In case you didn’t know, I have a pig named Corebunda. She was a gift from a cousin on the occasion of a visit to Asturias (I think I should visit more often) and along with her I have learned why it is said one ought not to count ones chickens before they hatch. She would be the first, the mother of a long line of pigs with which Saint Ysidro’s Ranch would begin to take form in earnest.
Enter the mastiffs.
The Imperial Leonese mastiff, or Spanish mastiff is one of the most beautiful animals in the world. I mean, they’re ugly as sin, but my God are they beautiful! Bred to fight several wolves at once in defense of livestock, they are impressive creatures that can weigh up to nearly 200 pounds. There are even tales of them fighting bears rather than wolves in defense of their territory. Well, five of those decided to take on my pig.
As far as I can gather from what the owners, who keep the mastiffs to guard their sheep, tell me, a fox was roaming the area. The fox scared Corebunda, who growled at it to scare it off, the which growl was heard by the mastiffs who decided the sheep were in greater danger from a pig in its pen rather than a free fox (no one said the mastiffs were a particularly intelligent breed) and they went in to attack her. The owner’s children were there, as they were taking their sheep from one field to another. Somewhat surprised – perhaps even excited – he saw his dogs chase what he believed to be a warthog (they had no idea there was a pig in the village of Llamera). The older brother, although he didn’t know here was a pig eather, did knmow that whatever it was that was crying out in pain and fear amidst the mass of dogs was as much a mastiff as a beagle is a wolf, so he ran to get his dogs away. Some two minutes later they succeeded, and the pig limpt off to her refuge, from which they had no way of coaxing her.
She was badly wounded, and badly wounded she remains, and in danger of death if the antibiotics don’t work. Even so, from all of this I take three lessons.
1. The Spanish saying that a meeting of shepherds is a sign of dead sheep is not always a bad thing
People can be sullen, rude and misanthropic. They may hide so as not to be forced to say hello and might prefer to know of their neighbors only so much as they might glean from the movement of their cars or the smoke from their chimneys. They can be whatever they like, but given certain extremes they’re there to help.
The news reached me while I was out of the village, making holiday pastries at some friends’ house in order to finish Christmas right. My neighbor was as soothing as she could over the phone, and at first I thought the matter wouldn’t be that grave, but try as I might I couldn’t imagine an attack by mastiffs which wasn’t carnage and I got steadily more nervous as the evening went on. I finally left earlier than I had planned and went directly to the plot of land I had her in. I found her bloodied, drenched in sweat from fear and trembling from the biting cold of a night which threatened with frost (a threat it carried out). But she was surrounded by fresh hay to warm her which I had not placed there. The first thing they did was make sure she was as comfortable as possible without being able to get to her directly, as she wouldn’t allow it, until the veterinarian arrived.
The vet arrived the next day, but at a time win which I couldn’t be there. In the morning I had gone to see her, the seat on her face had frozen and she was whimpering from pain but without moving an inch from where she lay. My neighbor offered to meet with the veterinarian and, being the owner of the dogs (who have insurance in case things like this occur), also offered to take care of any expenses. It wasn’t a visit which inspired too much optimism. She still wouldn’t move, and the wounds on her face and body were no small thing. She was still bleeding. The vet prescribed antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication and advised us to wait and see. If after two weeks she was still alive then we could begin to consider optimism.
That evening I went directly from school to see the pig (after changing clothes) to try to feel somewhat useful without really being able to do much. I was able to induce her to stand, heed nature’s call, drink water (quite a bit) and eat flour (not much). This movement, although modest and pained, gives somewhat more hope, tempered with caution. Halfway from the plot of land I keep the pig in and my own home (at opposite ends of this small but long village) I ran into the shepherds. The woman runds down to greet me. She had stopped by my house having seen the car but didn’t find me. They had stopped to see the pig three times in the course of the day. They offered to give the pig the injections themselves if I wasn’t able to do so because of work. I thanked them, but obviously refused. While I remain able it is my burden and not theirs and I would not like to feel that I am skirting my responsibility. They remain attentive and will remain in contact while the ordeal still lasts.
After they had relayed to me the veterinarian’s instructions I go on my way, and before I reach my home I run into my front door neighbor. He is a basque man, married to a woman from León, who no one will ever forgive for not being from around here in spite of the fact that he has lived here for years. It’s a bit of a local idiosyncrasy. One needs at least a tenuous genealogical justification before one’s existence is even begrudgingly accepted, barring some few exceptions. I can’t think of any, but I’m sure some might exist. In any case, this eternal stranger feels compassion for other immigrants, and in spite of the fact that our own tenuous genealogical justification means we won’t suffer exactly the same problems he had to face, he understands the travails which face those who come make their home in this place and is always ready to lend a hand. He keeps the requisite distance, by far preferring you don’t drop by, but always ready to lend a hand.
