Esther the Wonder Pig | Steve Jenkins & Derek Walter | TEDxStLawrenceCollege

Translator: Katrin R.
Reviewer: Zsófia Herczeg Derek Walter: Why would you change
your entire life for a pig? That’s something
that we get asked all the time. I was a professional magician, so I went to work
pulling rabbits out of hats. And Steve, he was a real estate agent. But with the click of a mouse,
everything, and I mean everything, changed one day when Steve got a message on Facebook
asking if he wanted a mini pig. Steven Jenkins: I always
considered myself an animal lover. I’ve been drawn to them
since I was a little boy. I’m sure most of our friends
weren’t surprised when I came home
unannounced with a mini pig. and it took him a few weeks to even warm up
to the idea of keeping her. See, we knew nothing about pigs
when Esther first arrived, but during those first few weeks, we saw an incredible
personality developing. Both of us were really shocked
at how similar she was to a puppy, but one thing in particular
really stuck out to us and that’s just how smart she was. Within a few days of arriving,
she found one of the dogs’ treat balls. They had them for years
and played with them all the time. They’d roll it around,
get it stuck somewhere, or get bored and just give up with it. Esther, however,
she’d take that treat ball and go in a straight line
from one end of the room to the other until it was empty. It was amazing. She was super curious too.
She loved to explore the house. She had to check out anything
that was new or out of place. Any time a guest came over
and left a purse or coat within reach, fair game, as far as Esther was concerned. And the more interested she was,
the more money I’d be willing to wager that there was ChapStick
or a pack of gum in one of the pockets. DW: I resisted at first. I even refused to give her a name. I called her Kijiji … (Laughter) after that online auction site
I had intended to list her for sale on, only half-joking. But it wasn’t long
before I was falling for her too. I remember practicing magic
in the living room one day, as I often would, and Esther took an interest
into what I was doing, so I went and got a cookie,
and I made it disappear. I did it all the time for the dogs, and they would wag their tails
and they would bark like crazy. I wish I had a video camera for the moment
when the cookie disappeared because you could literally see
the amazement and wonder in her eyes. I did the trick one more time,
anticipating the same hilarious result. Yet, this time, Esther was sniffing around behind me. You see, she knew
where the cookie was this time. (Laughter) The dogs could be fooled
over and over and over again, but not Esther. The term “pigpen” also came
to mind when I first met her because I thought she was going to be
a stinking smelly mess all the time, but she was surprisingly clean. She had a pen with her bed
and her litter box, which she almost always kept clean. Now I’m not going to pretend that she maintained
a 100% perfect potty record, but teaching her to use the litter box, that was not the problem. She got along really well
with our other animal friends too, and it was amazing to see her
try to fit in that pack. All that she wanted to do
was just follow them around. It was pretty cute. One concerning fact
that remained, however, was that we lived in a part of town
that wasn’t zoned to allow mini pigs, so we had to keep her quiet
from the neighbors, and we found a vet out of town
that would see her, and we thought we were all in the clear until the vet dropped a bombshell. SJ: I went alone
to that first appointment, and it was probably a good thing because among the first words
out of his mouth were, “Mini pig, eh? I’m afraid you’ve got a commercial pig
on your hands here, Steve.” I nearly died. How could something so small,
so cute, and so smart be the same thing I ate
for breakfast two days earlier. It turns out her cropped tail was a clear indication
to any knowledgeable person. It’s common practice on commercial farms
to cut off their tails. It’s often done without pain medication, using nothing more
than basically a pair of pliers. It was my first introduction
to what life could have been for Esther. And it was upsetting, to say the least. Keep in mind, at this point,
we hadn’t even discussed the fact that she would be at least 250 pounds,
best-case scenario. That’s substantially larger
than the 70 pounds I’d been led to believe
by the girl I got her from. DW: When Steve came home, he totally downplayed the information
that he shared with me. (Laughter) When he started with, “Weeeeeell …” I knew I should have probably sat down. “It turns out she’s going to be a little bit bigger
than we thought,” he said. “Maybe 200 to 250 pounds.” OK, that’s not so bad. “And it turns out she’s not a mini pig,
she’s a commercial pig.” A million things were going through
my mind at that moment, most of them were swear words. Steve immediately tried to reassure me
that everything was going to be OK. But it was not OK. We had just come to terms with the fact
that we were going to keep her, and this was a huge setback, literally. We did some soul-searching,
but after a few days … (Laughter) … animals have a way
of stealing your heart. And even though we had only known
Esther for a few weeks, we both couldn’t stand the thought
of giving up on her. SJ: We carried on for months
with nothing more than a hope that she wouldn’t get as big
as we knew she could. But every time somebody came over,
it was the same thing: “Oh my god, she’s huge!” (Laughter) “How big will she get?
What will do with her?” We were wondering these things ourselves and that’s actually why we called her
Esther, the Wonder Pig. Aside from her astonishing rate of growth, which was almost a pound
a day at its quickest, her intelligence was becoming
increasingly apparent. Our freezer was below the fridge;
we had to keep it closed with box tape. All of our cupboards had childproof locks,
but they were no match for Esther. By the time she was
eight or nine months old, she could open every single
