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Esther the Wonder Pig
Changing the World One Heart at a Time
By Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter
By Derek Walter
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In the summer of 2012, Steve Jenkins was contacted by an old friend about adopting a micro piglet. Though he knew his partner Derek wouldn’t be enthusiastic, he agreed to take the adorable little pig anyway, thinking he could care for her himself. Little did he know, that decision would change his and Derek’s lives forever.
It turned out there was nothing “micro” about Esther, and Steve and Derek had actually signed on to raise a full-sized commercial pig. Within three years, Tiny Esther grew to a whopping 600 pounds. After some real growing pains and a lot of pig-sized messes, it became clear that Esther needed much more space, so Steve and Derek made another life-changing decision: they bought a farm and opened the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary, where they could care for Esther and other animals in need.
Funny, heartwarming, and utterly charming, Esther the Wonder Pig follows Steve and Derek’s adventure–from reluctant pig parents to farm-owning advocates for animals.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
AMAZON BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
Table of Contents
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There's little point to a life that lacks excitement. But there's excitement, and then there's a freight train hurtling toward your bedroom at 3 a.m. on a fairly regular basis.
We call it the Piggy Parade.
It sounds tame, but in reality there is nothing tame or serene about being startled awake by a 650-pound commercial pig barreling down your hallway. It's something you feel first: There's a vibration that starts to rumble through the mattress into your sleepy consciousness and you have just moments to realize what's happening and make room for a mammoth being who fully intends to make herself at home on your bed. Over the din of pillows flying and humans and dogs and cats alike all scrambling to get out of the way, comes the sound of hooves racing across the hardwood floor, gaining momentum with every step, getting louder by the second. Once you've heard that sound, it's embedded in your psyche, and your response is Pavlovian. (The term Pavlovian, having originated in reference to dogs, means that Reuben and Shelby, our beloved canines, also know what to do. Our cats, Delores and Finnegan, are on their own.) The sound is thunderous; the house practically shakes with each step—and there's the crash of the occasional piece of furniture getting knocked over. You hear it coming, you feel it in your bones, but there's nothing you can do.
Our darling princess comes crashing into the room, most likely spooked by a noise in the night. She launches into our bed much the same way she launched into our lives and while it might be a mad scramble to make room for her, it's also a whole new, wonderful level of exhilarating. And we wouldn't have it any other way.
Maybe pig parenting was my destiny. I've always loved animals. If I encountered a situation with a trapped dog and a trapped person, I hate to say it, but I feel I would help the animal first. Animals need humans to help them. And for whatever reason, I've always felt like their protector.
My very first best friend was my childhood dog, Brandy. She was a shepherd mix, brown and black with floppy ears and a long straight tail, a nice contrast to my super-light blond shaggy hair—though I didn't have the floppy ears and tail. (I looked a little like Dennis the Menace, and some might say we shared some personality traits as well. Though Steve the Menace doesn't quite have the same ring to it.) Brandy and I were inseparable. And she followed me like a shadow everywhere I went—to friends' houses, to the park, even from room to room in our home.
We lived in Mississauga, a fairly big city, but it was a different time: Life was simpler and safer then. We used to ride our bikes and walk everywhere until it was dark and thus time to go home.
Before we had any pets at our house, independent six-year-old that I was, I'd explore other yards to see what pets they had and occasionally find myself trespassing to make a new friend. My parents never let me forget the time I ignored the "home by dark" rule. I had made fast friends that day with a neighbor's dog, and at a certain point the family who lived there told me it was time to go home. So off I went, out the gate and out of sight. But when the family disappeared into their abode, I let myself back in and continued to play with the dog. When you're a kid you don't think about little things like "worried parents" or "breaking and entering."
My subterfuge was uncovered during a heated game of fetch: The stick that was thrown accidentally hit the window. (Do you like how I put that one on the stick, like I wasn't the one who threw it? That's just because I couldn't find a way to blame the dog.)
