Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

The tale of Mr. Pig and the stuck ewe.

Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

We had attended a hog roast in Peasmarsh, Sussex, at some neighbors of our friends Walter and Anthony, and the following morning, still full of pork and cracklings and applesauce, we — Walter and Anthony’s houseguests — took a walk to see another hog who lived in a nearby field. Walter had dubbed him Mr. Pig. He loved this pig and visited the farm down the laneway practically every day to see him.

There were six of us on the excursion, walking up the farmer’s drive on a fresh morning with a billowy sky and fields full of sheep. At the top of the hill between the trees, the road continued to a house belonging to Lionel and Edward. Lionel had recently died, so now only Edward lived there. I’d seen their garden years before, with children’s dolls strung in the trees as decoration. As we walked, I was telling my daughter Rozzie how they also had a pair of mannequin legs with Wellington boots sticking out of a hole in the ground.

“Look!” said Walter. “There he is!” Mr. Pig sat under a tree like Ferdinand the Bull. His head was gigantic, an extension of his fuzzy pink body and disproportionately huge compared to the donkeys and sheep.

Two donkeys trotted to the fence. Alex and Phoebe petted them while Walter called, “Mr. Pig!” The animal made his way toward us. He knew Walter’s voice. You could see he was hurrying, but he seemed to be going in slow motion. It was as if he was trotting in place. Perhaps it was because his feet were small that he took such dainty steps.

As he got closer, we could see all the flies buzzing round. His snout was massive and spongy, flecked in dirt. There was something both repulsive and touching about him, underscored by the expression in his blue, human-looking eyes. He was watchful and intelligent.

“Hello, Mr. Pig!” said Walter. “How are you? Isn’t it marvelous?”

We agreed he was.

“Can you see why I love it?” asked Walter. “And why I come to visit?”

But, of course! Who among us hadn’t read Charlotte’s Web and envied Fern Arable’s friendship with Wilbur?

“But, hang on, Walt — I think this is Mrs. Pig,” said Rozzie.

“Oh, really?” said Walter.

“Males don’t have hanging teats, do they?”

“I suppose not.”

“Let’s just call it Pig,” I suggested.

“No,” said Walter. “I like the name Mr. Pig.”

The donkeys were pretty and enjoyed being stroked on the nose by Alex and Phoebe. But Mr. Pig didn’t like them taking the spotlight. She snorted and sputtered crossly.

Walter tried to stroke her head, and Mr. Pig tried to smile. She had a gummy smile — with short stubby teeth. The smile seemed vaguely familiar. I’ve seen people with mouths like that.

After a few minutes, we headed back toward the cottage, and that’s when we saw a ewe in distress. She was on her back far across the field with her lamb close by, and she was bleating plaintively.

“Oh, gosh,” said Atli. “What’s wrong?”

“Do you think it’s been hurt?” someone asked.

“Perhaps it’s in labor,” suggested another.

“But that’s its lamb right there.”

The little lamb was chewing grass and basking in the sunshine a few yards off, while the ewe let out a frightened baa every so often, struggled helplessly, and waved its little black legs. Meanwhile, the lamb merely gazed off in a different direction.

That’s when a car passed down the drive. In it were two people — a woman and Edward, the man who lived in the house on the hill. They stopped to see what we were doing.

The woman got out and stood at the fence, looking at the struggling ewe. “Isn’t nature weird?” she said. “The mother is dying, but the lamb just sits there, completely unfazed.”

Atli climbed over the fence and headed into the field. As he approached the ewe, its lamb trotted away. Atli bent to make his inspection. The ewe’s legs were thin black sticks jutting at odd angles from her round, woolly body.

“I think she’s hurt a back leg,” Atli called to us. “Should I try to prop her up?”

“Don’t, Atli,” Rozzie said. “It might make it worse.”

“Our James Herriot moment,” Walt said. “Oh, dear! What are we to do?”

By this time, Edward, who was a small, elderly man with a gentle expression, had gotten out of the car and stood with his hands in his pockets. “What are you doing looking after sheep?” he asked. He had a north-country accent, and his face was placid.

“Go to the beach,” he said. “There’s nothing to be done. They die, these animals. That’s what they do.”

So we returned to Walter and Anthony’s cottage. Walt decided that their capable neighbor Stephanie would know how to handle it. She had once nursed a pet goose after it was attacked by a mink. (The goose died, by the way.)

We knew from reading Beatrix Potter that nature could be cruel and capricious. Rats made a pie out of Tom Kitten, Mr. McGregor killed Peter Rabbit’s father, and Jemima Puddleduck was almost seduced by a sandy-whiskered fox.

We wondered what would become of the ewe. Perhaps, like the goose, it would die. But later that evening, we heard it was fine. It had just fallen over and couldn’t get up because it was too fat. Stephanie went round and put it on its feet.

Some geese are pets. Others are Christmas dinner. Some hogs get roasted at big summer parties. Others become our friends. And a great many of us who adore the countryside don’t know the first thing about any of it.

Amanda Holmes Duffy is a columnist and poetry editor for the Independent and the voice of “Read Me a Poem,” a podcast of the American Scholar.

Believe in what we do? Support the nonprofit Independent!
comments powered by Disqus