Helping Hooves

The Little Helper”
By Marleen E. Weaver, M.S., M.A.

Wide, round eyes looked up at mine. Gradually, the fear left the eyes and a smile spread across the eight year old face as the small hands reached out to pet Bonnie, our first potbellied pig.

Bonnie is more than a pet, she is a cotherapist in my private counseling practice when her skills are needed. Children who have been abused or neglected have difficulty letting their guard down in traditional counseling settings. But when taken for a walk in a country setting with a potbellied pig, doors open and wall come down. Bonnie is able to accomplishment in one session what would normally take several months. Many times traumatized children have difficulty trusting adults but they seem to bond easily with animals. Bonnie’ gentleness and sensitivity plus the tricks she does enchants those children and bring an openness to replace the guarded mask they usually hand onto.

One such child, name John, had lived with chemically dependent parents and was severely neglected and physically abused at times. He was now living with grandparents but his feelings about his mother and father were still locked inside. However, when any contact was made by either parent, he became agitated and often unable to eat or digest food, i.e. symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting occurred. He sometimes cried but would not talk about his feelings or memories. Meeting with Bonnie was a last ditch effort to break through his wall of silence to help free his spirit. His grandmother brought him out to Heart House, the Retreat and Growth Center, where my main office is housed. I live next door with my family and Bonnie, so bringing Bonnie up the path on her leash was a natural step. When John say Bonnie, he stopped in his tracks and his eyes grew wide. From then on, his manner and attitude changed dramatically. He fed Bonnie, petted her, watched while she ate some grass, and began pouring out questions about where Bonnie sleeps, what she likes to do, etc. From a scared withdrawn child to and open smiling one, Bonnie’s job was done. Because I was Bonnie’s friend, he could trust me. As we sat in the grass petting her, he was able to pour his heart out about how scared he was to see either of his parents because they didn’t feed him when he was little and yelled at him a lot.

The experiment turned into a miracle. Since then Bonnie has visited a children’s psychiatric unit, and has participated in numerous other psychotherapy sessions as my cotherapist. She is also the star of a series of children’s books I am writing with healthy lifestyles messages (or therapeutic undertones)

© Marleen E Weaver 1997


Lucy and Her Lady”

Lucy and I have had many life experiences together. We have gone to shows, to schools, to fairs, to openings, to all sorts of things. Lucy and I have also gone to Nursing Homes. When we lived in Midlothian we use to go to one particular nursing home almost every month. I talked about Lucy, while Lucy did her extraordinary tricks. After she finished entertaining all the people in the Living Room, Lucy and I would go to every room in the home so she could visit with the people who were too weak or too sick to come out to see her. Lucy was always a great hit with the people who lived in this home! They looked forward to her visits, and I think Lucy did too.

One day we were on a routine visit to this Nursing Home. Since Lucy’s last visit, a new Lady had moved into the Home. The staff told me this Lady had been there about three weeks. But, she was a very sad Lady because she had not spoken to any one in all that time. She just sat in her wheel chair or laid in her bed and stared straight ahead. She didn’t talk to the aids, or the doctors, or the nurses, or even her family. She just sat and stared, never trying to stand up, never trying to move. They were even having to hand feed her. She wouldn’t eat by herself. Well, this special day Lucy and I walked into the Living Room. At the same time a staff person wheeled in Lucy’s Lady. At first Lucy’s Lady didn’t notice us. Lucy noticed her Lady though. Lucy walked directly over to her and put her head in her Lady’s lap. Lucy then gave her a gentle nudge on her Lady’s folded hands. The Lady slowly looked down at Lucy and began to smile. Not a shy smile, but an excited happy smile. Lucy’s Lady turned to the aid aide and to the people sitting next to her and said, “Look! A Pig!! I had a pig when I was a little girl. She was my pet and I loved her move than anything!!!!” With that, the entire staff began to tear up. They had tried for weeks to help this Lady out of her sadness. But she had not responded to anyone, not once. Lucy had helped though. You know, I think Lucy knew exactly what that Lady needed more than the aides, or the doctors, or the nurses, and maybe even more than the Lady’s own family. I think Lucy knew that her Lady needed a pig to pet, a happier time to remember, and a story to tell her new friends at the Nursing Home. I am happy to report to you that Lucy’s Lady continued to talk and relate to those caring people around her.

