This is part 3 in a series of posts about a rescued pig, Mr. Pickles. To go back to the beginning of the story, click here https://applehillfarmnc.com/Part 2 of the story can be found here https://applehillfarmnc.com/pig-rescue-p2/.
Finding a purpose for Mr. Pickles was not something we planned or had meetings about. We watched as it developed over time. It started with some in-stall training for pieces of treats. Quickly we were able to get him to leap up into his sandbox, stand on his back legs and bump a fist with his nose, a safe way to give pig kisses.
Location, location, location.
Mr. Pickles’ physical location, his stall in the barn, put him right in the middle of everything. He was next to the dog food closet, where we prepare meals twice a day, across from the people bathroom and the steps that lead upstairs to the store. Not only was he front and center, he made sure he was seen and heard. If he was in the outside pen and a visitor came in the big barn doors, he trotted back inside with a ‘groint, groint, groint’ and his tail wagging. And when it was feeding time he imitated the squeeky dog food closet door with a “gweek, gweek, gweek.”
How to win friends
Mr. Pickles was the first stop on the tour, even before we went to meet the alpacas. As the guide shared his rescue story, he made a variety of noises as if to punctuate the happy and sad parts. His tricks were met with cheers and claps from the whole tour. Mr Pickles took the attention he received and reeled the visitors in making himself a popular personality. He had a way of turning a foe into a fan.
Jerry, a neighbor farmer who grew up raising all his own meat, came by when he heard we had a pig. He wanted to give us some advice, about raising hogs. Mr. Pickles was inside and came running out when he heard Jerry’s voice in front of the barn.
“Weeelllll…he’s not big enough for a ham biscuit!” Jerry exclaimed before doubling over with laughter.
Mr. Pickles answered with long loud grunts as if he understood what had just been said.
“How big do you think he will get?” Jerry asked.
“It’s hard to say, but hopefully he’ll stay under 30 pounds.” I answered.
“That don’t even make sense, my dog’s bigger than that!”
Even though a pet pig was silly to Jerry, he became a fan. On his next visit, Jerry went over to Mr. Pickles’ stall to say hello before he came to find me.
In those days, we went off the farm with alpacas to events to let people know about Apple Hill Farm. As the months warmed up and events were scheduled, Mr. Pickles became part of our plans. Pet festivals, Arts and Crafts fairs and a local herb festival. He was a hit and small crowds gathered around his pen.
When July came around, we outfitted a red flyer wagon with a crate big enough for Mr. Pickles and we pulled him in the Banner Elk parade. For years we had walked llamas in the parade and carried a banner. Mr. Pickles was a hit. ‘Look, its a pig!!” Unlike the llamas, who folks often thought were Emu’s, they knew he was a pig!
A combination of things happened one unusually warm weekend that sifted Mr. Pickles role. He and his smart nose figured out that the food people were eating as they stood beside his cage was yummy Kettle Corn. When he smelled it, he begged with a gweeking noise, until by mid morning, he was hoarse and grumpy. In order to make sure that he didn’t bite anyone, one of us stood with him in the pen. As the afternoon grew hotter, we put him in his crate with a light cover to take a nap and rest his voice. Meanwhile, as we were in town trying to keep him cool, a customer came to the farm, primarily to see Mr. Pickles. And he wasn’t there. It was the final sign we needed. From then on, Mr. Pickles stayed at the farm when we were open.
That didn’t stop him from being invited to make appearances, though. One such request was as part of a fundraiser at Will’s school. The kids donated money toward the teachers in their grade and the winning teacher had to “kiss the pig”. Dressed in a bandana in school colors, I held Mr. Pickles while teachers male and female dressed in wigs and put on lipstick before receiving a wet nose bump on the lips from Mr. Pickles. Each kiss was followed by laughter and applause. For the last teacher, who happened to be Will’s teacher, Mr. Pickles pooped during the kiss sending the school into near hysterics.
Brianne was working with Knox, one of our Great Pyrenees dogs, training him as a therapy dog and to do tricks. When she had the idea to train Knox to pull a cart, a light bulb went off. Knox could pull Mr. Pickles in a wagon. It took months of training, outfitting a radio flyer wagon with rails and a harness. By the 4th of July, Knox was ready for the Banner Elk parade. They were a huge hit and a new tradition began. Llamas, and a dog pulling a wagon with a pig.
The Odd Couple
That winter, as he outgrew yet another dog crate, we outfitted Mr. Pickles’ stall with a dog igloo, which we referred to as his Pigloo. Pig’s favorite place to go at night and in bad weather. We started noticing that Snickers, our female barn cat was in his stall occasionally. A few months later I noticed her in his stall every night when I went to the barn at tuck-in time. Eventually, Snickers just moved in with him permanently and we added a cat bed for her. They were the odd couple, best buddies from a distance and shared the sunlight that streams in through the door on a cold winter day.
Mr. Pickles doesn’t have just one purpose, he has many. As a favorite ambassador at the farm or delighting the crowd as a parade pig. His rescue story is memorable and touching for all ages. Mr. Pickles has even crossed the feline divide to be a companion and roommate for Snickers. And through all his many roles, he has reached local celebrity status. A fact we are reminded of every 4th of July as we walk in ‘the best hometown parade in America’ and the crowd claps and yells his name. “Mr. Pickles!”