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Saturday, May 8, 1999

Story: Little Mama

A moving story about a rescue pig that was attacked by a bear and lived through the ordeal and even had the litter of pigs she was pregnant with at the time. By Marie Lloyd.

Okay...here we go...Mama's story. I'll probably get upset all over again but thank goodness this story has a happy ending.

One morning a week before Christmas (1997) I received a call from a women in tears. She had two potbellied pigs she could not keep. She had bought them from an ad she had seen in the paper.

Apparently when she went to see the pigs the conditions were so terrible she felt compelled to buy them. They were living in freezing mud and were being chased and bitten by dogs. (Both pigs still bear the scars from bites on their back legs.)

She had them for about 4-5 days when she realized she was not a "pig person". (She thought she was buying a couple of lawn ornaments!) She got Janet Fine's number from the SPCA and Janet in turn referred her to us. We told her to bring them on over and so she did.

She said she had named the boar "Arnold" and the little sow "Mama". Mama had supposedly already had a litter of babies which froze to death outside in the rain and mud. (Very traumatic for a pig to lose her babies.) We made a pen outside our bedroom window so we could monitor them. We had to separate them because Arnold was still a boar, and Mama was not spayed. They were in pens side by side and seemed content.

We took Arnold down to Dr. Hurst to be neutered. We suspected that Mama might be pregnant because she did not seem to cycle. When Arnold came home from the vet we introduced him into a larger herd of pigs and kept Mama in her pen under the bedroom window.

Mama was very shy and did not like to be touched. She was afraid of hands which led us to believe that she had been hit. I began to spend more time with her,gently petting her and letting her know she could trust me. I prepared special treats for her (baked potatoes with lots of butter) and she started coming around. I was feeling really good about her progress and was very attached to her.

On the morning of February 27 1998, I awoke to the awful sound of a pig screaming. I jumped out of bed (I was 6 months pregnant) and woke up my husband, Lance. We had 12 pigs sleeping in the house and they were all up and in a panic. The dogs were growling but wouldn't go out the door.

We ran outside and at first we couldn't tell where the screams were coming from. It was 6am but still dark and hard to see. All our other pigs outside were up and barking in panic and looking in the direction of Mama's pen. I yelled to my husband that it was Mama.

I assumed she had gotten stuck in her fencing or in her house. Lance ran to her pen armed with a pair of scissors and a flashlight. He thought he was just going to cut the ties on her panels to free her. I will never forget his voice as he arrived at Mama's pen and screamed out, "OH MY GOD,IT"S A BEAR"... He was screaming at the bear and I joined in. The bear had climbed over the hog panels into the pen and was attacking Mama. As Lance watched and cried out in horror, the bear lifted Mama in it's mouth by the scruff of her neck and climbed out of the pen.

It ran down the hills towards the manzanita bushes with Mama in it's mouth. My husband chased the bear but when it turned around and faced him with Mama still screaming in it's mouth, he realized he had better return to the house and get a gun.

I followed him, agonizing over Mama's screams which could still be heard. He grabbed the gun, ran back outside and fired shots into the air. At this point the screams stopped. I had stayed in the house with our 2 year old daughter who was hysterical because she had heard the whole thing. When Lance walked back into the house I could tell by the look on his face that he was not able to save Mama. I said "Did he take her?" He just answered a quiet "yes".

I remember being on my knees, sobbing and holding my daughter who kept saying the same thing over and over..."don't make that sound...baby screaming".

Lance got dressed and armed with a rifle went out to search the area. When the sun came up he checked Mama's pen where he found a small amount of blood. We spent the morning in grief and shock. We phoned our friends and neighbors to tell what had happened. It was probably the worst morning of my life. Every minute was filled with thoughts of Mama and regret that we had failed her. We talked about it over and over, replaying it, wondering what we could have done to save her.

We live in a rural area with a lot of wildlife. We have had a little trouble with coyotes, and we know there are mountain lions in the area. The last thing in the world we expected to encounter however was a bear. We spoke to the Game warden who said the attack was "extremely unusual". This did not console us. I couldn't get Mama's screams out of my mind and I kept thinking of her unborn babies.

When Lance had gone to work and our daughter was napping, I took the dogs and searched the bushes myself. Instinctively I called out to Mama knowing there wouldn't be a reply, but I couldn't help myself. Of course there was no sign of her. The day wore on and I did all the usual chores. After the evening feeding, I began to cautiously let the house pigs out to potty. I let the last pig out at about 5:30pm. I stood out on the deck, gazing towards the parcel next door. It is an eleven acre parcel that had been vacant for about a year. Our pigs like to go there and graze and take advantage of the space.

As I stood there, I noticed a small black pig-like animal wandering around down there. I thought to myself that I must really be losing it to have forgotten about one of my pigs. Who had I let out and not called back in? I had been especially careful due to the attack so how could this have happened?