When the curtains opened and the couple peered out to see what the noise was, I stood very still. I tried to think of myself as a chameleon, hoping to blend in with their yard. Maybe I should have gone with ninja instead of chameleon, because that didn't work at all. Oddly, I was not invisible, and the kind woman came out and invited me into her house to play with the dog inside… where there would be no fetch or broken windows.
A heartwarming story, isn't it?
Funny how that all changes when the police come knocking on the door.
Yes, that's what happened. Apparently they were canvassing the neighborhood at the prompting of my panicked parents. (At least it's nice to know they cared.) I'd honestly been completely oblivious to the terror I was putting my parents through by not returning home on time, but you'd better believe I heard about it when I got home. Over and over until I went to sleep that night.
However, you could say that my little B&E was actually rewarded, because that very same week my parents got Brandy for me… so this would never happen again.
Whenever my parents went out of town, my paternal grandmother would stay with us. This is a woman who grew up in Scotland during World War II. I wouldn't exactly say she was a hard-ass, but I knew well enough that if Grandma said no, the answer was no. Still, I adored her. We always had a great relationship, though my healthy respect for her likely was why my parents felt safe leaving me in her care.
One day when my parents were away and Grandma was in charge, I went next door to our neighbors' house. For some reason, Grandma wouldn't let me take Brandy. I knew Brandy would be upset, but I also knew I couldn't argue with Grandma, so I left Brandy behind.
That was the last time I saw Brandy alive.
Since I was right next door, Brandy could hear my voice as I laughed and played with the other kids, and it drove her crazy. She wanted to be with me. She knew I was just one fence-hop away, so she tried to leap it. But her collar caught on the fence, and she hanged herself.
Thankfully, I didn't actually see her on the fence—I learned what happened from my parents—but even just knowing how it happened was too much. If you're reading this book, you're obviously an animal lover, and I'm sure that sad story was rough on you. You can imagine how hard it hit me, a child for whom Brandy was family.
Many of us have suffered the tragedy of having a beloved pet killed by a passing car, and I'm not taking anything away from how painful that is. But the circumstances of Brandy's death were just crushing. I couldn't get the image out of my mind: my girl hanging there limp and lifeless, and all just because she wanted to come play with me. It turned my insides out.
While most of my childhood memories are pretty fuzzy, this one sticks out clear as day. It's the first memory I have of being truly heartbroken and knowing I had lost something I'd never thought I'd lose. As I child, you don't think about the unfairly short lifespans of your pets—you assume this friend will be with you forever. But even if I had been prepared for the fact that someday, maybe ten or fourteen years down the road, I might have to say goodbye to her, this had never been in the cards. To this day, thinking about her makes my eyes water.
The majority of my memories as a child are of vacations or riding my bike around the lake near my house. And yes, my Dennis the Menace–like explorations of the neighborhood. Brandy's death is the one moment of gut-wrenching sadness I remember like it was yesterday, that sharp pain of loss coupled with feeling entirely to blame for her trying to join me next door. For months, I would wake up in the middle of the night and call out her name. I'd sob uncontrollably when I'd realize it wasn't a bad dream—Brandy was really gone. I felt so responsible. I think that's when I decided I would never abandon any animal that needed me. I'm just plain drawn to animals. And just maybe it borders on a problem.
Before Esther, we were already two guys, one girl, two dogs, and two cats living in a 1,000-square-foot house in Georgetown—it was close quarters. Our house was a modest single-level home consisting of a combined living/dining/kitchen area and three bedrooms. Derek and I shared one bedroom, we had a roommate occupying another, and the remaining one became a makeshift office we all shared for our various needs: I used it to run my real estate business, Derek made phone calls to book his magic shows.
Our only TV was in the living room, but our living room was so small that on the rare occasion all three of us wanted to watch TV at the same time, there just wasn't enough room for everyone to sit. Not to mention we had two dogs who also required comfy seating—and removing them from one of the three available seats just didn't seem fair if you're living by "first come, first served" rules. As our policy did include the animals, this usually resulted in one or more humans sitting on the floor with a throw pillow at best.
