Monday, May 29, 2017

My Pal Otis (the pot-bellied pig)


[Nyerges is the author of several books, including "Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City," which includes a chapter on Otis. He's also authored "Til Death Do Us Part?," a Kindle book about dealing with the death of family members, as well as pets. Both available on Amazon, or]
For nearly 20 years, a very quirk, cute individual with long black hair lived right here amongst us right here in the backyard of Eagle Rock.  His name was Otis, a tubby little Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.

It was the spring of 1993 when Otis came into our family.  Dolores and I had talked about getting a pig, and the pot belly “craze” was fading out.  We saw an ad in the paper from a woman who was moving and had to get a new home for her nine-month old pot-bellied pig.  We fell in love with Otis right away.

We learned a lot about the nature of “pig-ness” during Otis’ life.  In fact, this was partly why we got Otis in the first place – we were going to learn about the nature of pig-ness, which is also an aspect of human-ness. 

We learned that he certainly had a good memory, especially as it related to food.  He once discovered a bag of carob pods that I had in the living room, and he nearly ate half the bag before I caught him.  After that, any time he got into the house, he always went right to that spot where the carob had been.

Though we’ve heard that pigs are very smart, you can’t really compare them to dogs, for example.  Dogs might not have pigs’ great memory, but they seem smarter due to their loyalty to their masters. I’m sure that Otis always recognized me from other people, but loyalty?  I don’t think so.  Pigs don’t seem to want or need close affinity to people in the way that dogs do.  Nevertheless, later in his life when Otis was mostly alone, we did develop a “closeness.”

Yes, Otis was a pig, and yet he was such an individual!  I learned to know what his sounds and grunts meant, so I knew when he was happy, when he felt threatened, when he was worried, and when he liked (or disliked) someone.  His range of vocal sounds was broad and fascinating.

For his last few years, our cat Popoki would sleep with him, often lying on Otis’ big belly, which was always very warm.  The two of them seemed to not just tolerate one another, but appeared to be good pals.

Since a pot-bellied pig’s expected life is about 7 to 9 yeas, we estimate that he was about 200 years old (by human standards) when he died on Hanukkah of 2011 at the ripe old age of 19+.

He’d gotten much slower in the last two years, and in the last six months, he was slow and unsteady on his feet, and he began to eat less and less.

According to my neighbor, Otis was up every day to eat when I was gone to Guatemala for two weeks in early December of 2011.  But when I got home, Otis was lying on his bed and just grunted when I greeted him.  I hugged him and I hand-fed him, and I felt that he experienced a certain ease that I was back.  But I could also tell that he was on his way out.  I kept him covered, and comfortable, and felt sad that my friend was departing.

I felt a great empathy for Otis. He was a big guy, for sure, but his personality was such that he always seemed like a little boy.  I told him that everything was OK and that I was happy we had a good life together.  I thanked him.  I told Otis that it was OK to go on, if it was his time, if his body had become a burden.  I whispered in  his ear that it was OK, and that I loved him. He just grunted his friendly “oink” in return.  Otis never got up, and he died a week later.

I wrapped him and buried him in the “family graveyard.”  After we buried Otis, we put some flowers on his grave, and I placed his “Otis, Kansas” license plate (which I always kept on his gate) nearby.  My dear friend Helen then played a song as we sat thinking about Otis for a bit.  I was sad, but I knew that Otis had a good life and a long life, for a pig!
And though I was sad, I felt a certain inner joy that he lived a long life with me, and that Helen was there to help me bury him and give him a special ceremony.  I thought that I would go through a period of great sadness, but I didn’t.  We had a good life together, and I was able to be there with him in the end of his very long life.

Postscript:  A few days after I buried Otis, when I parked my car near his pen, I heard his distinctive oink.  A trick of the mind?  I like to believe Otis was saying goodbye to papa.

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