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Edgar Alan Pig Story By Pam Ahern
This is such an endearing
story, we couldn’t help reprinting this
from the September-November 2004 issue of Australia’s Vegan
ET and Edgar
and Edgar. Photo courtesy of Pam Ahern
A Note on Sow Stalls in
In the United States more than 115 million
pigs are raised on factory farms and slaughtered for human
consumption each year.
continuous cycle of impregnation and birth, each sow has more
than 20 piglets per year. After being impregnated, the sows are
in gestation crates, small metal pens just two feet wide that
prevent sows from turning around or even lying down comfortably.
end of their four-month pregnancies, they are transferred to
similarly cramped farrowing crates to give birth. These piglet-making
are exposed to air filled with eye—and lung —burning
ammonia created from the waste collected below the stalls. They
spend their lives in metal crates so small that they cannot even
turn around. Devoid of adequate space and freedom of movement,
these sows often develop stereotypic behavior, such as head bobbing,
jaw smacking and rail biting, actions similar to behavior witnessed
in mentally ill humans.
Sow stalls have been banned in the United Kingdom and are being
aggressively phased out in the EU and New Zealand. Sadly, neither
Australian nor American
factory farming legislation is taken as seriously. In November 2002, Florida
citizens voted to ban gestation crates. Such legislation however, was defeated
in the Maryland State Senate in March 2004. Australia continues to publicly
expose the conditions endured by sows, appealing to each of the
State Agriculture Ministers
to support a ban on sow stalls.
Here are ways you can help ban the use of cruel gestation crates:
Do not buy meat from factory farmed animals, or better yet, go vegetarian.
The best way to help animals is to stop eating them.
Educate others about the cruelties of gestation crates and factory farming.
Educational leaflets, videos and books are good tools to use. Donate videos
and books to
your local library, leave leaflets in health food stores and veterinary offices,
or set up a table with materials at a community event.
Volunteer to participate in demonstrations, outreach tabling, emergency animal
rescues and other activism with animal organizations near you.
Contact your legislators and tell them that gestation crates are inhumane and
should be prohibited. —K.A.M.
The Edgar Alan Pig Story began in May of 2003. What started out as a
good idea at the time has ended up a life changing experience. The campaign
to ban sow stalls (a practice used by the intensive farming industry
that confines pregnant pigs to an area about the size of your bathtub)
had just commenced. James Cromwell, the star of the film Babe, was coming
to town and things were beginning to roll. James had very kindly agreed
to help out with the campaign and The Age [a major Australian newspaper]
had shown great interest in doing a story. The journalist thought it
would be a nice touch to have a pig for the photo shoot, and I guess
the rest makes very colorful history and a happy tale for one lucky pig!
Each year in Australia about five million pigs lose their lives to satisfy
human desire for pig flesh. A quirk of fate and a desire for a “babe” saw
Edgar Alan’s lot in life change, although at the time I don’t think
he was too excited about the deal. The journalist had arranged for a photo shoot
at a children’s farm, paying for the use of the pig. I had a few problems
with this, one being the ethics of paying people who aren’t up front with
children about the raw deal farm animals get. I suggested we could get our own
piglet. “Great,” the journalist uttered. What was I thinking! After
the logistics of how to acquire a piglet from a local piggery were met, I was
entrusted with Edgar Alan’s guardianship. Two problems quickly arose: the
photo shoot was the day after Edgar was “procured,” and the extent
of my knowledge of pig husbandry was that I was…well, I was very good at
looking after cats, dogs, horses and the occasional wildlife.
Edgar was putrid! And just a tad indignant about having to travel several hundred
kilometers in a box thingy with a small dog (ET) peering at him all the time
and an equally excited driver singing and chatting incessantly all the way home.
Ah, but there was work to be done—how to clean this pig and “train” him
for the photo shoot the next day. In theory it should have worked well; putting
it into practice presented several problems, not the least obtaining Edgar’s
cooperation. So there we were—me, Mum and Edgar Alan—and a kitchen
covered in soapsuds. Mum was wet, I was wet, and Edgar was not happy. But scrub
and scrub away, and the smell! Lesson one: young pigs become rather flatulent
when annoyed. But the end result—a shining new piglet—justified the
Luckily Edgar had quickly grown fond of ET, although he had not at this point
decided I was the good guy. (ET is yet another little waif who also cheated death
by finding his way into my life, but that is another story.) So in ET I had an
ally. Edgar would happily follow ET around for hours and they delighted us all
with their play. The two of them curled up in their baskets by the fire was a
sight to warm the hardest heart and it certainly melted mine, but I was already
gone for Edgar Alan. I had yet to discover the way to Edgar’s heart was
through his love of Weetbix and warm soymilk.
