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MailTribune.com
  • Passing the days with some intelligent porkers

  • "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!" Richard Gere's line from "The Runaway Bride" was ringing through my head as I drove along winding country roads in the Applegate Valley toward Sanctuary One.
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  • "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!" Richard Gere's line from "The Runaway Bride" was ringing through my head as I drove along winding country roads in the Applegate Valley toward Sanctuary One.
    My assignment? Cover a would-be Pig Whisperer's weeklong peek into the porcine world. Sanctuary One Executive Director Robert Casserly decided to spend seven days and nights getting up close and personal with the care farm's three not-so-little piggies — Lisa, Lulu and Jigsaw.
    Sitting down at a tree-shaded picnic table, I pulled out my reporter's notebook. Pen poised, in full investigative mode, I hit Casserly with the hard question right off the top.
    "Why aren't you out in the pasture grazing with the piggies?" I inquired, waggling my beetled brows.
    Casserly smiled. Broadly. A gentle fellow with a long history in the nonprofit sector, the man exudes a mixture of inner peace and boyish enthusiasm.
    "They're all napping right now," Casserly said. "It seemed like a good time to do some Facebook updates."
    It was Day 3 of the seven-day suidae-embedded experiment. And Casserly was prepared for the media onslaught. He had a notebook of his own, a carefully organized sheet titled "Pig Observations" and a little light reading material, "The Whole Hog" by Lyall Watson.
    "It's now my all-time favorite books about pigs," he says.
    Casserly is not alone in his porcine love affair. We discussed the pig's place in art and literature — from "Animal Farm" to "Charlotte's Web" to Winnie the Pooh's sidekick, Piglet. And, of course, that star of the silver screen, "Babe."
    A would-be naturalist myself, I have a fascination with all things critter. But I can't go trotter to trotter with Casserly when it comes to oinkish insights. Casserly estimates he has read a dozen books about pigs in the past 60 days, "if one includes works of art like 'Charlotte's Web,' 'Animal Farm,' and 'The Te of Piglet,' " he says.
    This reporter started out as a would-be veterinarian, majoring in animal science at Cal Poly. After galloping through all available equine courses, I ran squealing toward the communications department when it came time to take "Swine Production 101." Ag majors were required to use their teeth to assist in castrating piglets, I was told.
    Casserly grew up on a dairy farm. But City Girl wasn't prepared for that level of gore, at least not at that tender age.
    Now, covering the courts beat, I regularly see blood and guts. So I've become pretty inured to it all. But when I get to do a story about the goings on at Sanctuary One, I am grateful. They always seem to come when I most need a day away from covering murder, mayhem or other miseries.
    I laughed as Casserly recited some recent reactions of various farm visitors who'd had the opportunity to take a whiff of one of the ungulates. Ashland Middle School students detected the scent of celery, maple syrup, sweaty horses and, according to one youth, "like my little brother when he's been playing outside."
    I asked Casserly what his favorite part of the experiment had been so far. His eyes lit up when he discussed his midnight foray into the pig barn. He was curious to know how pigs pass the hours between dusk and dawn.
    Casserly said there had been a lot of snoring and a fair amount of flatulence. Once again, I was thrown back into the courtroom.
    I asked Casserly if he hoped his observations would help dispel some fallacies about his poor porkers.
    "Some people think they're filthy, dumb beasts," Casserly said. In fact, they are highly intelligent, very fastidious and quite capable creatures, he insists.
    They even have language, he said.
    "They grunt, bark, squeal and scream," Casserly said, adding a herd of pigs is called a "sounder."
    "Because they are always talking to each other," he said. "Every 30 seconds or so they emit a single grunt."
    Generally speaking, pigs scream only when the vet performs dentistry on their four upward-growing tusks, Casserly said. And the screaming lasts only until the beer kicks in, he said.
    I considered asking Casserly if he would submit to a field sobriety test. But, apparently, had I kept up with my swine studies, I'd have learned that beer is a natural and affordable anesthetic.
    A six-pack of Pabst, Casserly said, which can be consumed by a pig in 60 seconds flat, will "totally zonk out" any of these three precious porkers.
    "They so rarely get any alcohol," Casserly explained with a straight face.
    Casserly's weeklong experiment ends today. But life on the farm continues. Sanctuary One offers tours by reservation to anyone who wants to meet the oinkers or the rest of its rescues.
    For more information, see www.sanctuaryone.org or call 541-899-8627.
    Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.
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