One of my major idols in life is a 650-pound pig named Esther. She lives in Canada and we have never met, but she is a heroine of mine nonetheless.
This sassy, hilarious, heartwarming girl first came into the lives of her “daddies” – Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter – as a supposed “mini-pig” in the year 2012. In their book, Esther the Wonder Pig: Changing the World One Heart at a Time, Steve explained that an old school friend of his whom he referred to as “Amanda” had contacted him – knowing that he was a huge animal lover – to tell him that she had a pig available for sale. He described the situation thus:
I figured I’d do a little homework overnight. I knew nothing about mini pigs. I didn’t know what they ate; I had no idea how big they got. So I started doing some Internet research. I found a few assertions that “there’s no such thing as a mini pig.” And yes, that should have been a red flag, but I was blinded by my faith in Amanda (and my sudden obsession with having a pet pig). I knew this person. I’d gone to school with her. She wasn’t talking to a stranger. Amanda said it was a mini pig and I believed her, because why would she lie?
Needless to say, Steve and Derek soon discovered that Esther had, in fact, been bred into existence as a commercial farm pig, whose weight would spiral far beyond the 70 pounds they had been told she would reach. The truth emerged during a routine veterinary checkup, when the vet pointed out that her tail had been docked. This was a telltale sign that she had originally been intended to end up on someone’s dinner plate, as pigs often have their tails docked in factory farms. Nobody knows how she ended up leaving the farm and being put on sale as a supposed mini-pig. The “Amanda” person who had sold Esther to Steve mysteriously became unreachable as soon as he and Derek learned the truth.
The two men were left with a difficult dilemma. It was technically illegal for them to keep Esther, as by-laws in their home town of Georgetown, Ontario, banned anyone from keeping a farmed animal in their house. They also had no idea how they would cope with Esther’s rapidly increasing size in their small suburban home. They knew that they would eventually have to move to the country if they had any hope of permanently accommodating her. Despite these formidable obstacles, they ultimately decided to keep Esther. They had fallen head over heels in love with her.
Esther captured their hearts with her keen intelligence, loving cuddles and hilarious antics … just as she has now captured the hearts of her sizeable Facebook and Instagram fanbase.
Esther’s dads set up her Facebook page as a way of sharing photographs and videos of her with friends and family, but the page soon went viral, attracting thousands upon thousands of new likes. Today, the page has over 1.36 million followers. Esther has an uncanny tendency to inspire compassion and unbounded joy in nearly everyone who meets her or hears of her. Steve and Derek have called this “the Esther Effect.”
I can’t remember how I stumbled across the page, but I know that I began to follow it in early 2014. This was when Derek and Steve embarked upon an ambitious project to open up an animal sanctuary in rural Ontario. They needed to raise $400,00 CAD in order to get the project off the ground … and thanks to the help of Esther’s loyal legions of followers, they succeeded.
Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary (HEEFS) is now a beacon of hope and refuge for the many animals who call it home. In this post, I would like to highlight a few of these wonderful beings.
Shelby, a beautiful pit bull-type dog, is the oldest non-human member of the family. She came into Derek and Steve’s lives in 2001. She is Esther’s best friend: the two have been utterly inseparable ever since the day Esther arrived into her dads’ home. Shelby lived through her own heartbreaking experience of neglect and abuse before being taken in by Steve and Derek. In a HEEFS Facebook post dated October 6th, 2014, Derek wrote:
Shelby came to us about thirteen years ago. Steve and I were at our third apartment together in Burlington, Ontario. Not far from there I had an industrial warehouse space that we used for magic storage and rehearsal. We would spend many hours there creating, building and practicing: sometimes for days on end.
The neighbouring unit next to us was a small printing press for a motorcycle enthusiast magazine. They had a few employees (all one family, we presume) that would come around 10am in the morning, and leave around 4:30pm Monday – Friday. We noticed them with a new dog one afternoon, and over the next couple of months we came to know this dog as Shelby. They would tie her up outside by a little strip of grass in the morning when they arrived, and then put her inside when they left. She would cry and cry and cry. We could hear her through the roof vents, door and cement walls crying to get out. These warehouse spaces didn’t have any windows. Just solid doors.
No lights were ever left on (we checked through cracks under the door). No one ever came to check on her. We were there all hours and no one ever came. They were feeding her, and providing a roof over her head, but at the expense of being a “guard dog” she was certainly alone.
Weeks passed and we got to know Shelby quite well. We would unchain her to play and bring her inside the magic emporium from time to time to snuggle in a pile of black theatre drapes. One Friday afternoon, Shelby’s owners knocked at the door and asked if we could ‘mind Shelby for the week’ as they were going away. We of course agreed.