We shared a single washroom, and if you've ever lived with roommates (or worse, kids) in a similar situation, you know how competitive that makes you. You'd hear footsteps in the morning and shoot out of bed, hoping to beat the other person to the punch. Otherwise you might have to wait twenty minutes for whoever was in there to finish up, and depending on your particular washroom needs at the moment, those could be twenty long minutes. This was one of the more challenging aspects of living in such close quarters. All too often, our schedules coincided in the worst possible way: I would have an urgent appointment, Derek had to get to a show—and everyone needed that one room. There was always somebody in a rush, and always somebody else who had to pee.
When we weren't competing for pole position to the potty, we bumped into one another a lot in the small living space. So we tried our best to give one another as much room as possible. I'd often take my laptop to the living room and work from there when Derek was in the office. We were in this configuration when I received a random Facebook message from a girl I dated in middle school, someone I hadn't spoken to in fifteen years.
Hey Steve. I know you've always been a huge animal lover. I have a mini pig that is not getting along with my dogs. I've just had a baby and I can't keep the pig.
I was alone in the living room, immediately intrigued. I might have looked around to see if anyone else could see my computer screen or my gleeful expression. A mini pig? That sounds adorable. Who wouldn't want a mini pig?
In hindsight, yes, the whole situation was bizarre. I hadn't heard from this woman in over a decade. And now might be a good time to admit something. (And you'd better believe it will come up later.) I've always been way too trusting. I just kind of go with the flow. At the time, I didn't think, Hey, this is really weird. My thought process was more like, Hey, it's Amanda, great to hear from her! I didn't think about the strangeness of it all. The fact that she was offering me a mini pig just seemed neat.
There was no photo attached, so I was flying blind. But I didn't need a photo to know I was interested. I replied with a casual Let me do some research and I'll get back to you, but I immediately knew I wanted the pig—I just had to figure out how to make it happen.
It's tricky enough bringing a pig, even a mini pig, back to the home you share with your partner. And a roommate. And several other pets. But on top of that, only nine months earlier, I'd brought a new cat home without talking to Derek about it first. As you might expect, that didn't go well at all. (And it's not like I could blame anyone but myself.)
So I had to plan this right, to make it look like this wasn't something I was doing behind Derek's back, even though this was absolutely, totally, 100 percent something I was doing behind Derek's back. I had to make it seem like it wasn't something I did; the pig just kind of… happened.
Pigs just happen, right?
A few hours later, I got another message from Amanda:
Someone else is interested so if you want her great if not this other person will take her.
You're probably smart enough to recognize this as the manipulative tactic it was, and normally I'm smart enough too—I'm in real estate, after all. But when I want something, I have to have it—and that's when my IQ drops… how many points? Probably all of them.
I was not letting that pig go.
I don't know why. I hadn't even laid eyes on this little piggy, but I felt a panic over losing her. I thought I'd have more time to decide. I thought I'd maybe do some research and (maybe, possibly, you never know) even talk to Derek about it. I didn't think that two hours later I'd have to say yes or no. But there we were. A new message threatening to give this mini pig to someone else. So without thinking it through at all, I told Amanda I'd take the pig. I gave her my office address, and we agreed to meet there in the morning.
In my mind, I was mostly doing this just to get her to stop talking to the other interested person. If there even was another interested person. But again—these are the things you don't consider when you are as trusting a soul as I. (Also referred to in some circles as a complete sucker.)
Regardless, I agreed to meet with Amanda. I figured I'd do a little homework overnight. I knew nothing about mini pigs. I didn't know what they ate; I had no idea how big they got. So I started doing some Internet research. I found a few assertions that "There's no such thing as a mini pig." And yes, that should have been a red flag, but I was blinded by my faith in Amanda (and my sudden obsession with having a pet pig). I knew this person. I'd gone to school with her. She wasn't talking to a stranger. Amanda said it was a mini pig and I believed her, because why would she lie?
