The Big Adventures of Piggy Smalls

The WCHS Eyewitness News headline read, “Neighbors Concerned for Pig Wandering Around Sissonville”

The Big Adventures of Piggy Smalls

By Justin Thaxton, West Virginia

People say pigs are smarter than dogs. I don’t know if dogs should be flattered  by the fact that their kind is the standard by which animal intelligence is measured, or insulted  that swine are supposedly smarter.

Having spent much more time with dogs than pigs,  I have always been skeptical of such talk. Then my wife, Valerie, brought Lulu home. The little pot-bellied sow was awfully cute and since it was winter and she was just a baby, she was allowed to stay inside. Our dog, Tug, a black-mouthed mutt who comes from a long line of hunting dogs, didn’t seem to mind, so I went along too.

Lulu slept on a rug in front of the wood stove, enjoyed having her tummy scratched and went to the door when she needed to “go out.” I was impressed. I began to accept that Lulu was at least on equal footing with most dogs. The weather eventually improved and Lulu grew so she moved into her new digs with Valerie’s two goats.

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Having two goats and a pig made my wife a bit of an odd celebrity in our circle of friends—her notoriety, no doubt, thanks to the daily social media postings. I couldn’t leave a church service or go to the grocery store without someone asking about the latest goings-on around “the farm” and Val’s newest addition. It was as if I were living with a real-life Elly May Clampett from the Beverley Hillbillies. If only we could have gone for the cement pond instead of the critters.

There are some issues with folks knowing you live off the beaten path and have compassion for wayward animals. We’ve had our fair share of animals dropped off at our doorstep. Some orphans we’ve adopted, the remainder we’ve found homes for. People also assume you to know how to deal with all sorts of animal-human conflicts such as when a pea hen took up residence on a friend’s roof in her upscale neighborhood. And my favorite is when people view our place as the perfect spot for their pet to live out the rest of its life down on the farm. In other words, when they realize God did not intend for goats to live in subdivisions.

Goats
Valerie Thaxton hanging out with two of her goats.

Make That Two Pigs
This final point is how we came to be the proud owners of not one, but two pigs. This second pig came to us when friends tried to keep a small, black boar in their home. I suppose the amorous behaviors of a young, male hog are difficult to explain to your children, so he had to go. Valerie agreed to keep the little porker until a new home could be found. Our friends are good people, but I can’t help but wonder if they were already thinking, “He just found himself a new home.” Regardless, Valerie assured me we were simply fostering the pig. Then she assured me we would only keep him if we had him castrated. Then she named him Piggy Smalls. Then we owned two pigs.

As mentioned the pigs were stationed with our goats. The goat pen was constructed with two large goats in mind, not two small pigs. We commented many times that Piggy Smalls could go under the mesh fence any time he wanted. He just had never wanted to bad enough. He had a warm shelter, plenty of food and Lulu for company. Then one day last winter something changed.

The Escape
Around the 22nd of December, Valerie looked out the window and saw Piggy Smalls in our driveway. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere and spent his time searching for acorns and waste grain in the leaves. Valerie even suggested leaving him out. I disagreed as soon as he switched from rooting in the leaves to rooting in our lawn.

Piggy Smalls could not remain a free-range pig. The goat pen is cross fenced and Piggy Smalls seemed to always escape from one end, so we closed a gate and limited him to the area with better fencing. This worked for a couple days. Once again I came home from work to see a pig in the driveway and a freshly “plowed” lawn. Some repairs and improvements were in order, so Piggy Smalls was temporarily relocated to our dog kennel.

On Sunday morning, December 27, we went to church as usual. While we were away, Piggy Smalls escaped yet again. We had no idea that our little pig was about to have himself a grand adventure and become famous in the process. 

Piggy Smalls…TV Star
I had to be out of town for work on Monday and Tuesday that week so Valerie searched for Piggy Smalls alone. She couldn’t find him and had no idea where he might have gone. I thought it was odd that none of our neighbors had seen him. During each of his previous outings, someone had called us. The week came to an end without any news and Valerie was beginning to lose hope that he would return. Everyone was a bit down because he had always been such a friendly little pig.

On New Year’s Eve, Valerie and  I took our kids to my brother’s house for a visit. We had dinner with my brother and mom, watched a movie, and then caught the first portion of the local news. To everyone’s amazement, one of the first news stories was about a small pig roaming a nearby neighborhood. Everyone burst into excited chatter as Piggy Smalls posed for the camera!

I tried to hush them so we could hear the details. Not surprisingly, the residents of Brenda Lane Estates had not expected to see a pig roaming their streets. Some had fed him apples and Cheerios and one couple interviewed said they were willing to take him in if no one claimed him. Rushing out the door, we headed for where Piggy had been seen earlier in the day. Brenda Lane Estates is situated nearly a mile from our house as the crow flies, but the topography is rough with steep ridges and hollows. We assumed Piggy Smalls had made his way to the gas line right-of-way behind our house and wandered off. I was a little surprised he hadn’t been able to find his way back home.