A Star is Born
The photo shoot the next day could not have gone better; there I was, pig handler
extraordinnaire (not!), having Edgar dutifully “parading” on a leash,
all the time following ET. But what the heck, we managed to wing it and the story
And so the Edgar Alan Pig juggernaut had begun. The next media event was set
for the steps of Parliament House, Victoria. Edgar, along with his now close
mate James Cromwell, was to present the Minister for Agriculture with “Ban
Sow Stalls Now” postcards signed by the cast and crew of Salem’s
Lot, a film which was being shot here with actors Donald Sutherland, Rob Lowe
and Rutger Hauer. All were appalled to hear of the plight of pregnant sows and
had no hesitation in lending their voice to the protest.
So there we were on the steps of Parliament House: James, postcards in hand,
the Minister’s representative Geoff Howard, and one Edgar Alan Pig. Things
were going to plan until young Edgar decided it was time to relieve himself (or
perhaps he was making a political point about his thoughts on sow stalls). Anyway,
he is the only one I know who has urinated and defecated on the steps of Parliament
House and gotten away with it.
This pig was a natural. By charming just about everyone he met he was unwittingly
spreading the message that “food animals” are possessed with sentience
never before credited to them. People were coming face to face with a creature
whose life they could so easily end simply by their dietary choices. He was,
and still is, the meat industry’s worst nightmare.
But Edgar’s mission was far from over. There were more bridges to cross
and kilometers to cover. Not to be outdone by their southern cousins, New South
Wales now wanted a piece of the Edgar Alan action. And why not? This pig loved
attention, loved a crowd (and what pig wouldn’t, since more people meant
more chance of muesli bars) and he loved his pigmobile. Lyn Trakell of the Ballarat
Organization for Animal Rights had custom-converted her beloved campervan—virtually
gutted it and refurnished it with crisp, neat straw. The white van was plastered
with “Ban Sow Stalls Now” posters and a huge banner bearing these
same words. We certainly turned some heads on the highway.
Now Lyn, van, pig and I were northward bound. Lyn had cleverly converted an old
door into a ramp for Edgar to easily alight and ascend the van. Did I say easily?
Well, after much coaxing and several boxes of muesli bars we convinced Edgar
it was a good thing. Our first stop presented a few logistical problems but thankfully
confirmed the rumor that pigs are extremely quick learners.
Prior to our intrepid crew embarking on this daunting adventure we made a pact
that if at any time Edgar was stressed by the venture the deal was off. Edgar’s
welfare has always been and will always be my priority. Our trip to Sydney and
all it entailed seemed like a good idea at the time, but as we set off on the
highway the enormity of the task took hold. Would the pig cope; would we cope;
would Edgar like people? As we neared Gundagai I had the idea that we should
call into this famous tourist haunt and let Edgar do the “talking.” That
whistle stop at the home of a famous bronze statue of a dog on a tucker box dispelled
any fears I had that the task may have been beyond us all.
Alighting his chariot Edgar ambled with great aplomb to the nearest grassed area
to relieve himself. Edgar has taught me many things about pigs; not the least
is how clean these creatures are, defecating and urinating far from their sleeping
area. Never once has he left his calling card in our house, not even when he
was a tiny, disgruntled, dirty little piglet.
As Edgar inspected the great and famous Gundagai bronze statue, people emerged
from everywhere. “Oh my god, it’s a pig,” they cried. “Can
I touch him?” “Does he bite?” “Can I have my photo taken
with him?” Talk abounded: “Sow stalls?” “What’s
a sow stall?” “That’s disgusting, sure I’ll sign a postcard
to ban them.” This was his first major encounter with large groups of people
from varied backgrounds. As children came rushing up, Edgar Alan rose to the
occasion donning his ambassador’s cap and was brilliant! We all proved
we were up for it.
Taking a backseat to the pig was something I was to become quite accustomed to
over the next few days, as Edgar made his way into the photo albums—and
hearts—of hundreds. And why shouldn’t he? Have I mentioned I am besotted
with this pig? I cannot talk about the little fella—okay, he ain’t
that little today—without welling up with emotion. He is the most amazing
guy, just like all the millions of individual guys and gals who are slaughtered,
tortured in laboratories, made into fur or whatever other fate they suffer at
human hands. He is their ambassador, and I am honored to be his guardian.
