Henrietta: A hog's hard-knock life
Even for a pig, Henrietta has had a rough go of it.
Abandoned, mauled by dogs and deemed a biohazard, the 400-pound sow now faces a likely amputation and months of rehab.
And that’s if she’s lucky, which so far ... well, not so much.
Animal control officers in Sampson County, about an hour southeast of Raleigh, took the pig into custody last month. Neighbors said she’d been roaming loose for years, eating dog food and whatever she could scrounge.
She was scrawny for her size and some kind of mix: too big for a pot bellied pig, too small for a hog raised for meat.
And her ears were missing.
Most likely she had been somebody’s pet, said Sgt. Jessica Kittrell of the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office, who’s handled “quite a few” calls about loose hogs, the biggest nearly 900 pounds.
Kittrell called her Penelope, after the film in which Christina Ricci is born cursed with a pig’s snout.
“It’s kind of an odd movie,” she said.
The Sheriff’s Office waited 72 hours, but no one claimed the pig.
And because her health was unknown – she had a big growth on her left front leg — she was deemed a biosecurity hazard and couldn’t remain at the local livestock arena.
As word got out, calls started coming in, including from people who wanted to adopt the pig for slaughter, which Kittrell rejected.
“That animal had been through enough,” she said.
‘An interesting case’
A volunteer at the animal shelter contacted Triangle Chance for All, a small farm-animal sanctuary in northern Chatham County, which agreed to take Penelope.
But the sanctuary specializes in chickens. So cofounder Justin Van Kleeck asked Penny Jeffrey, founder of Pig Pals of N.C., also in Chatham, if she could pick up the pig.
“That was an interesting case,” Jeffrey said Tuesday.
“They gave me the (pig’s) height, but they didn’t give me the length, so I drove there very hesitant.”
And sure enough, Penelope proved too big for the crate she’d loaded in the back of her Honda Element.
“I made an executive decision,” Jeffrey said. “Let’s just haul her in the back of the Honda Element, which is an amazing vehicle to transport pigs in.”
Penelope slept through most of the ride on I-40.
But her challenges were not yet over.
“A little murky’
Van Kleeck, 36, started Triangle Chance for All with his wife Rosemary, 30, in 2014.
The microsanctuary which rescued about 70 animals last year, promotes veganism, in which people don’t eat or use animal products.
At just 3 acres, their property was too small for Penelope, now called Henrietta, but they found a veterinarian willing to board her.
The pig’s story proved “a little murky,” Van Kleeck said.
Neighbors said dogs had chewed off her ears. That can happen when pet pigs get loose, he said. A number of sanctuaries also have pigs with three legs.
When the large mass on Henrietta’s leg started bleeding, it became clear her medical needs were urgent.
Dr. Kristie Mozzachio, the veterinarian boarding the pig at her Cedar Grove home, said bone tumors are rare in pigs and rarely spread.
The growth forces Henrietta’s leg up in a flexed position, however, and while she can lean on it for support, she mostly hobbles around.
Still Mozzachio, who has three pot-bellied pigs of her own (“My oldest is 21 years old. My youngest is 18. They’d be in college.”) is optimistic.
“She’s so bright and active, regardless of what she has, she’s doing great,” she said. “We just need to take care of that big open wound.”
One at a time
Van Kleeck and Mozzachio entered the big outdoor pen where Henrietta lay sleeping on a bed of straw.
The pig rustled and then slowly lifted herself up on her three good legs, looking up through half-closed lids.
North Carolina is a top hog producer, and millions of animals are slaughtered each year.
Van Kleeck doesn’t expect his sanctuary to change that any time soon.
“It’s a huge undertaking to change society that way,” he said. “But we approach humans the way we approach animals, which is one individual at a time.”
Henrietta consumed a butternut squash in three bites, an apple and a banana, with the peel on. After a few minutes rooting around, she slowly lay back down and let her caretakers brush her, the bristles scraping her short, wiry hairs.
Animals like Henrietta put a face on the food system, Van Kleeck said, and people have told him they’ve stopped eating chicken after reading about rescued birds on his website and in social media.
“Each one of them wants to live the same kind of life Henrietta is living now – being cared for, having companionship, getting treats,” he said. “We think they all should get that sort of life, rather than just being considered food.
Henrietta has an appointment at the N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine on Tuesday.
This time she’ll be riding in a horse trailer.