Valerie’s phone was buzzing before we were out the door. Calls and texts came in from family and friends who had seen the news. Amazingly, my friend Jason, who was on vacation with his family in Japan, saw the news story but didn’t realize it was Piggy Smalls. Later this news story and the buzz it created would help us piece together Piggy Small’s wanderings. A hurried visit to the neighborhood was a letdown. We went door to door but the folks we talked to said Piggy Smalls had been there a couple times and the latest visit was earlier in the day. We walked the area shaking a bucket of grain and calling, but came up empty handed. 

Head West, Young Pig
Turning to a Facebook site for our area, Valerie communicated with two individuals who said they had seen Piggy Smalls on Harbert Lane off of Rocky Fork Road on December 29. This was our first clue that Piggy Smalls had done more than simply wander off a short distance. A young lady Valerie knows informed her through a Facebook message that Piggy Smalls passed through her yard, southwest of Harbert Lane on December 30. This meant he had travelled northwest for more than a mile and a half (again, as the crow flies), and then walked nearly 2 1/2 miles back past our house to the southeast for his television debut at Brenda Lane Estates. Piggy Smalls seemed to be wandering aimlessly, which gave us little hope of finding him.

Pig Map
The map of Piggy Small’s zig-zagging adventure

Grab That Pig!
On New Year’s Day, our neighbor Steve Lanham and his dad, Johnny, howed up at our house to find out if we were missing a pig. They had spotted Piggy Smalls less than a mile down the hollow from our place. Once again, we jumped in our truck and hurried after our elusive, little pig. Before we made it to the spot where Piggy Smalls had been spotted, we saw a couple, the Parsons, in their yard feeding him. Piggy Smalls chomped on corn as we quickly introduced ourselves to Mr. and Mrs. Parsons. They were as surprised by Piggy’s arrival as we had been by his disappearance. Mrs. Parsons offered me a leash as we considered how to convince our gentle but touchy friend to climb into the dog carrier we had brought.

Piggy Smalls has always loved being scratched and will roll over as if paralyzed if you hit just the right spot, but he does not care for being controlled or confined. I also doubted the usefulness of the leash straight away because our pig has no neck to speak of. This left us trying to lure Piggy into the crate with food. All the attention had Piggy Smalls on edge, and even though he was eating, I could tell he was nervous. I can only imagine how many people had tried to wrangle him during his adventure. And if all the excitement weren’t enough, the Parsons had several strands of electric fence around their flower beds to detour deer. At one point Piggy Smalls made his way toward the fence, and just as I asked if the fence was on, he shrieked and ran a short distance up the bank behind the Parsons’ house. I expected the pig to run for the woods at any point.

With all hopes of a peaceful conclusion out the window, I decided to take more drastic measures. I would have to catch Piggy Smalls and hope he remembered we were pals. He is small but very powerful and equipped with impressive teeth. Getting as close as he would allow, I prepared to grab him by a hind leg just as I’ve seen them do it on television. Piggy Smalls was much quicker than I expected, and I landed on my belly with a thud as he scampered away.

Thankfully, the yard met a rock outcropping that limited Piggy’s escape options. While I had been easing into position for my flopped attempt, Mr. Parsons and my son, Caleb, had been easing up the hill and were able to steer Piggy back down.

A second diving grab ended no better than the first. Actually, it was much worse than the first, because despite having warned Caleb repeatedly about touching the single strand of electric fence on the bank, I forgot about it when I landed the second time. As luck would have it, my graceless flop carried me directly under the wire. As I quickly rose up the first thing to make contact with the wire was my nose. I’ve gotten into electric fences before but never with my face! The crowd that had gathered—my wife, my son, Mr. Lanham, Mr. Lanham’s dad, and Mr. and Mrs. Parsons—didn’t even try to conceal the snickering after I was zapped. I’m convinced that pig got more sympathy when he touched the fence than I did. Being famous certainly has its privileges.

He hadn’t bolted yet, so we closed the circle of folks we had around Piggy Smalls until he was forced into a small briar patch. This limited his movement enough for me to grab one hind leg. Our normally quiet pig let loose with an ear-piercing series of screams as I secured the other hind leg and walked him back down the hill like a wheelbarrow…making sure to steer clear of the fence. Piggy Smalls and I were breathing hard as we loaded him into the pickup. He had put me through the wringer, but I had to respect the little guy for all that he had been through.

I suppose we had been fortunate none of our animals had escaped before Piggy Smalls. This adventure taught us a valuable lesson. Knowing that something terrible could have happened to our little pig made us realize that we cannot be lax when it comes to proper containment of our animals. We are grateful to all our friends and neighbors who helped us bring Piggy Smalls home. I still haven’t decided if pigs are smarter than dogs, but I am pretty sure they are more adventurous. 

Piggy Smalls is currently serving three to five months barn confinement. At this point he is still considered a flight risk. A trip to the veterinarian is forthcoming. He will soon be reunited with his pasture mates pending completion of a pig-proof fence. Justin Thaxton writes to us from West Virginia.

Published in the Nov/Dec 2016 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal.

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