UC Davis undergraduate, 4th year
Major: Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology
Romeo and Jelly Bean cuddling with me
This week was an all-around social event for the piglets. First, we had to figure out a solution to the dog issue. Last week we had a bit of a run-in with one of the dogs on the ranch while out on a walk with the piglets. The dog is very curious about the pigs, but they're (understandably) a little scared of this strange new creature. One of the owners of Pine Trails generously suggested that Claire and I put the dog away whenever we were planning on walking the piglets. This seemed to be the most efficient way to combat our compatibility issue, so we went right to work! The next time we planned to walk the pigs, we searched high and low for the dog but it was nowhere to be found. We discovered that it was with one of the owners, content and leashed by their side. Now we were free to walk the pigs without having to worry about running into a not-so-friendly face.
On our walks, we lead the pigs to greet their fellow mini equine friends. Randy the mini horse is especially interested in the pigs, which isn’t saying much because Randy is quite an excitable young man. The horse-pig interactions mostly consist of sniffing at each other through a fence, but hopefully one day we’ll be able to have them coexist!
In addition to their new mini friends, the pigs met many new human faces this week as well. We have been allowing anyone who we stumble across on our walks to gently greet the pigs. Here is our process: we place a small pile of food in front of the stranger to entice the pigs to get a little closer, and then reward them with food whenever they actively receive pets. They have all gotten much more comfortable in this area, often approaching strangers without any food encouragement needed.
A tired Care Bear getting some extra love after her procedure
The most dramatic event to come of this otherwise peaceful week was Care Bear getting spayed. The other two piglets had their procedures done weeks ago, but Care Bear had been too small to join them at the time. Now that she’s older and stronger, she was ready for a trip to the vet. We loaded her into a crate pretty painlessly, the procedure went very well, and she spent a tranquil night at the vet. Her siblings were far less pleased though. Periodically throughout the day when she was absent, Claire and I would hear faint squealing coming from the pig stall; they missed their sister! Why had this cruel world taken her from them?!
Soon Care Bear was back with her family and all abnormal squealing was quelled. We had to make sure that she kept her stitches dry for the next few days, so no water bowl dips for her, and we gave her medication twice a day to reduce any pain. Care Bear will be healed and ready to go on walks again in no time!
A screenshot from one of my training sessions with Jelly Bean!
At the end of the week, Claire and I decided to try to get the piglets comfortable with us picking them up. We brought out some sliced fruit for extra enticement and started the training with Jelly Bean. It went surprisingly well! Claire placed a few slices of fruit on top of a cinderblock and while Jelly was distracted by the food, gently lifted her off of the ground. Jelly Bean seemed not to care in the slightest. When I tried this method on Romeo, he was expectedly more squirmy but surprisingly still quite calm at the prospect of being dangled in the air.
Moments like these remind me how far we’ve come with the piglets and make me incredibly proud to see their progress. We have worked so hard to get them comfortable with human touch, and looking back on our first week at the ranch kind of blows my mind. They shied away at any human and ran from our hands if we attempted any pets. Now, belly rubs are a daily occurrence and they have grown to recognize and be extremely at peace around Claire and I. This progress is all leading towards their future as therapy animals. One day, instead of squirming around at being picked up in their temporary stall, they will be providing a safe space for struggling visitors in a permanent pen, receiving pets galore.
Green Care Blog
Here you can find blog posts from each Green Care Lab intern. We'll be talking about our research process, the benefits of Green Care therapy, and sharing pictures of our work. Follow along with us!