Our week with Shelby was amazing. We discovered that she had never seen or tackled stairs before, yet she was about 9 months old. She was also terrified of the dark. We knew that from our late nights at the warehouse. We taught her how to climb stairs and left a night light on for her night tremors.
When Shelby’s owners were supposed to return, they never did. Two weeks. Three weeks. One month. No one ever came. The phone numbers were bogus. Their motorcycle magazine folded and they skipped town and abandoned Shelby. We worried for a month what might happen if they were to return, because there was no way we would let her go back.
Shelby has proven to be amazingly long-lived. She is now eighteen years of age and still going strong! This sweet pooch has a warm maternal energy, and loves to welcome and “baby” all new arrivals to the house.
I imagine it must have been quite an adjustment for Shelby and the other “original animals” (Reuben the dog and Delores and Finnegan, the two cats) to get used to living with an enormous pig, followed by a sudden relocation to a completely new house surrounded by acres of wide open space – so unlike the suburban environment they had been used to. However, they took things in their stride.
UPDATE June 1st 2018: This beautiful girl passed away suddenly last night – Steve and Derek announced it on Esther’s Facebook page. She will always be remembered with great love by her family and her innumerable fans.
Escalade and BJ
It is impossible to write about Escalade (the horse) and BJ (the donkey) separately because these two are true soulmates. They were the first official rescues to arrive at HEEFS. They arrived together after their previous guardians became too ill to care for them any longer, and they have rarely been apart for a single moment ever since. Escalade was initially very nervous and unwilling to trust his new carers, but with the help of his best friend BJ and a lot of love and patience from Derek and Steve, he gradually began to relax and show his true personality. BJ is well-known for his loud, excitable braying sounds whenever Steve and Derek arrive home!
The pair are also great friends with Pouty Face the cow – these three can often be found playing together.
This video of the trio running through their field together always brings joy to my heart. Another cow named Jasmine can also be seen in this clip, chilling out and rubbing her head against a tree stump: one of her favourite activities!
Cornelius arrived at the sanctuary in April 2017 along with his chicken buddy Hank, when a couple who had previously cared for them were unable to keep them any longer. According to their new guardians, Hank is a quiet and reserved character, but Cornelius immediately proved to have a much more outgoing personality, and it wasn’t long before “he decided the spotlight was the life for him.” He began to pay regular visits to the house, where he displayed a great talent for hilarious photobombs, even upstaging the pink princess herself on more than one occasion.
This dashing lad knows how to strut his stuff!
When Esther and Shelby head off on an adventure, this intrepid turkey is always keen to lead the pack.
Cornelius has become a near-permanent fixture in the house during the day, but at night, he still prefers to sleep in the barn alongside his other feathered friends. His dads apparently have it on strict authority from the barn animals that he is “one loved turkey.” Unfortunately, he has not been fully toilet trained, and must, therefore, wear a makeshift orange nappy while he is indoors.
His dads tactfully refer to it as an “accident prevention device” … and in this picture, they have decorated it with a floral necklace so that he looks very stylish indeed.
Alice is a gorgeous, goofy St. Bernard with a heart of gold. At the end of 2017, she was rescued from a dog meat farm located in Korea by Humane Society International – Canada. Steve and Derek agreed to adopt her a short while later.
Image Source: Steve Jenkins/Facebook
In the post where he introduced Alice to his Facebook followers, Steve wrote:
Alice is a meat dog, having only recently been freed along with 170 other dogs from an intensive meat dog breeding farm in Korea. The farm she came from has since been shut down, the farmer now growing blueberries thanks to the help and guidance of the rescue organisation. Before anyone starts calling names, or making racist comments, I think it’s important to remember that these farms exist all over the world. In their barn it was Alice, in the barns over here it’s Esther. There’s no difference whatsoever. Each and every one of them deserve better than what they were born for, and we’re beyond lucky to have the opportunity to provide it for them.
Image Source: Steve Jenkins/Facebook
Alice lost both of her ears and had her tail docked in the farm. Steve stated that when she first moved in back in January, she was extremely timid and frightened, “almost certainly because of the unspeakable things she saw/heard before she arrived at our house.” However, it did not take long for her to settle in and make friends with the other canine residents, Reuben and Shelby. She was initially startled by Esther’s sheer size – as she had never seen a creature quite like her in her life – and I’m sure she was also somewhat taken aback at the sight of a turkey strutting around like he owned the place!
However, this plucky girl has now learned how to feel comfortable and relaxed around all of the HEEFS residents. I particularly love this picture of her with a pig named Tammie.
Image Source: Humane Society International – Canada/Facebook