To Eat Like A Pig

A question we often hear is what do the pigs eat?

There is many a joke to that question, such as, what won't they eat!? But in reality, I could give you that list - and it would be as long and demanding as Beyonce's rider.

Pigs, like many animals in the world, are omnivores. However unlike the stereotypical omnivore, pigs will not hunt for their prey and do not eat meat from birds, bovines or other swines. Rather, pigs are known for rooting in the soil for grub, worms and insects. Due to their nutritional requirements and size, this accounts for a very small part of their diet. Largely, pigs stick to a vegan friendly lifestyle - which is what we maintain at the sanctuary.

There are several viable options of food to choose from when shopping for your potbelly pig, however such as choosing food for yourself, each pig's dietary preferences are unique to the individual and can change depending on the day, weather and their mood. I have heard success from many people who feed potbelly pig formulated pellets, others who feed an equine grain called Step 4: Rocky Mountain Crunch, and others who feed a human equivalent diet. I personally have tried out all of the options with Buddy and Billy before deciding on their current meal plan.

So what does a typical day's menu look like for our pigs? Let's take a look at their food selections from today... (Don't worry, baby Olivia eats a little less than the boys!)

Bistro de Piglet

Breakfast - to be served between 8am and 9am

1/2 cup of raisin bran
1 cup of Step 4 grain
1/2 a bartlet pear
1/4 cup of unsweetened coconut almond milk

Lunch - to be served between 12pm and 1pm

1/4 head of romaine lettuce
1/2 cup of baby spinach
1/2 cup of fresh kale
1/2 an avocado
Handful of garlic croutons
Handful of unsalted peanuts

Snack Time - to be served between 3pm and 4pm

Snack ball filled with a mixture of rolled and cracked oats, shared among them and...

1/2 a red apple, sliced
Topped with crunchy peanut butter

Dinner - to be served between 7pm and 8pm

1/2 cup of multigrain Cheerios
1 cup of Step 4 grain
1/2 a banana
1/2 cup of unsweetened apple sauce

So there you have it! Surprisingly, their meals are not so different from many people's choices (aside from the grain that is). We give our pigs as much independence as possible, which includes changing up their menu routinely to avoid boredom, switching foods if one develops a dislike and accommodating their preferences such as warm oatmeal for breakfast on a cold rainy morning.

The payout of watching them enjoy their food is amazing. The way they sift through their bowls, picking out their favourite parts to eat first - and leaving their least favourite (most often the veggies!) for last. Their enthusiastic open mouthed chomping as they revel in the flavours. The pure joy they experience from food is unapologetic, grateful bliss. I wish I could attack my meals with the same excitement and vigour as the pigs do. They never apologize for feeling everything in the now, and appreciating even the smallest of life's offerings.

So the next time someone tells you that you eat like a pig - I'd say you Thank You! (But maybe, close your mouth when you chew.)

Splendid Sorrow

Life can get us down. Life can be cheerful and blessed one moment, then morose and chaotic the next. 

When we speak for those that cannot, we subject ourselves to the harsh reality that is the world. Often times we may be berated, harassed, called extremists and fanatics. All because we recognize the injustice animals suffer, and choose to vocalize it rather than remaining silent. 

Then there are the times we are victorious. Whether it be by helping a friend make the transition to a vegan lifestyle, adopting a pet from the local shelter, or donating money to a rescue so they can continue helping their animals. There is an instantaneous moment of joy, sometimes followed by a feeling of sadness. Sadness for all of the animals continuing to be slaughtered for food, sadness for the other animals in the shelter without homes, sadness for the animals who were not fortunate enough to find refuge in a shelter. The sadness comes from realizing all those we wanted to, but could not, help. 

And those feelings, are okay.  

We are constantly told by those around us to stay positive. 
"You make a difference." 
"That one animal is safe because of you."
"You're part of a ripple effect." 

We're told not to fret over the changes we cannot make, not to obsess over the choices of others and to be grateful for the small changes that will lead to the greater ones. But you don't have to. 

Feel sad. Feel helpless. Feel small. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you need. Give yourself time to wallow, to empathize, to ache. Because when we do that, we open our hearts and we expand our circle of compassion to a greater level. 

Giving ourselves the opportunity to recognize the wrongs in the world, allows us to appreciate the rights. Turning a blind eye is never a solution, and remaining aware and sensitive to our surroundings only improves us as human beings. 

Ignorance is bliss. People want to be happy. Society wants to be happy. The mass populous does not want to see reality, because reality can be difficult to accept. When the weight of the world, the suffering, and the pain comes crashing in around you, embrace it. Because feeling, no matter happy or sad, is a step to re humanizing the human race. Once we are human again- feeling, living, emotional beings - we will not be able to shut our eyes to the pain of others. And change will follow. 

So the next time a friend is in need of comfort, lend an ear. Listen. Sorrow is not the enemy, but rather a necessary step we all must take. For it leads us through the darkest tunnels and on the other side, is a better and brighter future. 

