Sooner or later it was bound to happen. Although the general reaction to Snout and Crackling is one of amused curiosity at worst and an unbridled joy at best, there is always going to be the odd spanner in the works who objects to anything out of the ordinary. In the early days of walking my pigs, an old woman walked past us one afternoon and snorted “Jesus, you’re lowering the tone of the neighbourhood”, which made my friend Kate, collapse into a lamppost with mirth. We assumed that she meant that my walking pigs was lowering the tone although it may just have been my appearance that she took exception to.
About ten days ago, whilst walking in Wendell Park, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, who I have come to know over the weeks and months we have spent there, attacked Snout. I have a great fondness for dogs and am myself the owner of a Terrier, who I rescued from Battersea Dogs’ Home many years ago. I remember, when I chose Woozle from Battersea, the volunteer who helped me at the Home saying, “There are dogs. And then there are Terriers. You have to treat a Terrier with greater respect and control than any old dog”. In fact, at Battersea, they do advise against taking on a Terrier if you are re-homing a dog for the first time. Woozle and I have mucked along well in the intervening fourteen years and whilst she can exhibit the traits of a Terrier, being headstrong and wilful at times, she is generally very obedient and has learnt not to chase anything except the odd squirrel. But I do know that all dogs, Terriers or otherwise, can chase and that although we have domesticated dogs, their feral nature lurks just beneath their fur.
It had been a peaceful walk in the park and I had spent time chatting to the various owners and their dogs. There was quite a crowd around the pigs when the Staffie went for Snout, which in retrospect was quite a good thing, as people were able to help me in my frantic efforts to detach the Staff from Snout’s left ear. Snout is a big and boisterous pig and has shown in his battles with his brother, that he is more than able to defend himself in a fight but against a dog, he was terrified. He ran round and round in desperate circles trying to shake the Staffie off and I darted after both of them as onlookers hurled themselves towards the animals to try and help. I rugby tackled the Staff and missed, crashing down into the grass but was up in a flash and my second tackle was successful. I held onto its collar with determination and its owner, mortified by the whole scene, was quick to haul her away. Snout was none the worse for wear and although he was breathing heavily and snorting, I calmed him quickly and we headed for home.
We returned to Wendell Park a few days later, when it was raining lightly and I reckoned that the park would be all but deserted. And so it was. We walked in and there wasn’t a dog or owner in sight but as I led Snout and Crackling to a lush patch of grass under the trees, my peripheral vision caught sight of a police car sitting quietly by the children’s playground on the far side. As Snout and Crackling munched the grass, the police car slid down the path and round to our side, with the driver’s window purring down as he drew up alongside us. Evidently he had been tipped off that pigs were being walked in Wendell Park, but as I have my walking licence and keep my walking log up to date, I was able to engage with the policeman with confidence. He on the other hand, was a bit bemused by the whole thing, but we chatted away, I showed him the licence and assured him that he and his colleagues were welcome to visit us at any time. He said that he was going to post a report on their website, so that the other policemen and women who patrol that area were aware of our existence and we shook hands and away he went.
The bulletin on the website clearly worked. The following day I saw a different copper, conspicuous in his fluorescent yellow jacket, sitting on a bench, watching Snout and Crackling. He looked to be making notes about the whole scene, but as he was a way away and as the pigs were at the centre of a group of people who were stroking and talking to them, I didn’t have the opportunity for a conversation. I hope that in the course of his observation, he noticed how much joy Snout and Crackling bring to most people and how the children are thrilled by them. Certainly neither pig provokes anybody or anything and fortunately the Staffie was put on the lead the instant that we entered the gates of the park so harmony ruled that day.
I subsequently learnt, from one of the regular dog walkers at Wendell Park, that a woman who had seen the confrontation between Snout and the Staffie, had complained that “that would never have happened if there hadn’t been pigs in the park” and rung the police. I happen to think that is a daft remark. True, if my pigs hadn’t been in the park, one of them wouldn’t have been attacked. But it might have been her dog, my dog or any number of other options that became its victim.
Yesterday I decided to try Walking Route 1, which takes us around Ravenscourt Park. We do Route 1 less than Route 2 (Wendell Park) because Crackling is a bit wary of the traffic on the Goldhawk Road and although there is a pedestrian crossing, he is nervous of the cars. Actually, I think I am anthropomorphising again: I am wary of the traffic on the Goldhawk Road; my pigs are sanguine.
