Monthly Archives: March 2012

12. Friends Reunited – 30 March 2012

It’s one of those really annoying things that your mum used to say to you when you were little: “good things come to those who wait”. But of course she was right. And after seven days of endless conflict, Snout and Crackling are finally reconciled and friends once more.

A week on from Snout’s return, I was standing guard over both of them on neutral ground. The porcine world is matriarchal and so I was assuming the position of Grand Pigess and making sure that there was going to be no fighting on my patch. And slowly, slowly, both pigs sauntered around and Crackling made no attempt to provoke Snout. I relaxed and felt vaguely optimistic. I put my pig board down and sat on a low wall, enjoying the evening sun. My eyes wandered over to the new flowers that I had planted with my stepson the previous weekend and my thoughts turned to what to cook for supper. So when the final attack came, I was hopelessly unprepared.

With shoulders lowered, Crackling lunged at Snout with ferocious speed. Clamping his jaws around Snout’s ear, he pulled backwards trying to tear it. But Snout was quick to respond and before I had even got my pig board ready, had turned on Crackling and counter-attacked with force. Clearly Snout had had enough and he was now going to stand his ground. After some fearsome fighting, Crackling was vanquished and ran as fast as his little legs could carry him and Snout, breathing heavily, turned back to the weeds that he had been digging up before his brother’s attack.

With Crackling on the back foot, I decided that the time had come to put them both into the same pen. Bearing in mind that animals are quick to pick up on human’s anxiety, I forced myself to be cheery and relaxed, whistling a little tune even as I herded them together. Once they were penned in, I shut the gate and walked calmly back into the house where Snowy was staring anxiously out of the window. I assured him that it was all going to be absolutely fine. I was completely confident. Would he please stop staring at them out of the window because they would pick up on his worry and that might provoke them once more. I pottered upstairs. And then at the top of the stairs did a sort of army manoeuvre creep into my step-daughter’s bedroom, staying below the lintel of her window and then cautiously peered down into the garden.

They weren’t exactly hugging and chatting enthusiastically, but Snout and Crackling were finally tolerating one another. As I watched, Snout went into the pig ark. Crackling followed. Crackling exited promptly. Snout stayed inside. Crackling made himself a nest in the straw outside the pig ark. Silence ensued.

The following night was much better. When I went out to see them both after supper, I found them in their old positions, lying flank to flank and snoring quietly. They both got up to greet me and then Crackling flumped back into the straw and Snouty lay down on top of him and I could see that harmony was completely restored.

This evening I have taken them both out for a stroll. We didn’t get far all together as Crackling decided that he wanted to go home. Snout and I dropped him back to the garden and then we braved crossing the Goldhawk Road so that we could get into Ravenscourt Park for a peaceful stroll and some good grass.

 

11. The Baying of Pigs – 27 March 2012

So we’ve had a ringside view of some skilled but vicious fighting over the past week.  And I have spent almost as much time off work in the role of umpire as I have spent in the preceding three weeks, nursing Snout and keeping Crackling company.  The fights are to establish dominance over the territory.  Originally Snout was the dominant of the two brothers but in his absence, Crackling has taken on ownership of the garden and is now challenging Snout’s right to roam.   Over the past few weeks, Snout has lost a lot of weight and is also much weaker as a result of his operation.  Crackling, on the other hand is in the peak of health and is weighing in at least ten kilos more than his twin.  And he is the instigator of every fight.  Like blokes outside a pub at closing time the world over, Crackling is the pissed aggressive one, who is all mouth and Snout is the happy drunk who can still handle himself.

You can feel the fight coming:  like boxers in a ring they sidle up to each other, keeping their flanks parallel and on the diagonal and then Crackling bites down hard on Snout’s ear, tail or attacks his flanks, which are of course, devoid of any protective fur because of having been shaved for the ultrasounds.  And Snout, although he is lighter and weaker, roundly defends himself.  In the first few days, I stand by with a pig board and a power hose and when I get too alarmed at the intensity of the fighting, weigh in with board, water cannon and feet.  I knew all my kickboxing training would come in handy one day and that day has arrived.  Snowy and I are both appalled by the ferocity of each engagement. Both pigs rear up on the hind legs, engage with their front legs and bite and bite and bite.  When the struggle reaches its zenith the baying starts and I have to hold onto myself not to intervene too immediately but rather let Nature take her course.

