Gus is a special pig with very particular needs. He must be kept safe from squabbles with other pigs, from stress, and from becoming overheated, because a precipitous increase in his heart rate could put him into respiratory arrest. Luckily, Gus now lives in one of the few places where expert care is readily and constantly available for someone like him: He’s at Farm Sanctuary.
We picked up Gus and his friend, Roxy, from Bob Comis’ farm in Upstate New York in August. After years of raising pigs for meat, Bob became uncomfortable with killing pigs for a living and decided that exploiting animals for food did not align with his values. He is now in the process of turning his pig farm into a vegetable farm. In the meantime, however, he had a sick pig on his hands. He reached out to Farm Sanctuary, and we agreed to welcome Gus. Since pigs are social animals, comforted to be with friends, Bob sent Roxy along, too.
Gus was, in fact, very sick. We drove him and Roxy straight from Bob’s farm to Cornell University Hospital for Animals. Gus arrived in respiratory failure, but quick action by the veterinary staff kept him alive. He was started on oxygen and fluids while his vet examined him. Gus was diagnosed with conjunctivitis as well as a swollen pharyngeal area.
The brave little pig spent weeks at Cornell receiving antibiotics and pain treatment. When he had been stabilized enough, he was anesthetized for a radiograph. This diagnostic revealed that Gus’ nasal passages were deformed causing part of the breathing problems and that two of his cervical vertebrae in his spine were also fused. Other ailments discovered at the hospital included abscesses in his nasopharynx and severe arthritis in three of his legs. It was rough going for Gus, but with lots of time and treatment — and his friend, Roxy, there to keep his spirits up — he was finally back on his feet and ready to begin his new life at the shelter.
Despite all of the challenges that Gus has faced, he is one happy pig. This tiny guy — a congenital condition has left him about a third the size of a typical pig his age — loves to play and be silly. You’d never know he had arthritis to watch him in action. He is bright and active and full of enthusiasm for his new home and all the new human friends who play with him and give him belly rubs. Roxy, too, is delighted with sanctuary life. We knew she felt at home when she appropriated a water trough as a personal wallowing tub during the hot days of late summer. Roxy and Gus live together and have their own private pasture. They are best friends, there for each other through the tough times and now the happy ones, too.
Shortly after Gus and Roxy came home to the shelter, we picked up six more special-needs pigs from Bob’s farm and helped them along to new homes secured through our rescue and refuge network. You can read about their journey in this blog post.
The care and treatment that saved Gus’ life, and that will be required to keep him well for the rest of it, would not be possible on any production farm. On factory farms, which are the source of nearly all the pork consumed in the U.S., pigs live by the thousands in intensely crowded barracks with no individual care at all. In fact, operators of such facilities expect a certain number of pigs to die before they reach slaughter weight and factor that attrition into their budgets.
Even at a smaller farm like Bob’s, it is simply too expensive to treat and give individualized care to an animal as sick as Gus was. The reality of animal farming is that there is no profitable way to raise animals while giving each one as much care as he or she deserves. Once you have attached an economic value to an animal, his fate becomes divorced from his own interests and bound inextricably to yours. And, of course, the interests of anyone raising farm animals for profit ultimately call for that animal’s slaughter.
Only in a setting where the wellbeing of animals is the priority, not a bonus contingent on profitability, can each animal truly be treated as an individual with inherent value. Gus and Roxy are each unique and irreplaceable. Their job here is simply to be themselves and enjoy life, and our own lives are enriched simply by knowing them.