So that thing on the Internet was the only hiccup. Everything else I saw was super cute. It seemed this pig would grow to be about seventy pounds max. That was pretty close to the size of Shelby, one of our dogs. So I figured it would be another Shelby. Maybe a slightly denser Shelby. That seemed reasonable. And different! A pig!
That day, I told Derek I was going two hours north to the Kincardine Scottish Festival and Highland Games. I planned to do the "meet" at my office on my way out of town, and once I actually saw the porcine princess, I'd decide if this could actually work out and take it from there.
I was actually going to Kincardine—that part was true. It had been planned for two weeks before I'd even heard about the pig. The plan just got altered when she came into the picture, and it worked to my benefit, because it gave me time to sort it out. My plan was to tell Derek I found a pig on the way home from Kincardine. I mean, that could happen, right? One might potentially think he'd have expected such a thing after our having been together for so many years. Derek, more than anyone, is aware of my history with animals. And my history of bringing them home without discussing it with him in advance.
I booked a room in a hotel that was on the way to the festival, and my plan was to keep our new addition there for a few hours on Day One while I strategized. And had a few beers. And discussed it with my friends. And then I'd come back at night and sleep in the room with the pig and then do the same the next day until it was time to come home with my new pig and my perfectly formulated story. (I know. Sometimes my schemes are more complicated than the heist in Ocean's Eleven.)
But once I saw Esther and held her in my arms, that plan went out the window.
I'm getting ahead of myself. When Amanda pulled up there was no pig in sight, just a laundry basket on the passenger seat with a flannel blanket over the top. Amanda and I walked around to the side of the car; Amanda opened the door and pulled back the blanket.
There she was. Tiny. Staring up at me. Innocent. Precious. With pink nail polish on her little hooves? Ratty, chipped nail polish no less. This poor thing. She had a frayed sequined little cat collar around her neck with tattered threads hanging off it, and I thought, How is this brand-new baby already such a hot mess? She looked pathetic. Yet so lovable. And all I wanted to do was hold her. Immediately. But not outside where people could see and she might get scared. We covered the little girl back up and carried the laundry basket into my office, where I picked her up and held her for the very first time.
She was tiny—maybe eight inches from tip to tail. I could hold her in one hand. Honestly, the wee pig didn't look great. Her ears were completely sunburned. They reminded me of that scary "Tan Mom" lady or that fried-to-a-crisp woman in There's Something About Mary. But it was endearing, like a sad, wet puppy. Before I'd seen her, I thought this was just a cool idea. A pet pig. Fun! But when I saw her, I just thought, Oh my God look what they've done to her. I could see her little hipbones. And those ears! I knew I had to heal those ears, and I also knew I already loved this pig.
Amanda said the pig was six months old and spayed. She said she'd had her for a week. She got her from a breeder on Kijiji (an online marketplace similar to Craigslist). I watched Amanda handle the pig and listened to the way she talked about her and I could tell there was zero attachment on Amanda's part. It was hard to even take that in, and it frightened me. I didn't know what Amanda would do if I didn't accept this piglet and send Amanda on her way.
So I did.
But this changed everything. And not just in the grand scheme of my life. My original plan on how to handle Derek, with all its carefully conceived machinations, was now shot. Because I loved this pig. I had known her for a total of twelve minutes and already I had an instinctual love for her that said, You can't just leave this girl in a hotel room for hours while you're off partying at a festival. She was a baby. She needed me.
I canceled my trip north and now had to prepare two stories for Derek: Why wasn't I in Kincardine? And why did I bring home a pig? My original plan positioned me as a hero. I was the good guy. I saved this piglet! Of course, I didn't want to take her, but what could I do? I had been totally confident with my cover story… and then karma bit me in the ass.
I'd thought I would have a couple of days and access to a bunch of friends who would help me fine-tune my story and now that was all blown to hell because I was head-over-heels in love with a pig. I had to see Derek that same day, and I only had a few hours to figure this out.