Snowy seeks advice from the Kune Kune Society’s forum and I follow my instinct.  We keep Snout and Crackling on separate sides of the garden and although they still fight wildly though the fencing, the damage to each of them is reduced by the pig wire that divides the two areas.  I feed them separately but then allow them onto neutral territory at least three times a day to work out their differences.  Advice varies as to how long this will go on but it is clear that we must allow them to smell one another and to get used to each other’s scent once more.  I rotate them from one side to the other twice a day so that they are constantly smelling each other on the ground and in the straw.  I have blocked off one end of the pig ark so that only one pig can use it at any one time with the other having a large mound of straw to bed down in on the other side.  Apparently, it may take up to three weeks of fighting for one pig to prove his dominance and the other to take on the subservient role.  Three weeks!  The stress levels after just forty-eight hours are severely high.  For Snout and Cracking as well as me and Snowy.  Our blissful thoughts of once more sitting in the evening sun with our creatures nestling up to us have been shattered.  We keep the children and the dog out of the garden and hunker down to weather the storm.

 

10. Repatriation – 26 March 2012

Snout sleeping in the sun at the Royal Veterinary College

It was the way Ami said it.  So casually.  After all the trauma of the preceding three weeks, when Snout’s life hung in the balance, her quiet comment, “well I expect you can take him home on Tuesday or Wednesday”, was almost as shocking as the thought that he might not have been coming home.  That was on the Monday and I rang Snowy to tell him.  But there was no elation in my voice as I passed on Ami’s message.  Utter exhaustion, both physical and emotional, had sapped my enthusiasm and whilst I was thrilled deep down, I was also terrified that there might be a last minute halt to proceedings.

I cleared my diary for Wednesday afternoon and Snowy planned a half day holiday.  On Tuesday I visited Snout as usual, who was free of painkillers and antibiotics and so boisterous that he threw his hind legs out behind him when I went into his pen.  Wednesday dawned and I put in six hours of work before leaving my shop at lunchtime and heading home.  In the quiet of the afternoon sun, I packed the back of the Landrover with straw to make Snout a comfortable nest and Snowy and I made our final trip up the North Circular towards Potters Bar, with me feeling incredulous that I would no longer have to drive this route every day.  No more sitting in traffic as I edged past the Leather Galleria, TravelLodge and Brent Cross shopping centre.  The final time of the Mill Hill and Five Ways roundabouts.  Past the golf course with gigantic models of dinosaurs all across it and goodbye to South Mimms services.

As we passed under the security barrier at The Royal Veterinary College, I told the guards the good news:  Snout was coming home.  And it was only then, that I really believed it.  As Snowy parked the car, I slid out and, credit card in hand, went to pay for my beautiful pig.  The bill was long.  And detailed.   I now regard Snout as my golden pig rather than my ginger one but suffice it to say, it was worth every cent to have him safely home.   James and Ami came to say goodbye, together with Nicole and some of the farmyard students and Snowy and I hoisted Snout, “one, two, three”, into the Landrover and thanked everybody profusely.

With Snowy in the driving seat, we moved away from the Obs Barn at a stately pace.  Before we had even exited the RVC, it was obvious that Snout was not going to travel in a sedate manner.  He had his front trotters up on the rear seats that had been folded away and was shouting, although this time, not with distress but rather with boisterous curiosity.  In an attempt to calm him, I climbed into the back with him and sat down in the straw, looking out of the back window as Snowy put miles between us and the College.  Snout was determined to watch the view of the A1 as we thundered back towards London and alternated between peering calmly over my shoulder and then climbing excitedly onto my legs in order to have a clearer view.

There was heavy traffic as we neared the junction of the North Circular and the A4.  The Landrover juddered along and Snout leapt up and down.  The Muslim lady in the green Ford Focus directly behind us, couldn’t take her eyes off the back of our car with its large spare wheel partly concealing the rear window:  she was convinced that she could see a woman sitting in the boot with a dancing pig on her lap.

