Feb 16, 2017

Experience: I accidentally bought a giant pig

I had no intention of owning a pig. Then one Friday night five years ago, I got a message from a girl I’d gone to school with.

She said she remembered how much I loved animals and had a mini pig that she needed to get rid of. She’d just had twins and it was all too much work. She told me it was six months old, had come from a breeder and wouldn’t grow any bigger than a very large cat. I said I’d think about it. My boyfriend Derek and I already had two dogs, two cats, a turtle and koi fish.

When the girl called again a few hours later and said someone else was interested and that I had to make up my mind, I panicked and said yes without asking Derek. I thought: a miniature pig in your house, how is that not the coolest thing ever? At the time it was kind of trendy; George Clooney and Paris Hilton had had one.

Derek was a magician and I thought I’d convince him by saying a mini pig would be perfect for his act. The two of us had met at a smoke and rib house where I worked as a waiter. But when Derek came home he was furious that I hadn’t spoken to him first. The pig (whom we later named Esther) looked like hell. She had a ratty pink collar, sunburned ears, her nails had chipped varnish and she looked so sad.

After a few hours, she perked up. We made her a small bed in a crate. When the dogs got up to do something, she’d follow, and she soon became part of their pack.


Steve Jenkins and Esther. Photograph: Derek Shapton for the Guardian

After a few weeks, Esther had charmed Derek. She loved to snuggle with us on the sofa. She had this happy, loving personality and she felt like a great addition to the house. We trained her like a puppy and took her to the vet after about a month. He took one look at her cropped tail and said, “I think you have a problem on your hands.” He explained it was a sign that she was born on a commercial farm for consumption. We were shocked. I tried to get more information about the breeder but the girl I got her from stopped answering my calls.

The vet that said if Esther really was six months old, she was possibly a sick runt and would grow to about 200lb, the size of a very large dog. But by her first birthday she had blown past 250lb; she was on track to be at least 500lb. We started calling her Esther the Wonder Pig because everyone was asking, “How big is she going to be?”

 Steve Jenkins and Esther. Photograph: Derek Shapton for the Guardian
By the time we realised her size, we were in love. She’s unlike any animal I’ve met. Her intelligence is unbelievable. She’s house trained and even opens the back door with her snout to let herself out to pee. Her food is mainly kibble, plus fruit and vegetables. Her favourite treat is a cupcake. She’s bathed regularly and pigs don’t sweat, so she doesn’t smell.

If you look a pig closely in the eyes, it’s startling; there’s something so inexplicably human. When you’re lying next to her and talking, you know she understands. It was emotional realising she was a commercial pig. The more we discovered about what her life could have been, it seemed crazy to us that we ate animals, so we stopped.

Our home became too small. We inquired at some farm sanctuaries about taking her, but they were all struggling for money and volunteers. We’d started a Facebook community for Esther, which grew rapidly, and we ran a crowdfunding campaign that allowed us to open our own farm sanctuary, where we now live. When we moved, we offered Esther a bed outside, but she had no interest; she still lives in the house with us, weighing in at 650lbs – heavier than a female polar bear. The sanctuary has 47 residents, from cows to a peacock.

Esther’s social media presence became my job – she makes a lot of people smile and many really open up to her. A woman in the US recently wrote, “Thank you for showing my two young boys that it’s OK to have two dads.” We’re not out to promote gay or animal rights in a direct way, Esther just seems to have this positive effect on people. She didn’t turn out to be the pig we were expecting, but she’ll never be too big.

As told to Candice Pires
- Steve Jenkins