door in our house. She’d use her snout to operate
lever-style door handles. Even giving her medication
became a battle of wits because no matter how well
we thought we hid those pills, she would find and reject them. Sometimes she’d even make us think
she swallowed them only to spit out a pill after I gave
her a cookie for taking them. (Laughter) DW: She was like little Houdini too. She could read our minds,
and she was always one step ahead of us. One of the most amazing displays
of thoughtfulness that I ever witnessed from Esther is when she concocted a whole plan
to steal food from the cupboards. Typically, she would open the cupboard
and steal whatever she wanted as quickly as she could. She realized that
that would get her into trouble, so she started opening
the cupboard really quietly when nobody was watching. She’d circle around to the living room
to see what we were up to, and then she’d return back to the kitchen and pull out the basket of food
she was wanting. Then she’d go back into the living room
for one last check on us before returning to the kitchen
to steal her prize, haul ass down to the bedroom,
so she could eat it. (Laughter) She’d literally broken
that down into steps, being as quiet as possible
to avoid detection. She was a little devil. And as annoying as that was,
there was no denying that there was something special
going on in that big head of hers. SJ: It felt like we were battling
with a two-year-old sometimes, and in many ways, we were. Scientists have proven that pigs
can be as smart as human toddlers. They excel at video games using
their snout to operate the joysticks. And they’re among only
a handful of animals that have been shown
to recognize themselves in mirrors. Pigs are astonishingly intelligent. It was incredible for us
to watch her grow up and experience the world around her. We had our fair share of laughs, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say
we had our fair share of headaches. There were thousands of dollars
in torn beds and bedding. She even shattered an iPad once when I left it on the couch,
and she decided she wanted a nap. We had to watch her at all times,
and it was taking a toll on both of us. We had toilet training issues too. When she got too big
for any practical litter box to handle, a kiddie pool at its biggest, we had to start telling her to go outside. You’d think that would be hard enough
to undo months of toilet training. Not when you’re dealing with Esther. She had to add an entirely
different layer of difficulty by fake peeing when we took her out. We tried to teach her,
just like you do with a puppy. We take her outside, tell her to go pee, we’d get really excited
and give her a cookie when she did it. So when she started asking
to go by herself and more frequently, we thought that was amazing. Until we realized, most of the time
she wasn’t even peeing. She’d go out, face us,
and squat for a few seconds, then come running for her cookie. She totally played us, and we felt like complete idiots
compared to her sometimes. (Laughter) DW: All of that combined with the fact
that she was getting larger each day, having grown past 250 pounds
before her first birthday – that made for some pretty trying times. And finding a home for a pig
like Esther is next to impossible. And the thought of just sending her
to some farm or, worse, market, that was unthinkable. We loved Esther the way
we loved our dogs and cats. She was a part of our family, and we were going to see it through,
no matter what we needed to do. Aside from adapting our lifestyle
to accommodate Esther in the house, we had both never really
been able to shake the fact that she was a commercial pig. Getting to know Esther made us want to know
more about where she came from, so we started to do some research
into animal agriculture in general. We watched some documentaries, and we found some pretty startling things, like the fact that animal agriculture
is responsible for more greenhouse gases than planes, trains,
and automobiles combined, and that it’s responsible
for species extinction, habitat destruction, water pollution,
and ocean dead zones, and way too many other mind-boggling facts to cover in these moments
that we have today. Either way, we learned more than enough that we didn’t want to be
part of that anymore, so we adopted what we called
an “Esther-approved lifestyle.” (Laughter) And we gladly stopped consuming
animal products altogether. SJ: We accepted the fact
that this was our new normal. And we’d finally come to a place where we thought we could share
what life with a Wonder Pig was like with our more removed friends and family. We lived in a town
that was illegal to have her, so we kept her off of our own
personal social media pages. So we decided we’d start
a dedicated Facebook page just for Esther. Little did we know
that page would go viral. We started getting messages
from people all over the world that were falling in love with her
and retelling us our own story. “I had no idea how smart pigs were.” “I won’t look at them
the same way again.” “I’ll never be able to eat bacon.” It was incredible.
They were coming in by the hundreds. And the page was still really new, so we were trying to figure out
where we all fit in and decided we take a more vegan
approach to our messaging. It couldn’t have been more wrong though. People started fighting. Somebody would comment on a post,
“I’m never eating bacon anymore.” The vegan police would say,
“What about cows and chickens?” “You’re hardly an animal lover
if you still eat cows.” It was brutal, and it drove us crazy. DW: We had seen in the early weeks
on Esther’s Facebook page that she was having an effect on folks
without any vegan messaging. And we knew that we could have
a bigger impact on non-vegans, so they became our target audience. We realized that creating a relationship
between Esther and her new friends, using cute and funny photos,
was almost always more impactful than telling somebody
that you need to change or by showing them horrific images. We didn’t change