I must admit, that I was relieved when we finally turned the corner into our road, my legs by that point quite pulverised by Snout’s trotters.  Snowy opened the boot and together we heaved the Golden Pig onto the tarmac and led him down the side passage.  In our excitement, we called out to Crackling that we were bringing his brother home, anticipating a joyful reunion.  The side door open, we released Snout into the garden and I ran to let Crackling out of his pen so the two of them could greet one another.  Snout had been away for over three weeks and I had seen how much they had felt each other’s absence.  I knew that they would be overjoyed to be reunited and watched as they came towards one another.

How wrong can a person be?  And why do I never learn that it is hopeless to anthropomorphise?  Snout and Crackling weren’t happy to see each other at all.  As far as Crackling was concerned, this was now his patch and his alone.   And onto his patch had come a strange pig, smelling of a veterinary college and not of the brother who had once lived with him.  And Crackling was having none of it and attacked this strange pig on sight.  Never I have I known such a pyrrhic victory:  all the happiness and excitement that Snowy and I had had welling up inside us, dissipated like a burst balloon as we watched the first of many fights ensue.

 

9. A reprieve? – 18 March 2012

This time last week I was preparing myself for Snout’s demise. I had talked to James and Ami about being with Snout when he was put down and also asked if we could have his ashes after he was cremated so that we could bury him in our garden.

However today, for the first time, it felt like there was a chink of light at the end of a long tunnel. When I peered over Snout’s gate, he looked like the pig he was before his illness struck him. Now even his ear catheter has been removed and although he is still receiving his antibiotics and painkillers, they are injected directly into his muscles. His ear that had had the catheter in was beginning to swell and the vets thought it best to remove it. Understandably, Snout becomes agitated when receiving his injections but Ami gives him treats afterwards. It appears however that he can sense a needle coming into his pen, smell it even and he gives Ami, Andrea and their assistants the run around every time.

But my pig is looking SO much better: his ginger coat was shining, his shaved flanks are becoming hairy again, his eyes were bright and he was boisterous and happy. I sat in the corner of his pen and after a while he joined me, climbing on top of me (55kg of pig. My legs are strong but even so!) and putting his head in my lap while his body lay down my legs with his trotters curled up by my feet. In this way, we whiled away a couple of hours, me reading my copy of The Week from cover to cover and Snout sleeping. Every now and then he would dream and his nose would twitch vigorously and his trotters would move backwards and forwards in excitement. Outside a deluge poured down but inside my pig kept the bottom half of me warm.

Eventually two equine students turned up to give him his evening feed and he shifted from his horizontal position with speed. The two girls who came to feed and water him were surprised to find him lying down me like a large dog. They thought that pigs were potential man-eaters and when they had encountered Snout the day before were disconcerted by the noises he made, worrying that his snorting was a sign of aggression. I gave them a quick run down of all his noises and said that he had no reason to be a man-eater as he had always been treated with great love. To demonstrate the lack of man-eating capacity of my pig, I flubbered his lips and then stuck my fingers into his mouth. Both girls looked vaguely reassured and having given him his food and water, pottered off into the evening.

I was so cold by this point that I rode my bike to South Mimms services and stopped for a cup of tea before heading South back down the A1. Note to self: do not have a cup of tea at South Mimms services again: it cost £2.15 and was disgusting but at least it provided a slight warmth and I came home feeling ever so slightly hopeful that Snout may be returning home.

Tomorrow he will finish his course of antibiotics and will be taken off his painkillers and we shall then have to watch him carefully to see how he does. We are all still watching him very closely every time he pees to see how much effort it takes him. Ami says that she can see that the effort is less and he is finding it easier to recover each time he urinates. Fingers crossed that that continues to be the case!

