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She has a popularity most teenagers can only dream of. Her main Facebook page has more than 160,000 likes. Her musings about life with her two dads in Ontario, Canada, draw thousands of comments. And while she can’t take selfies, her photos get forwarded around the world. Here’s Esther cuddling with Shelby, one of her two canine roommates. Esther stretched out on the couch. Esther rooting through the laundry. One picture shows Esther sitting in her kiddie pool. The caption reads: “The hardest decision I want to make today is piña colada or strawberry daiquiri.”
But Esther the Wonder Pig does more than make people laugh. Evidence of what her human guardians call the “Esther Effect” appears throughout her social media sites. “I’ve never met you in person sweet Esther,” writes one fan, “yet I can say I love you so much, you make me smile, and brighten my day, like no other.”
Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter first experienced the Esther Effect two years ago, when an old high school friend asked them to adopt the “mini-pig” she’d bought. The piglet was so tiny she fit into a cat carrier when Jenkins brought her home. But after just eight months, Esther weighed 170 pounds. A year later, she reached 500.
Esther was anything but miniature. (Apparently, it’s not uncommon for shady sellers to peddle commercially farmed piglets as boutique pets.) She wasn’t ideal for a 1,000-square-foot home in the Toronto suburbs, but Jenkins, a real estate broker, and Walter, a professional magician, weren’t about to give her up. “I’d heard so much about pigs becoming very bonded,” Jenkins says, “… and I thought she would surely die of a broken heart.”
In 2013, the couple created a Facebook page to share their pet’s story with family and friends. When page views unexpectedly soared, they expanded Esther’s reach to Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and more Facebook pages, where the portly porcine shares life wisdom along with information on factory farming and the perils of the pet pig trade. Esther is “a ton of work, responsibility and commitment,” Jenkins says in a video, while the subject of the discussion snoozes behind him on the couch. He urges potential owners of pigs or any nontraditional pet to think twice, do their research and only adopt from a reputable rescue organization.
By all indications, Esther’s days of hogging the limelight won’t end anytime soon. A book is in the works—there’s even talk of a movie—and Jenkins and Walter are planning to open an Esther-inspired farm animal sanctuary. In this edited interview with HSUS staff writer Ruthanne Johnson, Jenkins discusses being a pig parent.
You thought you were adopting a miniature pig, and Esther is now 625 pounds. How did this happen?
Steve Jenkins: We had zero experience with pigs. The call from my high school acquaintance came at about 9 p.m. By midnight, I’d committed to taking her. I flew into a panic once I agreed and started researching pet pigs on the Internet. I remember a few articles saying to be very careful. One of the first things that popped up was a story about a woman in England who’d bought a pet piglet, and it had grown to 450 pounds and was destroying her house. I thought, “That won’t be us.” Everything I thought to be true just wasn’t the case. We fell in love with her, but the more time that went on, the more obvious it became what she really is.
Is deception common in the pet pig industry?
Yeah, apparently it is. There are different breeds that are smaller, but when you see photos of these pigs being sold, you are never seeing photos of a full-grown pig. When you see a piglet like Esther, it’s entirely believable that she’ll only grow to be 70 pounds. It’s easy to get suckered into it.
Besides her size, what else has surprised you about Esther?
Her intelligence. It’s mind-boggling. She can open every single door in the house and even the freezer. We installed special Esther-proof latches on the doors and moved all of the food from our lower cupboards. When we leave the house, we have to tape our freezer drawer closed. She’s also hilarious. The other day, she bodychecked me while I was working on the lawn mower. Then she did this thing we call “pig rodeo,” where she kicks her back legs up and spins around like a bucking bronco. It was like she was laughing at herself.
Esther was likely born to a commercial breeding sow. Do you often think of the life she would have had on a factory farm?
She would have been a gestation crate pig. Those pigs have the worst lives possible. They are denied everything that Esther lives for—the attention she craves, how much she likes to play and interact with us and the dogs. It was heartbreaking in one sense but really rewarding to know she escaped that fate. What gets me the most upset is thinking about the rest of her litter, those little 10 or 11 babies just like her.
On a lighter note, let’s talk about how Esther was housetrained.
We started with litter boxes. We just kept taking her to the litter box every hour or so when she was little. She’d go pee, and we’d give her a treat. But it became a nightmare as she continued to grow. She’d go to the right spot but miss because she was so big. We had to retrain her to go outside. Now she goes to the back door, wiggles the handle and lets herself outside.
Along with bagpipe music and scotch mints, what are some of Esther’s favorite things?
She loves any time we make a frozen fruit smoothie, especially mango. We taught her to sit for treats, so if you have anything she wants, you don’t even have to ask her. You just turn around and there she is sitting in the middle of the kitchen.
She loves to cuddle. If you start to rub her belly, she’ll go all four legs in the air. Our dog Shelby is her best friend. In the morning, Esther gets up and has her breakfast with the dogs, and then they all go outside. In the summer, she’ll lie down in the pond or root around in the garden or lie with the dogs on the lawn.
She loves her treat ball. She’s way better than the dogs with it. Usually a full treat ball only buys about 15 minutes with Esther.