because somebody yelled at us or showed us something horrifying. We changed because we got to know
what those products were by literally living with one in our house. We didn’t see bacon anymore.
We saw Esther. And that’s what we wanted to replicate
on our social media pages. So we dedicated
every free moment of our time to answering comments,
questions, emails, and helping people relate with her
on a very personal level. SJ: We were putting ourselves
out there in a really serious way. And we knew it was only a matter of time
before the town came knocking. Esther was also pushing
about 500 pounds by this point. So social media star or not,
we knew that we needed to move. During one of our low points
the previous summer, when we weren’t even sure if we were going to be able
to keep Esther, we’d found out that there were places
called farm sanctuaries that rescue abused
and abandoned farm animals. But most of these places are struggling
for funding and volunteers or they’re overflowing with animals. So we started to think, “Well, what if we opened
our own farm sanctuary?” We had all these people watching us, expressing an interest in Esther
and what we were doing, so why not just buy a farm? To be honest, we couldn’t afford it. We lived in one of the most expensive
real estate markets in Canada and also had jobs to consider. So we couldn’t just pack up
and move north to become farmers. So we started a crowdfunding campaign
with an incredibly ambitious target. Somehow, we did it. We hit our goal and we were able
to buy a farm in Campbellville, Ontario, and established Happily Ever Esther Farm
Sanctuary a few months later. DW: When Esther arrived at her sanctuary
for the first time, she was nervous, but as soon as she saw the dogs,
she walked straight off. She got so much joy just from being able
to go wherever she wanted to go and do what she wanted to do. And we got to see her run
full out for the first time. (Laughter) That right there, to be honest,
is the most special moment for me, getting to see her run like that. And that’s something that she never
would have had the opportunity to do if she was raised
on an industrialized farm. Since then, managing Esther’s
social media following and her sanctuary has become a full-time job
for the both of us. But why, why would
we allow that to happen? It’s because Esther
elevated pigs to a position that we had previously only held
for our companion animals. Esther is smart,
she’s funny, and she’s kind. She’s all of those things, but so is every pig,
and that’s the problem. While Esther was swimming
in her pool or playing with the dogs or taking a nap in the house, her littermates were locked
in dark barns on concrete floors without access to the outdoors
or sunshine or anything to do. They would have been taken away
at about eight months of age for processing. But not the unlucky females. Esther’s sisters,
maybe even Esther herself could have been turned
into a breeding sow, forced to produce
litter after litter of piglets, confined to a small metal cage,
not larger than her body. The cage is about six feet
by two and a half feet wide, so small that all she could do
is stand or sit down. The only love that her piglets
would know from her is when she sang to them when they nursed. Yes, pigs do sing to their young,
just like humans do. Their time together would be
short-lived though because at about
three or four weeks of age, the piglets would be
removed from mother, so that mom could be
reimpregnated again, starting that whole vicious process again. She would literally be driven into madness
from lack of activity and depression. SJ: I think about Esther’s
birth family all the time. I remember our trip
from our old house to the sanctuary, and we were with Esther
the entire time in that trailer, but she was still so scared
and so nervous, no matter what we did
to try to comfort her. I couldn’t help but think
if that was the day that maybe her sister
was taking a ride in a trailer too. She was about
two and a half when we moved. It’s pretty consistent
with life expectancy of a breeding sow in commercial operations. So my mind wandered,
and I fixated on that. I started to imagine
what her day would have looked like. She’d have been loaded into a trailer with up to 200 other scared
and confused pigs, where they could legally spend up to 36 hours on the road
without food or water, in any type of weather. It’d probably be the only time any of them ever felt sun
on their skin either. Upon arrival at the slaughterhouse, they would be put into cages,
using electric prods, and lowered into gas chambers
where they’d be humanely stunned prior to slaughter. The agriculture industry
wants you to think that they don’t feel a thing, but they literally fight for their lives
until their very last breath. That could have been Esther. We spent our entire lives believing
the myths of humane meat and free range, and telling ourselves
those crazy videos never happened here, that’s got to be from another country. We’d been led to believe
that farm animals were stupid, that they were mean,
or that they didn’t feel pain. But we were wrong. That does happen here.
It happens everywhere. We just spend our entire lives
trying to ignore it, and looking the other way when one of those trucks
go by on the highway. DW: So that’s why we dedicate
our lives to a pig. Because Esther made us
stop looking the other way, and she made us realize
that we could do better. We couldn’t possibly know what life
could have been like for Esther or the impacts that animal agriculture
is having to the world around us and pretend that we’re okay with that. SJ: “When you change the way
you look at things, the things you look at change.” And Esther definitely changed
the way that we look at things. A pig that was born to be our dinner
had become an integral part of our family. And when your food has a name,
a face, and a personality, you’ll never look at it
the same way again. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Esther the Wonder Pig | Steve Jenkins & Derek Walter | TEDxStLawrenceCollege