 

8. The Weekend – 17 March 2012

I am so tired, I’m not sure whether I’m coming or going but I think it’s Saturday as I write.  Yesterday I was meant to have an inspection of Snout and Crackling’s living quarters by the Animal Health City of London team but I rang them early in the day to ask them to re-schedule for next week.  It just all felt too much, trying to keep everything going:  Snout, Crackling and work as well as getting the baby to nursery and keep myself sane.  The lady that I spoke to was so understanding and we will meet in the near future.  She is investigating an influx of Iranian goldfish into London at the moment and so is pretty tied up herself.

Snout’s catheter is out and he is healing well.  When I went to visit him yesterday, we went for a blowy and quite cold walk up past the Queen Mother Centre for small animals at the RVC complex to give him some new rooting ground.  His vets, James and Ami are beginning to feel ever so slightly optimistic that he may make a full recovery.  Although he is still on painkillers and antibiotics, he is urinating more easily and confidently and is straining less.  It has all been so doom and gloom for so long and I am so tired that I am finding it hard to share in their optimism and am also afraid to in case he worsens and all hopes are dashed.

Snowy, the baby and I went to visit him this afternoon and he was much brighter than Snowy had seen him for a many days.  We weren’t able to walk him around the campus as there is an outbreak of pig disease that needs to be confined and so we all sat in Snout’s pen while he ran from person to person and was fed fruit.  Ami came by to say hello and have her clean black trousers muddied by an enthusiastic pig.  We left after about an hour and I fell asleep in the car as we drove back to London, exhausted by all the emotional trauma of the last few weeks.

Back at home, Crackling shouted for food.  Since Snout’s illness, I have changed Crackling’s diet substantially.  He now has one third of the pig nuts that he used to eat previously and these are mixed with water to make sure his water intake is increased.  I have also introduced fruit and vegetables into his diet on a twice daily basis rather than as occasional treats.   So tonight he had a mixture of pig nuts, beetroot, a courgette, carrots, cauliflower, a pear and part of a parsnip.  Parsnips, I learnt from Ami today, are not particularly good for pigs as they can develop mouth ulcers so I shall not buy them again for my porcine friends.   The other thing I have learnt that is vital from a pig’s point of view is that pigs do not like drinking very cold water.  I had spent the winter in blissful ignorance of this fact and was content that Snout and Crackling’s water troughs were full and not iced over in the cold weather.  Whenever they drink from their troughs, the water automatically refills and so there is never any shortage but because it would have been so cold, it is possible that Snout stopped drinking as much as he should and that this may have exacerbated his urinary problems.  Now that the weather is warmer, this is no longer a problem but I shall know, come next winter, that I must set up a kettle in the garden to add some hot water to their troughs.

Thank you for keeping your fingers crossed for Snout.  Please continue to cross them as firmly as possible.

7. The Waiting Game – 15 March 2012

Yesterday, 14 March, was Snout and Crackling’s eight month birthday. I spent the late afternoon sitting with Snout in his pen at the RVC while he staggered around. A sedative, administered earlier in the day, had made him discombobulated and unbalanced and he veered through his straw seeking the support of the concrete walls. He would move from the wall back to me, kneel on my thighs burying his nose into the crook of my arm and then fall asleep instantly, snoring gently. Less than a minute later, he would awake with a start and stagger off back towards one of the four walls surrounding us.  He was too sore to lie down and also too out of sorts after all the procedures that he had gone through.

The vet’s oath is “Do no harm” and that oath has become a mantra in my mind so that every time we discuss what is going to happen to Snout, I weigh up whether it is right to carry on treating him.  There have been times when I have been so afraid that he might be hurting too much, that I have just wanted him to be put down so that I know that he can’t suffer.  But I have to take the advice of the experts around me and when I despaired and really worried about his condition, James and Ami quietly told me that it would be premature to put him down at that moment.  He is experiencing some discomfort but with the aid of a strong will and painkillers, he is managing it.  And the fact that he runs to me and is almost always ready for me to take him out for a walk, reassures me that his quality of life is still good.

