Farm Sanctuary Part Three: Riley and Petunia

During my time at Watkins Glen, I met so many amazing animals. The entire experience was totally eye-opening. The residents at Farm Sanctuary, at least the ones who have been there for a while, have a sense of comfort and safety and are therefore able to let their guards down and show their true personalities. I think it would be impossible for anyone to work at a farm animal sanctuary, to see these creatures as they truly are, when they’re happy and cared for, and not think of them in a totally different way. That being said, there were a few residents at Watkins Glen who made especially strong impressions on me. I suppose the top of that list should be Riley and Tuni.

I had seen pictures of Riley on Farm Sanctuary’s website, before going to Watkins Glen. When he came to the shelter, he had an infection in his brain, which nearly killed him. Even after receiving the best medical care, he still lost an eye and his head had a permanent tilt. Yet, in all the pictures, he looked happy, full of life, full of hope. When I finally met him, during my internship, he was still little more than a baby. He had just recently been moved in with the other young pigs, and was obviously still nervous and trying to adjust to his new surroundings, and his new companions.

Tuni was living in a sectioned off corner of the office when I arrived at the farm. She was so tiny she could fit in your hand. She had been born with a hernia, and the man who owned the farm where she was born donated her to Cornell Animal Hospital, basically as a teaching aid. Cornell worked closely with Farm Sanctuary, so they informed them of Petunia’s situation and offered to try and save her, if they would pay for the surgery. Naturally, they did and soon Tuni was entertaining everyone who came into the office with her charismatic personality. She would run back and forth in her enclosure, squeal excitedly, and climb on the walls until someone came inside to either play with her, or feed her from a bottle. Once you were inside, she would climb on you, jump on you, chew on your clothing, and run in circles around you. I don’t think I had ever seen anyone with that much energy in my life, and it was impossible to be around her for more than a few seconds without having a huge smile on your face. Even when she was older, and much bigger, she was still always bouncing around and looking for people to play with.

Shortly before my internship ended, the director mentioned that they were planning to adopt out Riley and Petunia. They were the smallest pigs they had at the time, and both of them were stunted, because of the health issues they’d suffered. She was concerned about putting them in with the larger pigs, for fear that they would be bullied. She felt that the best thing for them would be to send them somewhere where they could be together, without having to defend themselves against larger pigs, and where they could get the individual attention that they so craved. I immediately knew that I wanted to bring them home with me.

I called my dad and asked him if we could make a place for them at his house. He agreed, and I immediately asked the director if she would allow me to take them home. She seemed a bit surprised and informed me that, while a few interns had adopted cats from the shelter, none of them had ever wanted to take home any of the farmed animal residents before. Still, she agreed and, when I left Farm Sanctuary, my dad and I got to work on Riley and Petunia’s new home. We fenced in an acre of land for them and built them a brand new barn.

When we were finally finished, the employees at the shelter loaded Riley and Tuni onto a trailer, and drove them all the way to Mannington, West Virginia. I can only imagine how much of an ordeal that trip must have been, both for the driver and for Riley and Petunia. They got lost on the way, and ended up dragging an enormous trailer across some of the most narrow and winding roads imaginable, but they made it.

I was a bit nervous about uprooting Riley and Tuni, and taking them away from the friends they had known, both human and otherwise, but they adjusted quickly and soon made themselves at home in their new environment. I must admit that, when I adopted them, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know, for example, that they would turn an acre of field into a giant mudhole, or that they would continually pull down sections of fence, or knock holes in the walls of their barn. But, it’s been right around ten years now and, overall, I think we’ve done pretty well together.


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