  1. "We knew nothing about pigs…," but plenty about porking. Wow, my worldview has been completely upended by two ponces anthropomorphizing a pig. Give me a frickin' break…

  2. I love Easter. She has changed my life in so many ways. You guys are angels, thank you for the love and kindness you give. I wish more people can do the same thing you're doing. I have became vegan. It's the best choice I've ever done. ❤?

  3. I am guilty…I am a shame…and I admit I am a hypocrite!!!!
    I promise I will think about aster every time I am thinking about eating meat. I can do with just veggies and may be eggs to start out. I will do it for aster..and you two wonderful humans.
    Thank you from Montreal.

  4. The best thing I ever did was research how animals are treated by the meat industry. I just wish I had done it sooner.

  5. Thank you friends & owners of smart Ester….No more animal meat products for me! God bless farmed industralized livestock.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing the impact of Esther's life with us. You're both very special dads. She's a lucky girl to have this charmed existence. If only all animals could.

  7. i hope one day an Esther comes into my life, too 🙂 you are inspiring me so much and played a huge role in turning me vegan. love you guys, and love you Esther <3 <3

  8. We need more people like u..who truly understand the meaning of life…life is precious and it should be taken good care of… I am very proud of u two…and keep up the great job u have done to those animals….

  9. Inspiring..all animals when treated with love and shelter, domesticated by humans ,would demonstrate emotions, personality and intelligence! I wish there will be a day when we dont have to kill animals for food anymore

  10. I'm a fairly rough and tumble man. I'm finding myself in tears right now. Thank you for being who you are. I think my life is in for a big change after this video.