Having broached the crossing without the batting of an eyelid, Snout, Crackling and I hastened to Ravenscourt Park and once inside, the pigs headed for a mound of grass near the football pitches. This caused consternation amongst the players, who crowded along the wire netting and shouted how disgusted they were by my pigs’ presence. Snout and Crackling were huge, revolting, smelly and ugly. Each to their own, I guess. Calmly, I said that I would move the pigs on and gently towed them back to some thick grass near that entrance of the park and out of sight of the offended footballers.
Undeterred by the negative reception in Ravenscourt Park on the Sunday, we ventured back there this afternoon. As we rounded the last corner, Crackling broke into a spirited run and kicking his trotters out behind him, cantered towards the park. Both pigs launched themselves enthusiastically onto the grass and I swapped their short leads for thick, extendable ones and let them potter along.
Between our house and Ravenscourt Park, there is a home for the Blind, called Pocklington Lodge. As a result, Snout and Crackling and I often chance upon visually impaired people as we stroll around and I am always quick to reassure anybody who is looking a bit bemused that their ears are telling them the truth and they can indeed hear two pigs passing. This afternoon, in the park, we met a blind man and his companion and had a long chat about my pigs and the inhabitants of Pocklington Lodge that they have encountered thus far.
While chatting, Cracking deposited a large amount of poo on the grass. Mindful of the exhortations of my local supermarket to recycle plastic bags and also careful to always collect all poo from my creatures, I extracted my Waitrose carrier bag and picked up the three mounds in front of me. The six-year old son of one of my clients, on being shown a photo of Snout and Crackling, cut straight to the chase and said, “Mummy, what does she do about all their poo?”. Well, George, the answer is this: first thing in the morning, I go out into the garden in my dressing gown and my husband’s wellington boots and collect poo in a bucket. In the winter I wear a headtorch so I can see it shining in the light. Mercifully, it is summer time now so I can do without the headtorch and thus look slightly less ridiculous at 6am with a shovel in either hand. Some poo goes into our compost and some is put into rubbish sacks. In the evening, when I return from work, I repeat the above procedure but without the dressing gown on. In between time, I pick up dog mess, dispose of my two-year old’s excrement and deal with a lot of shit from my clients.
People imagine that pigs must produce a lot of poo and that it is “slurry”. In fact, Snout and Crackling, whilst reassuringly regular in the faeces department, don’t produce acres of poo. And what does come out of them is solid, easy to pick up and much kinder on the nose than any other poo that I encounter on a daily basis. It is also the best manure and I am making fabulous compost with Snout and Crackling’s help.
But back to encounters in the park. A few weeks ago, I met a journalist from The Sun, who asked if he could run a small feature on walking pigs in the park. At the time, I agreed, but having done the interview, I then decided against it as I attract enough attention as it is, without the addition of a story in a tabloid. The journalist was sorry that I didn’t want to go with the story and tried to encourage me by saying, “No problem at all. Thought it would be a great light-hearted story and open a debate into pigs as pets. No better forum for discussion than Britain’s biggest selling paper – it would be picked up on the Today programme the next day and before you knew it you would be having a three-way with John Humphries (also a Ravenscourt Park resident by the way) and some loony from a fringe animal group. Could be fun !!”
Now, tempting though it would be to chat to John Humphries, who is one of my heroes, the thought of the loony from a fringe animal group had definitely registered in my brain and that was precisely the reason why I declined to go ahead with The Sun’s article.
On our arrival in Ravencourt Park this afternoon, however, who should come jogging past but Mr Humphries. And he stopped and had a brief chat. I wanted to shake Snout and Crackling by the ears and say to them, “look up, stop eating, you’re here with one of the most celebrated journalists that we have in this country”, but they were unfazed by their proximity to journalistic brilliance and carried on eating. John Humphries had kept pigs as a younger man, he told me and then with a wry smile, he jogged on. The delight at this encounter offset, to some extent, the attack by another Terrier, that occurred about an hour later. Luckily, this time, I had my husband to hand. Unluckily, the Terrier was joined in his attack by an erstwhile peaceful Retriever. Snout and Crackling ran round and round on their leads as I attempted to bring them closer to me and Snowy and the dogs’ owners ran round and round trying to prevent the dogs from hurting my pigs. The Terrier was eventually captured by its harassed owner but the Retriever continued to bark. With brilliant aim, Snowy launched our daughter’s tennis ball at the dog and caught it squarely in the middle of its head. The shock silenced it for a second and allowed its owner (also mortified by her dog’s behaviour) to capture it and lead it away. Calm returned and the rest of our amble was uneventful.
Now back home, I can see Snout and Crackling lying in their straw under the tarpaulin. They are grunting gently in the evening sun and I feel their thoughts are probably turning towards supper.