Snout was sedated so that lots of things could be done to him. More blood was taken to check that his kidneys were working as they should. They are. He was scanned once more and incredibly there are no stones in his body. None at all. Ami said that practically the entire campus had looked at his scans, they were so remarkable. Who knows what Snout has done with the stone that was in his urethra but it is not showing up on the scan and so has gone. So therefore, Snout should be able to urinate freely. Except that he still can’t. Ami and James said that it is not surprising that he has cystitis given that he has had a catheter inserted and particularly as he has had crystals all through his urinary system. So my piggy now has a second catheter in his left ear through which two different types of antibiotics are being administered to try to combat the cystitis.  When James left for the evening, he told me that they would remove the main catheter the following morning and asked if I would come and see Snout early in the day to comfort him.

So this morning, after a bracing cup of coffee and eggs on toast, I jumped on my bike and headed to the North Circular.  Whilst, as a bike rider, I never relax for a minute in terms of my riding, the route is now so second nature to me that I don’t need to spare a second’s thought as to where I am going.  I sat in the rush hour traffic, hoping against hope that my pig would be improving as the hours ticked by.  When I arrived at the RVC, I crept into the Obs barn and peered over the stable door.   There was my pig with no blue bandages stuck around his ginger body, no catheter coming out of his bladder and only a small catheter in his ear, which was stuffed with cotton wool.  I said his name and he instantly sprang up, snorting loudly and acclerated towards the door.

The back door of his stable was open this morning so that he could go out into his own little yard in the sunshine.  Nicole, who is the wonderful girl who makes his bed for him and looks after him and even went to Marks and Spencer to buy him some broccoli (I mean, lucky pig!  I buy my broccoli from the North End Road market, for heaven’s sake) had put some straw outside to make a good resting spot in the sun.

An apple and a pear consumed by my piggy, we sailed out into the morning sun and went walking around the campus.  During the weeks that he has been here, Snout has become a well-known beast and I ask everybody who comes to say hello to him to cross their fingers for his future.  We are now playing the waiting game because we have to see if, once the cystitis has cleared, he will be able to urinate freely and comfortably.  If the cystitis clears but Snout is still unable to urinate without pain, then I think there are no further options on how to treat him.  There is also the ever present fear of a major infection setting in around the area where the catheter has been removed.  He looks good but the dark clouds are hovering ominously over him.  But for the moment my main concern is that he is happy and rests as much as a pig will.   We wandered for about an hour and then lay in the sun and I stroked his chin while he grunted rhythmically in appreciation.

This evening’s news is not encouraging:  Snout is having difficulty peeing and has not eaten his supper.  I went outside into the garden and lay with Crackling in his straw, hugging his furry neck and hoping so hard that Snout would come home again, that I thought I would burst.

 

6. Sadness – 13 March 2012

One of the most valuable pieces of advice that I received before becoming a pig owner was that you vet your pigs twice a day and then feed them.  That is to say, you don’t just chuck their food at them and wander off: you watch them as they eat, check them over and make sure that all is well.  Pigs are hardy creatures and if you pick up on any slight problem fast and treat it immediately, they are likely to make a quick recovery.

On 28 February, my husband went out to feed Snout and Crackling and when he came back into the kitchen remarked that Snout had been slow to come out of his ark to eat.  I had a head torch on and was out of the garden door almost before he’d finished his sentence.  A pig that is slow to come to eat is unheard of.  There is a reason that the expression “as greedy as a pig” exists.  I went into their area and found Snout standing silently beside the wire fencing, not moving.  He looked strangely uncomfortable but I couldn’t work out why to begin with.  I sat down in the mud and talked to him and then as I watched, I saw him straining as if he was constipated.  He then bucked and his stomach pulsated and his front and back legs came close together so that he looked like we all look when we have bad stomach pain:  almost doubled over.  His tail, which is normally straight when he is at peace, was wound tightly up and then would wag vigorously in distress.  As I watched, he relaxed and then a wave of pain would catch him and he would strain once more.  He was straining so hard that his rectum was prolapsing and mobile phone in my shaking hand, I rang my vet and left her an anxious message.