I checked in the house and all pigs were accounted for. The last pig I had let out was still wandering around on the deck so I knew it wasn't her. I knew I had to check it out so I filled a coffee can with pig chow and packed my daughter into the stroller. We headed down the driveway with 4 dogs and 1 pig in tow. About halfway down the driveway I spotted the small animal again and my heart started to pound. It was definitely a pig.

Could it be Mama? I tried not to hope because I knew she couldn't still be alive. As I approached the pig my heart sank. It was not Mama. This pig was wearing a red harness. But as the pig came towards me, wagging it's tail, I realized it was NOT wearing a red harness. It's flesh was badly torn and bloody...it was Mama!! I called to her and she actually came running. I was so excited and overjoyed that I barely knew what to do. But the other pig that had accompanied us down the driveway did. She grunted to Mama and led her back up the driveway toward the house.

Mama followed the other pig (her name is Jade) and I led them to an empty pen. I put Mama in the pen and fed her...she was sooo hungry in spite of her enormous wound. It looked like most of her shoulders were gone. It was very gorey.

I ran to the house and called some friends. I could barely get the words out. Mama's alive! She's hurt bad! Bob was out the door that minute. It took him 35 minutes to get here and during that time I sat with Mama and marveled at her.

How could she be up and walking with so much of her body missing? How did she get away from the bear? When Bob arrived he loaded her into a carrier and took her to Dr. Cyndie Hurst in Roseville. I had called ahead and told them what had happened.

When she got there Dr. Hurst checked her over and said she would need about 2 and a half hours of surgery but she was too deeply in shock to be safely put under anesthesia. (She had been wandering around half-eaten for 12 hours!) Dr. Hurst injected her with steroids and antibiotics and planned the surgery for the next morning. She said she could probably save Mama.

That night while Mama was safely away at the vet, the bear returned. He was right back at Mama's empty pen, looking for what he lost I guess. I made a lot of noise, banging on things, and he left. I also had a neighbor fire a rifle into the air to further scare him off.

Mama went through the surgery the next morning and she did great. Her left shoulder was terribly shredded all the way down to the spinal column. Dr. Hurst had to remove a large portion of flesh from the area so it would heal. The rest of the wound was sutured back together. Mama stayed in the hospital for a week.

March 6th Lance went and brought Mama home. It was a very exciting morning! I was shocked when I saw the large hole in Mama's back. It was the size of a small dinner plate and about 1-1/2 inches deep. She had lots of stitches. Mama seemed oblivious to her injuries. She was happy to be home. She took up residence in our spare bedroom and made herself right at home.

After looking at Mama for awhile I realized she was getting a "milk-line". She went down for a bellyrub and I could see babies moving! I couldn't believe it because we thought because of all the stress and medication she would lose her babies. (Since she was a rescue, we had no idea when she had become pregnant or when she was due.)

Two weeks exactly after Mama's near-death experience, she went into labor. She tore up her room, charged us, and generally acted like a normal, nesting  mother-to-be! Saturday morning March 14 Mama had 9 babies. Six girls and three boys. They were very small and a pinkish-grey color. We called Dr. Hurst and told her the babies didn't seem ok. She said they were probably about 2 weeks premature due to the steroids Mama had received.

Many of the babies did not open their eyes and it was hard to clean them due to the immaturity of the sacks (super sticky). One female died right away. Another died the next morning. The babies did not know how to nurse right away. We spent the day nursing each baby over and over until we were sure they all had had colostrum. For the next 8 days I had to help those babies nurse around the clock. (Every 2 hours!) One more female died on the 6th day. Two boys did not open their eyes until the 7th day.

During this first week Mama seemed exhausted. She could barely move. We made daily calls to Dr. Hurst and to Janet and other pig friends. Dr. Hurst put Mama on Rimadyl which really seemed to help. By the 9th day I noticed how fat and chubby the babies were. I also noticed that they were nursing on their own and sleeping at night with Mama instead of under the heat lamp. When I first wrote this, it was day 11. The babies didn't need me at all anymore! Mama by now was perky and sassy as ever. She had become so friendly. You would never know it was the same shy, sad rescue pig who arrived at Christmas.

This is a pig who survived a bear attack and gave birth, nursed and nurtured six preemie babies while healing her own wounds as well! And got fat and frisky while doing so!!! We kept all the babies and they still live with Mama pig. One baby died when he was five months old. He had a heart defect and never grew.

We are glad he had five months of life with his mom and siblings but I still cry when I think of little Paddington. Mama has gotten quite large and resembles a bear herself! The bear came back in December of '98 but did no harm to anyone although he did push our front door open in the middle of the night. We are ever-watchful however and now keep the dogs outside at night as well as some very loud watch-geese.

We have new neighbors who brought in fierce, Russian livestock-guardian dogs so we feel a lot more secure. Mama and her babies are in "maximum lock-up" at night though because we promised her she'll always be safe. Mama is just one of our many amazing rescue pigs. I'm sure I'll be telling you all about some of the others. They all come here with a story, usually a sad one though we hope to give them all a chance for a happy new life.

UPDATE: Little Mama and her kids are doing great. Mama has a scar but otherwise you would never know what she went thru. She is a sweet pig.

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