Next stop Murrumbateman, and a meeting with three amazing and delightful people—Ian,
Tony and Bede. And most welcome they made us. At their suggestion the next day
the Edgar Alan show made its way to Parliament House, Canberra. In the wake of
September 11, security took a dim view of the be-postered pigmobile encircling
Parliament House. We were questioned by several policemen on bicycles: “And
what’s in the van?” “A pig,” replied Lyn sweetly. “Haven’t
you ever seen a pig at Parliament House before?”
More media—those camera guys just loved taking shots of Edgar’s snout.
I would hate to think how many camera lenses Edgar managed to cover with his
snout. The result: color picture and page three Canberra Times story, not bad
for a boy from the bush!
Upward and onward Edgar marched, delivering the message on behalf of his mother
and sisters and all his brethren that sow stalls must go. Next stop—the
steps of Parliament House, Sydney. “Animal liberationists, a Greens MP
and a pig named Edgar,” the headlines read, “converged on Parliament
House telling of the suffering of some 180,000 pregnant pigs confined in an area
so small they cannot even take a step forward or back.”
Edgar, becoming a bit blasé about it all by now, decided to have a sleep
right in the middle of the entrance, with politicians having to step over his
snoozing body. A delightful picture appeared on the Reuters website of the big,
burly and patient security guard standing arms akimbo over Edgar requesting a
rather bemused me to make him move.
Next stop Pitt Street Mall. Here Edgar spent a leisurely hour “chatting” to
passersby, who were rather taken aback to see a real live pig in the mall. Edgar
gently offered each his snout and a little grunt. What that pig did that day
to advance the cause of animal rights is beyond anything I have ever been able
to achieve. And what did he do? What nature has uniquely and beautifully equipped
him to do, be a pig! As he lay on the pavement having his tummy caressed (one
of his personal favorites) people’s faces just lit up.
“How can I ever eat pork again?” I heard several mutter. Even if
those same folk don’t ever become vegan, they will certainly have a different
view of their meat. I will always remember one senior gentleman in a business
suit who spoke with us for at least 15 minutes, learning of the sentience of
pigs and in particular the plight of pregnant sows. His interest was genuine
and his concern real and I am proud to have been part of that special moment.
While in Sydney we had the absolute pleasure of enjoying the hospitality of the
legendary Elsie Quinn, who plays host to many animal activists in her lovely
home. Elsie took great delight in telling her friends that she was to play host
to two friends from Melbourne and a pig. Edgar’s early morning strolls
on the streets of the exclusive suburb of Double Bay again sparked discussion
as joggers stopped to pat, admire and chat with Edgar and me. What a conversation
starter was this humble little pig.
Edgar has since made a few public appearances, but due to the restraints of his
size his “duties” are largely confined to home, but he is still spreading
the message that “pork” does have a face to all who pass through
our little property here at Willowmavin. I remember with great fondness the joy
of meeting kindred spirits on our Sydney trip; meeting fellow vegans even for
the first time is like coming home. So often on the journey of life I feel like
a round peg in a square hole, but not on the Sydney sojourn.
Some may argue that banning sow stalls is not in keeping with the principles
of veganism and abolition of animal exploitation and I agree fully, but I feel
we must temper what we want to achieve with what we can. I too want the world
to go vegan right now, but reality says it won’t. What will really start
the ball rolling on the way towards veganism is for the meat-guzzling carnivore
to stop and think about the life he has just eaten, that “it” had
feelings and the capacity to suffer and that he has caused that suffering by
his dietary choices. The campaign to ban sow stalls is a plea for a better deal
for sentient creatures.
And Edgar, well, his antics never cease to make me smile. Only yesterday I spied
him in the front yard with a large branch in his mouth, tossing it up in the
air and doing his now famous Edgar dance.(Boy, can that pig bust a move, and
if you stand too close he can now bust your toe!) I called out to him and he
came charging up the paddock as fast as his trotters would allow, branch in mouth
and making his famous ruff ruff noise. I’m laughing now just telling you
about it. But always at the back of my mind, tugging my conscience, are all the
pigs and other so-called farm/food animals I can do nothing for. I have made
a difference to but one pig. My pact to them is to do my utmost to highlight
their lot, and hopefully sow the seed to make others think and open their hearts.
Pam Ahern grew up realizing that the kindest thing you can do for animals is
not eat them and now dedicates her life to championing their cause. She is also
a sucker for a cute pig. This article was originally published in the September-November
2004 issue of Vegan Voice, a quarterly Australian magazine promoting compassion
for all beings. Annual subscriptions to the U.S. are available via credit card
for approximately U.S.$31. Visit http://veganic.net or contact VegVoice@lis.net.au.
Reprinted with kind permission.