I have a wonderful vet.  If you need a wonderful vet, look no further than the Baron’s Court Veterinary Centre which also has a branch in Notting Hill.  If Emma Nicholas wasn’t such a tenacious woman, Snout would have died that night.  Emma may run two practices and single-handedly care for two children but at 8pm at night, she rang me back almost instantly.  I told her that I had taken Snout’s temperature and that it was normal but his behaviour was not and he was clearly in distress.  I said that he looked like he might have cystitis but a very severe case of it.  Whatever had happened to him had occurred during the day because he had eaten his breakfast at the same speed as his brother and had seemed fine that morning.   Emma suggested that I take him to an emergency vet in Pimlico to ask for their opinion.   Now, transporting a sick cat or dog is one thing.  Transporting 65kg of distressed pig is quite another.

I am a motorbike rider and am quite sniffy about cars in general and particularly 4x4s in an urban setting which I have always considered preposterous.  It was distressing to my pride, therefore, that my husband bought us a Landrover Defender about two years ago when his old car was blown up (I mean it.  It was firebombed at a campsite in Henley-upon-Thames but that is a completely different story).  However now that I am a pig owner, the Landrover is a brilliant car and when it’s not transporting wedding dresses or pig feed or children or stuff, you can pad it out with straw and slot in a 65kg pig.  If we’d been the owners of a Smartcar, my pig would not have been saved.  Never will I be rude about my husband’s choice of car again.  The Landrover Defender is a perfect choice for an urban couple.  Who keep pigs.

So at 8pm at night,  I harnessed Snout and as gently as possible, Snowy and I encouraged him out of the garden, down the side passage and together heaved him into the car.  I then set off for Pimlico.  There are very strict laws governing the movement of pigs and you cannot just up and off with your pig in your car without a licence but I knew enough to know that if I didn’t get Snout examined that night, he was going to be in serious trouble.  The traffic from Chiswick to Pimlico was terrible and sitting on the Cromwell Road with my beautiful ginger pig snorting and shouting and screaming was daunting.  I drove slowly because I was so churned up emotionally and made it to Pimlico after about 40 minutes.  Parking on a double yellow line outside a crowded pub, I ran across the road to the vets and begged them to come and take a look at Snout, explaining that I couldn’t bring him to them as he was a pig and difficult to move.

They were kind, the vets at Elizabeth Street and did as much as they could with a farmyard animal in distress.  Given that their normal clients are dogs, cats and the occasional ferret, to be asked to consult a large Kune Kune pig was well beyond their remit.  They established that his heart was fine and because Snout then peed all down my jacket sleeve as we were examining him, thought that the straining was perhaps just a temporary problem and might have righted itself.  They told me to take him home, monitor him and if needs be, ring them back and they would refer him the the Royal Veterinary College (RVC)at Potters Bar.

So back we went from where we had come with my piggy shouting loudly and me talking to him constantly in a low voice and saying his name over and over again to try and reassure him.  We arrived home at about 10pm and Snowy helped me get him out of the car.  Once back inside his enclosure, the straining started once more and it looked more serious than ever.  I rang Emma and she took matters into her own hands by ringing the RVC herself.   She told me to sit tight and she would ring me back as soon as she had spoken to them.  So I sat tight on the ground, knotted with anxiety and distress at my pig’s own anxiety and distress.  I didn’t touch Snouty but just talked quietly to him to reassure him that I was there.  The minutes ticked by and then five minutes was gone and then ten.  I held out my mobile to check that it was receiving a signal.  I peered at it to check that I hadn’t received  silent text message.  Nothing.  And then she rang.  To tell me that she herself was on hold to the RVC who were trying to find a vet who could see him.  I should carry on sitting tight.  10.30pm.  10.45pm.  11pm.  A text came through:  ”Am on the phone.  Am really trying here.  Will ring when have news”.   I knew that Emma was doing her best.  Her commitment to animal welfare is second to none.  I sat tight.

Emma rang me at 11.10 to say that I should load Snout onto the car and start driving North to Potters Bar.  She still hadn’t got a firm commitment from the RVC that somebody would see him but she had spoken to two vets who were on their way to the college.  It would take me nearly an hour to get there and I should get going because Snout’s condition was worsening and by the time we arrived, she said that somebody would be ready to see him.  Almost in tears, I loaded him back into the car, Snowy programmed his Satnav and I headed North to the A406 to begin the journey to the RVC.  Terrified.

