder by the second.
Within moments, our darling pig, Esther, comes crashing in from the living room where she sleeps, most likely spooked by a noise. She launches into our bed much the same way she launched into our lives. While it might be a mad scramble to make space for her, it’s more than worth it.
Before meeting Esther in 2012, we were already two guys, one girl, two dogs and two cats living in a modest single-level house in Georgetown, Ont., a small community just over 50 kilometres west of Toronto. Derek and I shared one bedroom, we had a roommate occupying another, and the remaining one was an office from which I ran my real estate business and Derek made phone calls to book his magic shows.
It was cramped, so we tried our best to give one another space. I’d frequently take my laptop to the living room and work from there when Derek was in the office. We were in this configuration when I received a Facebook message from a woman I knew from middle school, someone I hadn’t spoken to in 15 years.
“Hey Steve. I know you’ve always been a huge animal lover. I have a mini pig that’s not getting along with my dogs. I’ve just had a baby, and I can’t keep the pig.”
It’s true that I’ve always loved animals: my very first best friend was my childhood dog, Brandy, a shepherd mix, brown and black, with floppy ears and a long straight tail. So I was intrigued. A mini pig sounded adorable. In hindsight, of course, the whole situation was bizarre, but I’m a very trusting person.
I replied casually, “Let me do some research, and I’ll get back to you,” but I knew I wanted the pig. I just had to figure out how to make it happen.
It’s tricky enough to bring a pig back to the house you share with several other pets, a roommate and your long-time partner. But on top of that, only nine months earlier, I’d brought Delores home without talking to Derek about it. As you might expect, he didn’t react well.
I had to plan this right, to make it look like I wasn’t doing something behind Derek’s back—even though I was doing something behind his back.
A few hours later, I got another message from the woman:
“Someone else is interested, so if you want her, great. If not, this other person will take her.”
Photo: Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter
You’re probably smart enough to recognize this as a manipulative tactic, and normally I’m smart enough, too. But I was not letting that pig go. So without thinking it through, I told my former classmate that I’d take the animal. I gave her my office address, and we agreed to meet there in the morning.
I knew nothing about mini pigs. I didn’t know what they ate; I had no idea how big they got. Once I started doing some Internet research, I found a few assertions that there’s no such thing as a mini pig, but I was blinded by my sudden obsession and my faith in my one-time friend.
It seemed this pig would grow to be about 32 kilograms, maximum. That was pretty close to the size of Shelby, our pit bull–terrier mix. That seemed reasonable.
She was tiny—maybe 20 centimetres from tip to tail. The poor thing had chipped pink nail polish on her little hooves and a tattered sequined cat collar around her neck. She looked pathetic yet lovable.
My former classmate said the pig was six months old and spayed and that she’d had her for a week, having gotten her from a breeder through Kijiji. I watched the woman handle the pig, and I could tell there was zero attachment.
I’d met the pig 12 minutes ago, and I already knew she needed me. I had only a few hours to figure out what to tell Derek. (Do you have cute animals as part of your family? These readers certainly do!)
In the car on the way home, the pig sat in the front passenger seat, skittish and disoriented. I talked to her and petted her while we took back roads to our house and I planned my emergency “please forgive me for getting a pig” dinner for Derek (his favourite: fresh burgers with cheese and bacon, and homemade garlic fries).
The cats were their typical curious‐but‐uninterested selves when faced with the pig. The dogs are excitable around baby animals and children, so they whined and jumped. I held onto the pig securely and let them sniff her a little before I hid her in the office. I figured I’d better make sure Derek was in a good mood before springing the new arrival on him.
Derek stood in the doorway like a statue. Every emotion other than happiness flashed across his face. It didn’t take more than a half‐second for him to realize what I’d done and what I now wished to do.
He was furious. He went on about how irresponsible I was; he insisted there was no more room in the house. The only positive thing I could say was, “She’s a mini pig! She’ll stay small!”
I knew that what I’d done was wrong, but I really hoped I could smooth things over. I loved Derek and I loved our life together, and I truly believed he’d come around.
We’ve rounded up 10 of the best (and cutest) YouTube cat videos you’ll ever see.
Photo: Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter
Back when I sprung Delores on Derek, he refused to give the cat a “real” name at first. In the same way, he started off referring to the pig as Kijiji. He wasn’t going to give a name to an animal we weren’t keeping. But two weeks in, he stopped calling her Kijiji, and we christened her: we wanted to evoke a wise old soul, and “Esther” felt right.
One night, we were having dinner and Derek started talking about where Esther’s litter and pen would go. You don’t build a pen for someone you’re getting rid of. That’s when I knew.
As soon as the veterinarian saw Esther, he shot me a bemused look.
“What do you know about this pig?” he asked. I gave him the story, or at least the one I’d been told.
“Well, I already see a problem. Look at her tail. It’s been docked,” he said.
“Is that why it’s a little nub?” I asked.
“Exactly,” the vet said. “When you have a commercial pig—a full‐size pig—the owners will generally have the pig’s tail cut back. This minimizes tail biting, which occurs when pigs are kept deprived in factory farm environments. If Esther really is six months old, she could be a runt.”
This threw me.
“You think my friend lied?” I asked. “I know this person.”
“And I don’t. So you could very well have a commercial pig that’s a runt. If that’s the case, when fully grown, she could be about 110 kilograms.”
“Okay,” I said.
“But if not, well, I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
The vet explained that the only way to know anything for sure would be to weigh and measure Esther and start a chart. Pigs have a very specific rate of growth.
Over the next couple of months, we settled into a routine. We took her for late-night walks with the dogs. Everything was under control.
But at our next vet appointment, six weeks after we’d adopted Esther, I had to admit that she’d been growing quickly. Over that short time, she’d already closed in on 36 kilograms, the size of a small mini pig.
I tried to get access to Esther’s vet records, but my former classmate had gone silent. Even without them, it was becoming clear that I’d probably adopted a commercial pig—and she was going to be enormous.
Want to more heartwarming animals stories? Check out How the Calgary Zoo Saved 200 Animals From the Flood.