That's when the pressure really started.
I called the friends who were expecting me in Kincardine to tell them I wasn't coming and why, which they all thought was hilarious. They knew Derek would freak out, so they wanted me to keep them posted. They gave me two instructions: One, send them a photo of the pig. Two, send them a photo of Derek's reaction.
Then I called our friends Erin and Wally. I needed them to watch the pig while I went emergency grocery shopping to make the fancy "please forgive me for getting a pig" dinner that I would now be making for Derek. I didn't actually say, "I need you to watch a pig." I believe I just said I needed them to pet-sit, so they had no idea what I was bringing to their house until I showed up at their door and the little piglet scurried out onto their kitchen floor. Erin was flabbergasted. I believe her first words were: "Holy shitballs, Derek is going to murder you." Derek and Erin actually dated in high school, so she knows him almost as well as I do.
Once I'd done my shopping, I reclaimed the pig. In the car, she sat on the front seat beside me, looking nervous and disoriented. I talked to her and petted her while we took the small back roads to our house. I brought her inside and put the dogs outside. We sat together, just the two of us, in the living room for a while as I tried to think of what to feed her. (Something I forgot to do in all of this was to figure out what a pig would eat and make a point of actually getting it.) So I gave her lettuce, dog food, tomatoes, anything I could think of. She settled on lettuce and rabbit food.
Once I knew she had something in her system, I got to work cleaning up a little and making dinner. I figured the best use of my time would be to clean the house from top to bottom, make my nice dinner, and have it be like Derek was coming home to this great romantic gesture. I kept the dogs away initially so the pig could get comfy. The cats were their typical curious-but-uninterested selves. Once I did let the dogs see her, I was careful to hold her securely, not letting them get too close at first. Shelby and Reuben are both super excitable around baby animals and children, so there was a ton of whining and jumping up. I let them sniff her a little and even get in a few friendly licks before I hid her in the office down the hall. I figured I'd better get Derek in a good mood before springing the new arrival on him. Also, the other animals were a bit confused, so I decided to keep everyone separate for a while.
I cleaned the best I could in the tighter-than-tight timeframe and then cooked my special dinner, Derek's favorite: fresh burgers with cheese and bacon, with homemade garlic fries. The scene was set. Wine was poured. I lit some candles to really sell the ambiance. And there I waited…
- "Funny, moving, and heartwarming. The greatest love story ever told between two men and their pig. "—Ricky Gervais
- "Told with self-effacing humor and a sense of wonder at what life can bring, ESTHER is the story of the transformative power of love between people and animals and how the decision to try to make a difference on a personal level can effect positive change far beyond anything that might have been imagined."—Larry Levin, New York Times bestselling author of Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love
- "First, Jenkins and Walter opened their hearts to one very special pig, and now they are opening their doors and letting us in, too. ESTHER THE WONDER PIG is a tender, funny story that manages to sneak up behind you when you're least expecting it and change your life. Be prepared to fall in love-with a pig."—Jasmin Singer, author of Always Too Much and Never Enough: A Memoir and co-host of Our Hen House
- "Steve and Derek show us what we already know at Mercy for Animals-that farmed animals are just as deserving of love and respect as the dogs and cats we share our home with-or, in their case, the pig they share their home with."—Nathan Runkle, founder & president, Mercy for Animals
- "An inspirational, enjoyable read, especially for animal lovers."—Booklist
- "Written in a sincere, touching, and often quite funny voice, ESTHER THE WONDER PIG is a balm to the soul . . .So far, definitely my favorite read of 2016."—Have Cake, Will Travel
- "Funny, entertaining, enlightening, and touching, this book about an unknowingly influential little piggy is a good read that also provides an education on the intelligence of pigs and their capacity for giving and receiving affection."—Publishers Weekly (STARRED REVIEW)
- "There's joy and humor on every page."—VeganOutreach.org
- On Sale
- May 31, 2016
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Grand Central Publishing