The Littlest Pig

Today's blog post was scheduled to be a lighthearted exploration into the diet of our resident potbelly pigs. However the plan took a change this morning when I received a heartwarming email from a wonderful new supporter of the sanctuary.

I will share an excerpt from her email, that resonated with me very deeply.

"I see countless livestock trucks (full or empty, I can't tell which is more heartbreaking) on my daily commute. The smell of livestock in the air is constant and is a horrific reminder of all the lives that are "processed" every single day. One day on my way home about a month ago I was stopped at a red light next to a pig truck, and I made eye contact with a few of the animals. I sobbed the entire rest of the way home. I have been vegetarian before, but this didn't seem like enough, and after educating myself on the horrors of animal agriculture and factory farming (I just finished watching Cowspiracy this morning), it isn't surprising then, that I have adopted a vegan lifestyle...for the animals, for the health of the planet and for my own health."

During my move to British Columbia, exactly a year and two months ago - we wound up pulling out of Kamloops, driving neck and neck with a livestock trailer. This trailer was packed full of beautiful, innocent pigs.

I was in the passenger seat of the vehicle for that leg of the trip, and was therefore right beside the livestock trailer. Upon realizing what was beside us, I became immediately upset. I requested my mother, who had accompanied me on the drive out, move away from the trailer. Unfortunately due to mountain roads, this wasn't possible, and we rode aside each other for a couple of hours.

I cannot describe the emotional turmoil I experienced and witnessed during those hours. When I realized I couldn't escape this sight, I decided to absorb the impact of it. Staring into the slats of the trailer, I saw the very human like eyes of the frightened and weary pigs inside. A snout stuck out the back of the trailer, his little tongue jutting out to feel the wind - how very similar to the dogs we love.

As many pigs as there were on that trailer, one will always be burned into my memory. One pig, smaller than the rest, was shoved up against the open slats. He was sitting, not by choice, but because there was simply no room in the crammed trailer for him to lift himself upright again. We made eye contact, for what seemed like the longest minute of my life. He looked just like my Billy. My breathe caught in my throat, as a tear fell from that little pig's eye, and shattered my heart into pieces.

Reading and witnessing first hand are two very different forms of knowledge. Having researched and watched every video available on factory farming, abuse, and what occurs inside the slaughterhouses, I thought I was better equip to dealing with the reality when it was presented before me. However watching that pig, and the tear fall from his hollow eye, was unlike anything I could have prepared for.

We pulled over at the next rest stop. Getting out of the car, I made my way to the horse trailer we were towing. Billy and Buddy were sleeping inside as I collapsed into the straw next to them and wept. Having my boys so close to such atrocity was unbearable. Making the connection that it could have been them in that truck, had their fates or breeding been slightly different, broke me down.

I wanted nothing more than to pull over that livestock trailer and comfort all the souls inside. But I couldn't. So I held my boys instead.

Following that incident I began to re devote myself to speaking for the animals. Not a full year later I was making plans to launch an animal sanctuary, the sanctuary I am proud to have today.

Staying positive in situations where hope seems so far away, is a trying task. Every day, at least once a day, the sheer force of the amount of animal suffering in our world is overwhelming. I am both blessed and cursed to have the ability to empathize with the animals. Some days that weight is heavier than others. The suffering so large, so consuming, so endless, I wonder why I am trying to fight it. What's the point? What can I do?

Then I look at Ludwig, or Sampson, or Bella or Buddy, and I remember. I may not change the world overnight but I can change the world for one animal, and I can open the minds of others. A victory no matter how large or small, is still a victory. And that one animal's life, matters.

A Poem For Pigs

I am alive.
Look into my eyes.
You will see a soul,
You will see an individual.
You will see me.

Look into my eyes
And I will look back at you.

We're not so different,
You and I.
I love.
I feel.
I laugh.
I cry.

I have family.
I have friends.
I want to protect them.
To enjoy life with them.
To save them.

Here I am.
Crammed among them,
So closely packed we cannot move.
These sounds are foreign, loud.
The odour so strong, my eyes burn.

I am scared.
Where are we going?
Why are we here?

I don't understand.
We were friends.
You fed me,
You watched over me.
Why are you taking us?
Why are you taking me?

I want to go home.
Where the pastures are endless.
The grass grew beneath my feet.
The wind tickled my bare belly.
And the world was safe.

I want to go home.

Tears are falling from my eyes.
I want to be brave.
But why is this happening?
What did I do?

Look into my eyes,
And see yourself.
Why are you doing this to me?
Why are you doing this to you?

Look into my eyes.
The eyes of a pig.
For I am alive -
Though I'm already dead.

                                  - Julia Robin


A Painted Pony

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. When I see a picture of Bella today, I see peace, tranquility, tenderness, graceful beauty and stillness. However it has not always been so, for this sweet girl.

