Bruce, the pig who never gave up

To fully appreciate Bruce, you must learn a little about pigs. One, they are gustatory creatures, their daily moments are filled with thoughts and acts bringing them closer to food. Partly because of breeding for fast-growing animals to slaughter and partly because they really enjoy eating. Two, pigs are vocal animals, singing and grunting, snorting and sighing their way through life. Every vocalization is an expression of emotion, a verbal barometer of their inner world. And finally, pigs are social. They extend their circle of friendship to all species, a behavior that is sometimes appreciated, but more often inspires annoyance from the cows, sheep and goats. Chickens love pigs, though, and sometimes I wish the pigs and chickens lived together - a dream made of sound and conversation. It would be wonderful.

Which brings us back to Bruce.

Bruce grew up on a farm, alone. Sometimes a pony kept him company, sometimes it was a town of Bruce, population one. Of course, he didn't have a name then. It was just "pig" or "hog", nothing to identify him as an individual with inherent worth, a being unto himself.

And for years, he was deprived of nourishment. Toward the end, before he made his way to a more hopeful place, he was a skeleton with a hide draped over him. Remember, pigs love food. To see an animal so enamored with edible things be so painfully denied that which makes him joyous is heart-wrenching and anger-inducing. It took some convincing, but the farmer finally agreed to give up Bruce. Every time I hear that, "it took some convincing", I am left both perplexed and in awe of the ego of some humans.

It's not the greatest photo, but for me and Bruce, it captures the first moment of kindness he experienced. Bread! Everywhere! New things to smell and investigate - a porcine dream come true! He had to check out the pig boards, unnecessary devices in his case. He inhaled the chunks of bread, life giving sustenance he needed. As rescues go, he was one of the easiest animals to load up and transport to his new home. He wanted to leave, anyone who was nice enough to share food with him was a someone he wanted to befriend. And that person was Kim, director and cofounder of the sanctuary, also certified pig whisperer (or perhaps Pig Whisperer, to emphasize the specialness of her Whispering abilities). It would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

When Bruce arrived at the sanctuary, he was confined to a stall, perhaps a smaller area than he was accustomed. But this mattered not, because before his eyes was a veritable feast, perhaps to last a life time. Oh, the food! The different fruits, vegetables, grain, pellets, anything he wanted to try, he did. All the different tastes and textures of things he had never before enjoyed, oh how he scarfed and gnawed and slurped and chewed. He was in heaven, but it was a quiet place, save for the sound of his smacking lips. Bruce didn't talk. No grunts of contentment, no screams of displeasure, no gracious greetings or loud departures. Just silence and in it Bruce, still population one.

There were times when we thought he'd never talk, never seek out the contact pigs thrive on. We felt sorry for Bruce and, in those moments, we dishonored him. It's in our nature to want the animals who arrive at the sanctuary to emerge from their battered shells and love their new life. But every now and then, an animal arrives who just isn't ready or who is content in his own world, away from all the normal things his species typically enjoys.

So we gave him time. We let him eat and eat and eat some more until he gained 300 lbs. And then we let him out to be with his own kind, his own nation of pigs - we were hoping to expand his town's population. He thwarted us, choosing to go off on his own, sleeping under the stars out in the compost pile, mostly avoiding the other pigs. Some of the pigs tried to bond with him, including Aloha - she'd follow him and sleep near him. Infrequently, we'd see him try to reach out and engage, pausing to wait for Aloha or choosing to sleep in, say, the same compost pile. But Bruce was still in a town of his own making with strict rules of admittance.

Kim was the only one Bruce would try his rusty language skills with. She'd crouch in front of him, palms extended, grunting so softly. Bruce would seem interested and confused, unsure of these new words spoken by his rescuer. And then it happened! The smallest, quietest, gentlest of grunts. The sound reminded me of the strange, small whimpers a dog might make while dreaming a good dream. Bruce could talk! This was cause for celebration, a little dancing and laughter.

Little by little, Bruce started to loosen up. It took years, not weeks or months. We respected that, we had to. He started to develop friendships and bonds with the other pigs, but he never opened up to them, never really shared his words with them.

Until Owen. A sickly piglet with an insatiable curiosity brought out Bruce's porcine-side in spades. He would let Owen chew on his ears, leap gracelessly onto his belly, even allowed him to sleep on his back. Owen followed Bruce and learned from Bruce and talked incessantly with Bruce, sharing all of his secrets and fears and wishes - or at least where all the good sleeping spots were located! And Bruce listened, took it all in and, every now and then, responding in his own small way. A miraculous friendship!

Bruce never gave up. He trudged on tirelessly, sometimes lost in his socially stunted world, sometimes fully present in his new, enriched universe. He's never been all that outgoing or interested in spending time with other pigs or people, but he won't say no to a back scratch and cantaloupes are on the top of his Must Have list. Five and a half years after his arrival, Bruce made another positive step in his long-road of recovery. Earlier this week, I watched in uninhibited happiness as Bruce ran with all his might over to Kim. She had gone out to say hi, calling his name. He was perhaps 50-60 feet away when he heard her, a light bulb went off and Bruce decided the best way to greet her was to trot feverishly over. All he wanted was a small connection, some attention and scratches, a moment with a human he really liked. It was such an amazing moment, so small and insignificant in the grand scheme, but so powerful and perfect in our world at the sanctuary.

Bruce never gave up. He took his time, savoring the moments of contentment, reveling in new moments created by him and for him. The years he spent isolated and alone have traumatized him, he will never forget the longing and absence. I like to think the years of tranquility, the hours of zen spent in compost piles and strawbeds, the hundreds of pounds of food...well, I like to think they too have taken their toll, have guided him to a new location, a safer place. We wish that for everyone, a safe haven of kindness and respect. Bruce has certainly found his!


Anonymous said...

Such beautiful writing. And you're right about how animals love to talk.

Sheila said...

Aah... I got teary eyed...what a good boy Bruce is...what wonderful folks you are.

voluptuousvegan said...

This story had me crying and sad. It is hard to read such a heartbreaking story even though it has a happy ending because you know they're are so many other "Bruces" out there who won't be rescued.
Thank you Kim and A.P. for continuing the fight as best you can.
I'm also going to forward this story to some friends and family members to continue to try and get them to realize their meat consumption comes at too high a price.

Moskee said...

This was definitely a beautiful story of a pig named Bruce. His story has inspired me to do all that i can to help animals in need of love and attention. Im am so happy Bruce is surrounded with family who love and care for him. This story is an inspiration.

The Voracious Vegan said...

Heartbreaking, inspirational, beautiful, amazing...thank you for sharing, this was so incredible.

brenda said...

I love the way that you tell this story. Please consider writing for a living and focus on topics like this!