Lucy and her Lady visited together whenever Lucy returned to do her turns and sits and spins and just to be petted and to be loved. I think Lucy and her Lady both have once more time experienced what the love between a pig and a human is all about.

As I said, Lucy and I have had many wonderful experiences together. One thing Lucy has taught me many times is that happy, life changing opportunities are available to all of us. All we have to do is take the time to share ourselves and our pigs with others.

As told by Kathleen for Lucy

© Kathleen Plauche’ 1997


Twinkie, Twinkie, My Little Star

by Nancy Shepherd

Twinkie was special from the very beginning. Her mother, Carly, didn’t come into milk as quickly as normal, and all ten babies were starving. I provided collostrum and milk replacer to these skinny children while their mom got her act together to nurse them. Unfortunately, she never had enough milk for Twinkie, who almost didn’t make it early on. In fact one piglet did die, but Twinkie just wouldn’t give up. She continued to receive supplemental milk while the other eight piglets nursed on real mother’s milk. Twinkie was WAY smaller than her litter mates, but nonetheless continued to make steady progress.

Twinkie remained with me while the other piglets joined their new families. I simply could not part with her. She is a real sweetie as well as simply gorgeous. It became apparent that her job was to be my Piggy Ambassador.

Her first assignment was as the “demo pig” at a huge pet exposition held in Chicago, Illinois. Myself, along with Kathleen Plauche and Louise Baldwin (NAPPA President and Vice President respectively who traveled all the way from Texas to Missouri), had a grand adventure on our road trip to Chicago. The van was packed to the gills with all our NAPPA educational materials including a computer and television. We wanted to show off our web site as well as various videos that the public could enjoy. Needless to say, there was barely room for we three humans and one small piglet.

Louise quickly volunteered to sit in the back seat with the pig and it was my job to help navigate. Twinkie was just pleased as punch to have a nice soft lap to lay in for the six hour drive. Louise never asked for relief — in fact, the times I suggested I trade places with her (because I wanted some cuddle time with Twinkie) my offer was refused.

Except for the van breakdown and delay of several hours, we arrived in Chicago mid afternoon. After setting up our displays, we were off to our fancy downtown hotel. Twinkie felt very special being rolled along on her fancy cart. Many people stopped to admire her and ask questions. She was the only pig at the hotel among all the dog fanciers, as the expo was sponsoring several big dog shows and agility trials. At the lovely park across the street from the hotel where everyone pottied their animals, Twinkie definitely stood out in the crowd. She was totally unaffected by all the traffic and unusual sights, smells and sounds.

The Expo was a success. We made lots of new friends and spread the word about what fun it is having a pig as a pet.The funniest story about Twinkie and our trip involves Twinkie’s unique urination. While in the hotel room, Twinkie was at a loss as to where and what in she was to tinkle. She walked about the room searching for something that wasn’t there. We could tell that she wanted to potty, so Kathleen grabbed a paper cut and got down on the floor and followed her around until Twinkie got into pre-pee squat position. Kathleen quickly placed the cup in the appropriate place. Twinkie accommodated her by peeing directly into it…no muss, no fuss. This was just hilarious! Our visitors, Colleen Nicholson and Carol Welcomb were in stitches watching Kathleen crawl about under the table and behind the chairs to catch Twinkie’s urine!

Twinkie has continued to be a delightful Piggy Ambassador through visits to local nursing homes. I am totally amazed at how unaffected she is by walkers and wheelchairs and linoleum floors. She happily walks up to everyone and looks them in the eye and cheers them up. Recently Twinkie was the guest of honor in a first grade class at Ridgeway Elementary School. She did her “sit” and “circle” and let the children feed her treats. I told the kids of my secret weapon — the shake can. I explained that if you rattle a can filled with food, a piggy will come running. It was so cute. I asked one of the kids to shake the can and call: “Twinkie, Twinkie…come here”. The whole class joined in and there was a resounding, very loud call: “TWINKIE, TWINKIE” heard all over the neighborhood. Twinkie was in a patch of delicious clover and had no intention of coming at that particular point in time. Not such a successful secret weapon, eh?

Twinkie is a joy to me and those she meets in her many travels. Perhaps the thing people get the biggest kick out of is the “hair raising” deal. Folks just laugh and ooh and aah when Twinkie bristles her five-inch neck hairs up in pleasure upon being rubbed. It’s so easy to love Twinkie…she is my little star!

© Nancy Shepherd 1998