Bella was born free. Wild and untamed, she was native to the land, the forest and the rivers. A Native American reserve in Saskatchewan was home. Bella would have lived amongst her family band, consisting of her mother and her father. However, as is the case for many horses who live on the reserves, their freedom was only a vail, hiding the gates that were shutting them in.

Approximately five years ago, a livestock truck permanently severed Bella from the home she had always known. Destined for the slaughterhouse, Bella caught a glimmer of hope when the driver realized he had a small pony on board, perfect for his friend's ranch. Just like that, Bella found herself with a ticket off a one way ride, and into a living hell.

While at this ranch, Bella was haltered against her will, and kept restrained in a small tie stall - unable to turn around or lie down. She was fed hay every few days, and led to a stream for water just once a day. The owner of the ranch attempted to break Bella, as he wanted a loveable pony for his daughter. Tying a brush onto a stick, he would groom Bella. When she would panic or lash out in fear, he would beat her with the stick.

However against this man's worst intentions, Bella would not break. Her spirit remained strong and unwavering. When it was deemed that she would never be suitable for his child, he entered her in a wild pony chase. At the rodeo, Bella was restrained by multiple boys equipped with hockey helmets and baseball bats.

Shortly after her stint in the rodeo, this farmer agreed to sell Bella, and a small miniature mare who would later be known as Rapunzel, to a young lady from Alberta. That young lady happened to be a friend, who traveled from Calgary to Saskatchewan with the sole intent of saving this painted pony, with no plans extending past her rescue.

I was at the stable the day Bella and Rapunzel arrived. Rapunzel was more reserved, clinging to Bella's side, unsure of where she was. Bella was a spitfire, rearing up and thrashing out at her handler as she fought the entire walk to the paddock. When I heard of Bella's abusive past, and witnessed her inner strength, I knew she was a fighter. Knowing I couldn't turn away from this horse without a home, Bella joined our family, with little Rapunzel following suit.

The complete details of Bella's life on the ranch in Saskatchewan will always remain a mystery. However thanks to two beautiful souls who were traveling from Germany to experience farm life in western Canada, we do know the basis of Bella's past. These women lived on the ranch where Bella and Rapunzel were kept, and witnessed firsthand the accounts told above. It was these girls who alerted my friend who traveled to Saskatchewan, about the abuse on the farm. Thanks to their bravery in speaking out, Bella, Rapunzel, and another lovely horse escaped a life of isolation and abuse.

Shortly after rescuing Bella, we discovered she was pregnant. Filling in the timeline, it was determined her foal had been bred to her while on the reserve. The last remaining proof of Bella's freedom, Brego is the very embodiment of the past she left behind. While he was born in a domestic home, he holds the same fire that burns in his mother, and is as bold and courageous as she has proven to be. We realize now why Bella fought so hard throughout her abuse, for it was the unconditional love for her unborn son that kept her going. Today the roles have reversed, as Brego stands by his mother’s side, her fiercest protector and guardian.

Bella is the reason I can find strength even in my most difficult moments. At her first contact with the human race, she suffered unimaginable abuse. Yet in spite of her past, Bella is slowly overcoming her emotional obstacles. While she may never fully accept human contact again, she has made peace. She will nicker a hello every morning, pop her head inside the barn door while I sweep, and has allowed us the greatest privilege - of bonding with her son. She has shown us that when strength, love, and forgiveness still exist, there is hope for a better tomorrow on the horizon.

Bella is a gift in this world to remind us that there is always light, even in the darkest of days.

Grand Opening!

Robin's Refuge was a dream made into reality. 

What started as a fairytale idea as a young girl, stayed with me through to adulthood. While planning my future, running a sanctuary was always in my thoughts, however the realist in me felt it would be many years before this dream came to fruition. However over the last year, opportunity came knocking and made this sanctuary possible, much sooner than I had anticipated.

With a great deal of preparation, and the immediate outpouring of support from family, friends and my community - I am thrilled to announce the official opening of Robin's Refuge. 

Our mission statement reads: 

"Robin's Refuge is a non profit organization dedicated to providing lifelong sanctuary to exploited and abused farm animals. The animals in our care will never again know pain, isolation or mistreatment, and will come to understand love, freedom and peace.

We are committed to advocating for these animals through public education. We strive to teach humane treatment of animals, alternative lifestyle options that include more environmentally friendly choices and to remove the ignorance that surrounds animal based industries.

Robin's Refuge is a sanctuary where the animals are in control of their own lives. Given freedom of space and confines, the choice to choose their friendships and live without exploitation, our residents are individuals. They will never again be cogs in a machine."

My hope with this sanctuary is to bring a greater awareness to the animals used in farm production today. It is time our society stops looking at animals as mechanical objects, rather than the living, feeling, emotional beings they are. 

Animals may not communicate in a vocal language we understand, however when we stop talking and simply listen, they will communicate with us in ways we never imagined. 

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." - Martin Luther King Jr.