DAY 333: TAKING PIGS FOR A WALK IN LONDON IS HARDER THAN YOU THINK
Antonia Pugh-Thomas is a typical middle-class West-Londoner: well spoken, stylish, mother-of-three and when she’s not riding a motorbike she’s walking her two large pigs in the local park.
‘I have a full licence for Snout and Crackling. I carry it with me at all times when I’m out.’ she says.
She walks her two adorable Kunekune pigs (which is Maori for ‘fat and round’) using large dog leashes and a certain amount of determination. Both pigs weigh in at over 100kg and have an independent spirit. ‘I have toned arm muscles’ she says. Antonia is a likeable, lively pesonality.
I’m here to meet these two pigs because I want to understand the emotional life of pigs.
If they are so intelligent, sensitive and emotional why don’t more people have them as pets?
Will getting to know them make me more empathetic to them as a species?
And can you even get to know a pig?
‘They make perfect companions’ says Antonia who keeps them in fenced area in the garden with fresh hay and a home-made shelter system. She has trained them to sit on command and she feeds them fruit and fine vegetarian food. They are both beautiful creatures, with fine, clean hair and an ease about them.
‘One of my favourite things is to come back from work, pour myself a beer and lie on top of them whilst reading the newspaper’.
‘On top of them?’
‘They love to be close’
Snout doesn’t like me too much
While I’m taking photos Antonia is cautious to protect me.
Crackling, the one with black spots is less of a problem but Snout, very regal and fine in his beige coat is more dominant and naturally wants to protect his area. He is keen to show me who is boss and regularly nuzzles me. No doubt I would be unsure if he also walked into my house too.
‘They have quite a bite so you have to be careful.’ I had no ideas pig BIT but I was soon to find out otherwise. Perhaps that’s why they clip pigs teeth in intensive farms (without anaesthetic) ‘But they are not aggressive creatures,’ she continues. ‘Snout got attacked in a park by a dog and just squealed in fear and it took fifteen minutes to get the dog off. He needed many stitches. Pigs are hunted not hunters.’
I find myself rather jealous of Antonia’s bond with her pigs. They seem very unimpressed by me. Not like a dog would be. But perhaps this is exactly why pigs are smarter than dogs – they don’t blindly accept strangers.
‘Do they show their emotions?’ I ask.
‘oh yes,’ says Antonia, ‘they recognise me when I come back, they get incredibly excited for food, they know when they are going for a walk and they are incredibly affectionate. Crackling looks like Gordon Brown when he is mad. But they are as personable as dogs. And I’ve had dogs with them too’
Walking the pigs
The problem is that in a short amount of time it’s not easy to immediately…. connect with a pig. Clearly Antonia has a special bond, but the barrier to friendship is not as low as with a madly waggy tailed dog.
Antonia walks down the middle of the road with her pigs, conscientiously cleaning up the kilos of poop and stopping to speak to every incredulous passer-by. I imagine this is what it is like to be famous – apart from the public crapping.
She lets them off at the park and they run to the grass. Joggers stop, kids scream in delight, local dogs come and sniff but the two kunekune are oblivious, they just want to eat STUFF.
‘Could we take a photo over here?’ I ask Antonia
Crackling has a melt down
‘OK, maybe you could try and get Crackling’
I reach for the leash and try and gently pull her over. Crackling starts to resist and whine. I know not to put up wiht this from my dogs so I pull harder. Except its not that easy with 105 kilos of pig. Crackling starts to scream and pushes his face to the ground so that I can’t take him any further. People look at me like I’m a pig abuser.
‘Oh, he thinks you are taking him home. He knows it’s too soon, we’ll have to keep going forward’
What I am witnessing is a pig STROP. I’ve read that pigs have the mental age of a three year old. I didn’t realise that at times they behave like one too. This is extraordinary. But I feel like I’m seeing something here – a little of their fears and desires.
Later on I make the mistake of trying to pose with both pigs. I feel that at 100kg myself I should be able to manage their weight. How wrong I am. I am tied in knots as they pull in different direction and then walk circles round me. I try and give Snout a firmer tug but he shows me he’s not to be pushed around and sinks one of his teeth into my leg. Ouch.
This is not what I had hoped for but I certainly made a connection. Of sorts. These pigs are very much alive – independent, determined, emotional and smart. They know what they want: walks, emotional closeness, apples. They just don’t want me.
Personality goes a long way
In the movie Pulp Fiction the character of Jules claims he wouldn’t eat dog because ‘a dog’s got personality. Personality goes a long way’.
Vincent replies ‘Ah, so by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he would cease to be a filthy animal. Is that true? Jules then says, ‘Well, we’d have to be talkin’ about one charming motherfucking pig.’
Antonia is a special breed of human – she sees that these creatures as so much more than units of production and rather as emotionally rewarding individuals. But as smart and likeable as they are I don’t feel immediately charmed. However, this is less to do with the pigs and more to do with my own expectations. Why should an animal have to dance like a puppy to win us over? I’ve no doubt if I spent more time with both animals I would bond infinitely more.
I need to spend more time with pigs…perhaps I need to be the one charming them
NEXT: I’m off to a small pig sanctuary outside London to ….just hang out.