  11. I respect all animals but boy pork sure does taste good. I wont eat esther but any other pork nom nom nom. yes pigs are smart, and beautiful animals. I do think that more people should respect and give attention to the way that pigs are raised same with cows.

  12. Very well said indeed. How I wish one day people become vegan so no animals life will be sacrifice for human consumption and needs.?

  13. I still remember that day when I started following Esther on Instagram. And she inspired me to stop eating piggies, then I changed to vegetarian, and now I’m vegan. Thank you Esther Dads! ??

  14. As I watch this crying, I have always felt the same way you guys do, thank you so much for all you do, I love all of you ❤️

  15. What a beautiful history! I am already vegan, but I have told everybody about Esther in order to people go vegan too! Thank you for the lovely message! <3

  16. Esther has changed many lives thanks to her wonderful owners. I have not eaten meat for years and after watching this I never will. Thank you guys for your love for Esther and the other animals you care for.

  17. What a beautiful story. I follow Esther on social media and delight to see the posts. I don't eat bacon anymore and support animal rights. God bless your journey!

  18. Being vegetarian is very difficult, I'm the FIRST one to say this. I've gone vegetarian for DECADES, then fallen off the wagon, feeling guilty the entire time. Here I am, though, vegetarian again, vowing to never eat another animal and only getting eggs from pasture raised farms, and milk from local farms. We get goat cheese from a local farmer here in Nova Scotia, too. It'll never be easy, but it IS the right thing to do.

  19. Became vegan 6 yrs ago. Hope to travel to Esther's sanctuary. Will be RVing full time by July. Hope to shovel poo across the country at sanctuaries as volunteer.

  20. 11:24 Pigs can smile like us!!! Oh my God! :'-( I am already vegan but I am always touched by how similar we are in our hearts.
    14:16 And how the sadness radiates from this mother pig's face! :-'( Heartbreaking to see her!
    15:39 And she even frowns like us when we are afraid…

    I think I cried all my tears out.

  21. I cried watching this. Esther has a purpose in this world. She changed so many people for the better and we all thank her and her dads for it.

  22. and that is WHY I became a Vegetarian. Although I Always liked to eat meat, but I Love Animals More than I want to eat them. the way the meat industry Works is a nightmare to the innocent animals, a Lot of suffering. I don´t want to participate in the Turture this poor animals go through. ps: I Love what you guys are doing! way to go!

  23. Or how about eating less meat and eating responsibly raised meat.

    Remember growing soy, lentils, and beans needed to prevent protein deficiency issues takes the life of countless rodents, birds, foxes, cats “yes cats”, not to mention worms, beetles, butterflies, and other arthropods.
    I you have ever seen a combine harvesting soy, wheat, or corn look up and see all of the vultures.

    I eat meat twice a week and grow some of what I eat. I buy from responsible farmers and at the end of the day I stopped eating pork because of what I know about them.
    If someone thinks I hate chickens, ducks, deer, elk, boar, cows, and turkeys because I eat them then those people are clueless about what resources go into growing and harvesting the plants needed for us.

  24. Pigs are great pets. Super smart. And very clean, odorless pets( no sweat glands, no outside or dog smell. Better than dogs. They will get along fine with any other pets, ideally raised together. They are amazing and the best thing and best kind of love I've ever had and my girl, Edie, has made my life better-daily. They are awesome! Thanks fir sharing her with everyone. Sending you all my prayers always and especially now. Edie and I are praying many times a day. God bless!

  25. Good thing me and my daughters are vegan now, still the pic of suffering animals made me cry. And thank you for the people who love Esther, many have a change of heart and stop eating pigs

  26. I’m so glad I don’t eat animals anymore. God bless you, Esther and God bless your wonderful Daddies too!

  27. To fellow vegans please no matter your beliefs don’t tell somebody that they are not an animal lover if they eat meat. Don’t harass instead show how great and kind these animals are and people will change. You can’t make people vegan by harassing them

  28. Deep respect and admiration for you,guys. And sending all my love for Esther and the rest of little ones from the sanctuary.

  29. Thanks for making me cry. I'm very emotional and a empath but I've been vegan for 4 years now. It's the best choice I ever made in life.

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