I run into him, then, and I explain recent events to him. Tomorrow he will accompany me, he says, to move the pig from her plot of land to the bit I myself live on. From her sty to mine (or near mine), so to speak. She weighs a great deal, so in normal circumstances getting her into the car on my own would be an odyssey – as it was the day I took her to be a part of an idiosyncratic nativity scene – but to take her now with all her wounds would be unthinkable. With his help, though, I will be able to get her on a plank of wood and from the plank to the car in order to take her where I might take better care of her.
That is to say, things work here the way they should. When someone faces a problem no one ignores the responsibility and capacity to take decisions of the person in trouble. Whoever caused the harm answers for it, even beyond what is required, and those who are not responsible for it are also there to lend a hand. If I asked more of them, they would give more, but it is also good to assume some degree of autonomy for things to work, and to be in such a state as to be able to be the one to offer help in the future.
2. This experiment is viable.
I don’t mean from an economic perspective. Farms exist, and they function, which means that starting a farm is a viable project if done right. But when a worthless city-slicker like me tries to go rural there is always a persistent voice which whispers that he has no business being here. You haven’t been raised on this, you have no idea what you’re doing, and when things go wrong all these fantastic bucolic ideas will go the way of the wind. I have no doubt that, leaving aside those external limitations which have slowed down my progress, this persistent idea contributes to the fact that this so-called ranch is nothing more than a half-built greenhouse and a pig. But here we are, faced with a problem, and the sky has not yet fallen.
I remember reading the distressing posts by Kevin Ford on the droughts and plagues which wreaked havoc on his fields. More serious problems than mine both in magnitude (a pig is not an acre) and personal situation (I learned from other people’s mistakes and neither depend economically on this nor have a family to sustain). I admired the tenacity he showed and could not help wondering how I would react if I had to face those challenges. Well, the experiment has been made on a smaller scale. One does not fall apart. Now I can go forward and repeat the experiment on a grander scale. But without subconscious fears to keep me back.
3. One can love an animal without joining PETA
I don’t know if we have yet spoken of the profound distaste I feel for the ideology behind many animal rights activists. There is a hierarchy of goods, and in that hierarchy one living thing is not the same as another. Man, made in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and called to participate in the Divine life itself in heaven is infinitely more worthy than that of any animal. I find attempts to equate one and the other abominable.
This distaste for animal rights ideology leads me often to publicly take positions of hardheartedness and contempt for animal life more out of an opposition to that noxious idea than out of my own view of things. Animals have, without a doubt, their own value, and because of their association with humans a domestic animal is more valuable than a wild one. I didn’t have this pig in order to kill her, but not because I wanted a pig as a pet, but for two reasons: first, because I had promised my cousin as much; and second, because it was my growing intention that she would establish with her progeny a herd of pigs which would serve for meat. That is, her life is worthy insofar as it serves me, her owner.
Even so, the pain she suffers now does not benefit any human. It doesn’t even benefit any animal (not even those who caused it). This evening, when I went to see her, I didn’t go to see how she might serve me. I thought I was going to accompany in her agony and nothing more. Etymology is not insignificant. In being a domestic animal, she is a part of my home. As head of my home (at the moment a home lacking in other humans, who are the most important part of it) I have a responsibility both with the common good of the household (that everything in it work harmoniously) as in its particular good (that each constitutive part of the household reach its own perfection). In the case of an animal this means that, fulfilling its function in the home (in a pet to give company, in a work animal that it do its job – the mastiff protects, the donkey carries etc – and in a farm animal to give meat, eggs, milk or some other product as well as descendants) they must also reach their own good. I have to make sure they maintain a certain level of health, that they grow and develop adequately and that – within its own capacity for it, and always insofar as it can be harmonized with its function and the common good of the home – that it be happy. The pig is a sociable, intelligent animal which can and often is happy. Now she is suffering for no particular reason, and on top of bothering me on an emotional level this impels me morally to do whatever is in my power to either help her regain her health or to alleviate her suffering if it reaches that extreme. I might do this with more or less success, but I wholeheartedly deny that someone else would be better able to care for Corebunda simply because he is stupid enough to deprive himself of bacon or of being moved at witnessing a bullfight.
Well, that’s all for that. Ceterum senseo Monsantum delenda esse.