I talked to Snout constantly as we drove.  As much as for him as for me.  I drove slowly so that I didn’t make any mistakes or crash the car.  I peered at the road signs in the dark and the Satnav that sat brightly shining at me on the dashboard.  North we went:  North Circular past Ikea;  Brent Cross; Hendon;  Mill Hill.  Up the A1 until we got to the junction where it meets the M25:  South Mimms Services.  A text came through from Emma:  ”two vets waiting for you.  Papers being faxed now.  Good luck”.  In the beam of the headlights, I saw the sign “Royal Veterinary College” and the tears of relief started to leak out of my eyes.  Snout was throwing himself around in the back, groaning and shouting.  I edged forward in the dark down an unlit road, driving down it for two miles or so.  The Satnav directed me off to the right and then over a humpbacked bridge.  We were nearly there, it said.  All around me were elegant residential houses and I couldn’t imagine where the College might be.  The roads were deserted and there were no lights anywhere.  And then as we crested the hill, the headlights picked up a sign to the left announcing our arrival and as I swung carefully round the corner, I saw a huge, modern complex and a barrier and security gate that reassured me that I was in the right place.

Amazingly, given how distressed I was, I processed the instructions the security guard gave me and drove into the RVC complex, waiting for the barriers to be lifted as I approached them.  In the darkness of the Equine carpark, I stopped the car and got out.  There was nobody there.  Nobody at all.  There were no lights.  There was no noise apart from Snouty shouting.  I rang Emma and in a quivering voice told her that I was there and there was nobody.  ”They’ll come”, she reassured me in her robust voice, “they’ll be there, just wait!”.  And then out of the gloom, the silhouette of a man appeared.  Was I the lady with the pig, he asked.  And fuck, yes, I was the lady with the pig.  My poor, beautiful, desperate pig.  And from that point on, stuff started to happen.

I have done a bit of First Aid in my life and have discovered that I am quite calm and capable in the dealing with road accidents or human trauma.  On one occasion, I held a man’s nearly severed hand onto his arm whilst speaking to the Emergency Services and successfully extricated an unconscious driver from a potentially dangerous car single-handedly.   But give me a sick animal and as I have discovered, I go to bits.  I am not calm or capable.  I am highly emotional and distressed.   I sat in the Equine Reception area and as a report sheet was filled in and questions were asked, tears coursed down my face.  I met the two Equine vets who had come in especially for me, Bettina and Sophie.  I cried and cried and cried as they talked to me.  And they were brilliant:  calm, caring and to the point.  There were veterinary students all around, which given it was past midnight surprised me but I guess part of their training is to know that emergencies happen at all times of day and night and you get up, put your overalls on and go, even when it’s the middle of the night.   Snout was unloaded and a vet with a love of pigs, gave him a big hug around his hairy fat neck.  And then he was taken into a holding area and his ears were shaved.  Blood was taken and a student dispatched to a lab.  His flanks were shaved and he had a scan, exactly like I had when I was pregnant.  Snout’s bladder was enormously stretched.  He needed help and finally was in the right place to receive it.

I could hardly bear to leave Snout that first night but leave I did and returned home.  I sent a text to my assistants at work to say that I would be absent the following morning and to manage everything and everybody in my absence.  I didn’t sleep.

At 8am the next morning I was on my motorbike, heading North once more towards Potters Bar.  Normally with an inbuilt Satnav of my own, I don’t need any form of direction but on that morning, tired and highly over-emotional, I got lost.  I didn’t have a map and I didn’t have much petrol.  In despair I rang work and asked for directions.  My wonderful assistant, Christina gave me the directions I needed in a calm and reassuring way and soon I found the South Mimms services and was on the right track once more with petrol in my tank and a Twix in my pocket (I realised that in the chaos of everything that had happened that I hadn’t eaten anything since lunchtime the preceding day).  I arrived at the RVC and in an enormously tense state, asked to see my pig.  I was invited to take a seat and wait for somebody from the Farmyard section to come and see me.  I stood.  I paced.  There was a lady there with a bridle on the floor, sitting peacefully and reading a magazine.  I chewed on my Twix that tasted of cardboard.  And then a pretty girl appeared and asked it I was Snout’s owner.  And I burst into floods of tears.  And like the night before, I cried and cried and cried.  With kind speed, Ami guided me into a small private room and told me clearly where Snout was and how he was.  He was no longer in discomfort and I could see him at once.  Shaking with distress, I walked to the Obs Barn and there was my pig who on seeing me, shouted with delight and I fell upon him, crying into his fur.

