VERNON COUNTY - One day, almost three years ago, I drove home with a tiny black piglet dozing in the passenger seat. I was singing, and occasionally she’d grunt. Her name was Louisa, and I’d adopted her from a farm near Duck Egg County Forest.
Louisa couldn’t be used for breeding because her nose was misshapen. Instead, she came to live with me on my postage-stamp-sized, flood-damaged farmstead as a beloved member of the family. She became a pet instead of pork. Some would say she got lucky, but I think I did too.
Louisa leads a simple life. She loves her food, belly rubs, and her pink pool in summer. She mostly likes her pen mates, the goats Luna and Peepers; gets along well with the ducks, geese, dogs, and cats; and loves me like no other. She is easy to care for and doesn’t ask for much, just an extra banana or two, a slice of watermelon, or garden-fresh tomatoes.
In three years, Louisa has grown up—and out, and long. At approximately 250 pounds now, she resembles a black stretch limousine. Good luck getting her on a scale for her exact weight! The best part is Louisa doesn’t appear to have a mean bone in her massive body.
And that is why it is painful to stand by helplessly now when she’s ill. Louisa has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. It could be a hereditary disease, but loving food as much as she does hasn’t helped any. Her body is swollen with fluids and her infection has caused her to have a 104-degree fever. She’s a listless, sullen, sick pig. How my heart breaks.
My guilt in having unknowingly fed Louisa too much “pig food” is staggering. She gets lots of fresh fruit and veggies but I was also giving her two servings a day of mash. The vet recently told me the corn mash is used by farmers to fatten their pigs up for the market. But Louisa is not going to the market—ever.
Louisa needs to stay here with me and the gang and continue making us smile until our mouths hurt and laugh until our bellies ache. “There is only one pig
here,” I’ve been known to say when I’m defending the extra time I spend with her. Diego has his brother donkey, Carlos. Tickles, the goose, has her stepsister, The Professor. Luna has Peepers, her soulmate. Téte and Finn are canine buddies of the best kind, and the cats—well, the cats are a whole tribe. But Louisa has only herself. And me.
The vet came and listened to Louisa’s heart, took her temperature, looked into her eyes, nose, and mouth, and declared her a sick girl. The whole time Louisa held perfectly still. I explained to the vet that Louisa and I had played doctor a lot just in case something like this would ever happen. I wish we were still just pretending.
However, Louisa hasn’t held still for her daily injection of 7 cc of penicillin into her shoulder muscle. She needs to have this shot for 7 days in a row, and it’s been a living hell for her, the vet, her friend Dane, and our neighbor Jake. It’s nearly impossible to hold a pig down for a shot that hurts like all heck. The vet tried every trick he could think of and still he had to run alongside her, as she squealed to alert the neighbors in the next county of this horror.
I’ve asked the vet for medicine I could sprinkle on her yogurt and fruit but he feels it wouldn’t be as effective. So for now, Dane tries his best, and with Jake’s help was able to inject Louisa with about 5 cc of her medicine.
Meanwhile, I’m spending my free time giving Louisa belly rubs and, I hope, a feeling of comfort. Congestive heart failure is a condition where the heart’s pump can’t meet the demands of the body's needs. In humans, although treatment has improved over the years, the life expectancy is limited.
Louisa needs to get well from this infection first, then lose some weight, exercise daily, and stick to her fruits and veggies. If all goes well, I’ll consider Louisa one lucky pig—and myself especially so.