VIOLA - I can’t help but smile, when I think of the number of times a reader has sidled up to me at the co-op or the post office to ask about Louisa. Louisa, my pet pig, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure last February. It’s good to know people care. She even received a get-well card in the mail.
Yesterday morning when I went out to feed the critters, I began to worry about her.
Louisa, who can’t contain her eagerness to get out of the Goat Palace in the morning and bury her face in her warm mash, didn’t come out. The goats both sauntered down the ramp and over to the hay I set out for them, but Louisa only grunted when she saw me. When I walked up to her, she lay back down with a thud. As I petted her and asked her what was wrong, my mind barreled ahead—Louisa is dying.
I surrounded her with as much straw as I could carry and then ran inside to call Dr. Solverson. I knew I’d need to leave a message; it was only 5:45 a.m. and I had to leave for work by 6.
As I drove to work, I replayed Louisa’s behavior and the message I had left for the doctor. If Louisa didn’t want to eat and was lethargic, I could assume she had a fever and was ill. Even so, my message to the doc may have been a bit dramatic: “I pray that you can come soon. I think she is dying. Having to work when your animal is sick should be illegal. Please call me as soon as you know what is wrong.”
I shared the news of Louisa’s illness with the first person I saw that morning. They responded by reminding me that Louisa was just a pig. For the rest of my workday, I kept my troubles to myself.
I’ve learned that there are animal people and non-animal people. I’ve observed for years the impact I have on some as I’ve recounted my woes about a duck with bumble-foot, a donkey with a hoof fungus, or Louisa’s congestive heart failure. I’ve watched eyes roll up inside foreheads and not come down until I’ve finished telling my sad tales. But, I’ve also noticed that sharing my grief over the sudden death of a dear neighbor could elicit the same reaction. Some people have enormous reserves of empathy for all humans. Other people seem to have a better understanding of how it feels to lose a beloved dog. And then there are some people who only care about themselves and no one else, whether four-legged, feathered, or two-legged.
Worrying about a pig when friends are fighting cancer might seem trivial. I assure you I also spend time worrying about friends and family members who are struggling with health, financial, or personal cares. And it feels like I spend every minute worrying about the state of affairs our country is in.
Dr. Solverson’s call came in around 2:30 p.m. I pulled over to the side of the road to listen to what he had to say. Louisa was indeed sick and had a fever. But he also had good news: “Her heart, although not great, sounds better than last year. I can tell she’s lost weight.” He had to treat her with an injectable antibiotic and assured me she wasn’t so sick that she didn’t try to run away from him when he pulled out the syringe. He had to coax Louisa back into the Palace and lie flat out on top of her to give her that shot!
By the time I got home, Louisa was acting more like herself: She was looking for food. While feeding her a few bananas, I thought about the similarities between pigs and people. Pigs and humans have mostly hairless skin, a layer of subcutaneous fat, protruding noses, and thick eyelashes. Current research suggests that pigs and primates may be closer in evolutionary terms than we once thought.
I know my animals have empathy for each other. Over the years, I’ve watched my dog Tete mourn the death of her best buddy, Raime. I’ve watched my cats search for days when their fellow cat, Farley, came up missing. And I remember how Benny, my parakeet, would not sing or talk after Joon fell from her perch and never got up.
When I return home from a vacation, I can barely step in the door without both dogs jumping up on me and crying their welcome, the donkeys braying their hearts out and Louisa grunting so loudly I fear she’ll have heart failure before I can get down to her pen and say hello. I doubt I’m just a human to them.
Loving both people and animals seems normal. They go together like the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. And, by the concern I’ve been shown by the people who read this column, I know I’m not alone.
As I settled into my bed, I said a thank-you prayer for Louisa’s health, and a prayer for healing for anyone struggling with health issues. I thought about the person who tried to comfort me by reminding me that Louisa is just a pig. But she’s not just a pig, she’s my pig!