Snout is very ill.  If I hadn’t been able to get him to Potters Bar that night, his bladder would have exploded inside him, which would have been a terrible way to die.  Over the last two weeks he has had blood tests, scans and an operation.  He had stones in his kidneys, crystals in his bladder and a stone deep in his urethra, which cannot be removed.  Within 48 hours of his being admitted, the vets operated to remove some of the stones and sent them to be diagnosed.  The hope was that they would be Struvite stones and if that had been the case, we could have fed Snout something to help his body dissolve them.  The reality is that my pig has manufactured stones made out of Calcium Carbonate which cannot be dissolved.  His condition is rare in such a young pig (he is only nine months) and normally presents in a much older boar.  Also, unfortunately because he was castrated young (at the age of eight weeks), his urethra is not fully developed but of course it is far kinder to castrate a pig at a young age so it’s a catch 22, really.

Anyway, over the past two weeks, I have been to see Snout every day.  There have been days when he has been sedated and I have just sat in the straw with him, stroked his head and held his trotter.  For a couple of days, when he was really quiet, I read a book for an hour or so and stroked him without stopping, coming away with one very clean hand and one very grubby one.  Over the past ten days, he has been much more lively and I have taken him out for a walk around the RVC every day.  He has acquired a legion of fans, from the Security Guards at the front gate to the administrative staff who sit high up in the main building and look down on us as we potter around, Snout rotovating the grass and me pushing it surreptitiously back into place and stamping it down to try and hide the damage.  His vets, James and Ami have been a constant source of knowledge and support and have also been so good at talking to me even when my face is a wall of tears.

Over the past 24 hours, Snout’s catheter has been clamped to see if he is able to pee on his own.  During the operation, part of his bladder adhered to the wall of his stomach and so he has lost the ability to squeeze it completely so that he will never be able to pee in an uninterrupted stream.   That at the moment is the least of our concerns and we are just watching to see if he can pee out of his penis.  Today, I crouched down beside him as he strained to urinate, watching anxiously as his stomach contracted with the effort of peeing.  He has been given pain relief and does not seem too distressed but we are all watching him constantly.  I have told James and Ami that I am reconciled to the fact that he may have to be put down but they have quietly reassured me that we must give him every chance, as long as he is not in pain, to try and move the stone inside his urethra.   When I am not at the RVC, text messages fly backwards and forwards and I try to stay positive whilst knowing that it is very unlikely that my beautiful ginger pig will recover from his illness and be able to come home with me again.

Of course  Snout is a twin and his brother Crackling, healthy as anything, is left alone at home, bereft of company.  Snout and Crackling have not been apart since the day they were born and Crackling is despondent without his brother  A good pig breeder will never sell you one pig on its own unless you already have pigs.  They always sell them in twos because pigs are sociable animals and need a friend.  And so, each day, after I have been to the RVC to spend time with Snout, I return home to Crackling to take him walking in the Spring sunshine and spend time with him.   We potter slowly to the park and Crack eats weeds and meanders around.  So many people ask after Snout and each time I tell them what has happened, I well up.  In the evenings, Snowy and I sit outside with Crackling in the dark and talk to him and each other.  He lies fatly beside us in the straw and seems content but I know that he cannot last much longer without a friend.  I have contacted the breeders and they have a new litter from Snout and Crackling’s parents.   I have asked them to reserve one of the boys for me but have postponed the day when I shall go and collect him because I just can’t give up on Snouty yet.  He is in the best possible hands and is a strong and determined animal and I have to hope.  Please hope for me and for him.  Please hope.