There is always some sort of adjusting that goes on when season’s change - it’s just a part of that transition. Changing the curtains, the bedding, harvesting your garden, turning the soil, pruning back bushes and trees, pulling out the warmer clothes - there’s always something going on!
Autumn has finally arrived and along with all the changes taking place right now, I am having to go through an even deeper adjustment in my life. It’s not an impossible situation, but it has been a little difficult.
You see, on September 21, 2013 at 3:27am, one of my pets passed away. A pet that I had for over 20 years. She was my black pot-bellied pig, Missy ( short for Miss Piggy), whom I got for my 18th birthday.
She lived to be 21 years and 29 days old. She almost made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.
Transitions like this may seem insignificant or silly to some people, but for those of us who have given their all to take care of a pet or animal, we see it differently. What many people don’t see or understand is that often there are so many layers to why that pet was so important to a person or family. For instance, many people don’t know that when I got Missy for my 18th birthday back in 1993, she was a major part of emotional healing for me and my family. We had gone through a rough time and in that time my one year old dog (that had I received for my 17th birthday) had been unjustly put to sleep. I was heartbroken and when we brought Missy home when she was a mere 9 months old - I was unaware of the impact she would have on my life.
Pot-bellied pigs are not like dogs and cats. They are more like a two year old - their entire life. They need your assistance everyday. They get fed at the same time everyday - you can’t just leave food out. They are very routine animals. You need to let them outside several times a day, and you most definitely can’t leave them roaming in the backyard while you’re running around town. They need regular maintenance, grooming and lots of love. They love companionship, touching, talking - and Missy loved being in the middle of everything. She complained the whole time, but she was most content when she was included in everything and with everybody.
She loved to sleep in my bed when she was younger and smaller, loved being brushed, having yummy smelling lotion put on her and she absolutely was taken away with belly rubs. Those made her infamous mohawk stand on end!
Vacations had to be meticulously planned so that someone could stop their life for a few days to watch her. I left holiday celebrations at 3:00pm for years so she wouldn’t miss her 3:30pm feeding. Oh yes, it mattered. They are very routine animals and if I were too late - her room would show that she was very agitated. We tried to avoid this like the plague. I missed out on funerals of distant family members because I was unable to travel and leave her alone or with a neighbor. I missed out on certain career opportunities that I could have taken, because they required travel. I had responsibilities now - I couldn’t do that. Many would suggest to get rid of the pig, but my parents taught me at an early age about commitment. I had made a commitment when I took on the role of being a pot-bellied pig owner and I knew well in advance all that it would entail. As far as I was concerned, I was in it for life.
When she was around 9 or 10 my husband and I made her an awesome house in the backyard so she could have more freedom. She still had a place inside, but she actually adored her house with a ramp, doors, window, a mattress and tons of comfy blankets. It was even faux painted with lavender and ivory and had sage green curtains for her window.
When she turned 15, I was assuming she was nearing the last years of her life and I wanted her to be inside again and in the middle of everything - so she could be surrounded with everything she loved. So we built her a bed for inside that was big enough for her to move comfortably around in, looked like a fenced in area and had a gate on it. We attached her heat lamp, some pig paraphernalia and she was as content as a pig rolling in the mud.
I just knew she was in her last years. What I didn’t know is that this season would last 6 more years and taking care of her didn’t get any less hands on. Sure, she slept more, but still needed to eat, go outside and graze and lay in the sun and she still needed someone to watch her every time we needed or wanted to be out of town for any amount of time.
She was surpassing everyone’s expectations - even mine. I noticed last winter she was moving a bit slower, which didn’t really surprise me, but she kept on being Missy. We did start her on prednisone to give her some strength back in her legs and I found this helped her tremendously. Unfortunately, this past April I started seeing her struggle more and more. She didn’t want to go outside - it hurt to walk. It hurt me to watch her go through this. I thought it was the end. I called her vet (that she had since birth) and she suggested we try some medication to help her from feeling the pain. I agreed knowing it would keep me from having to make the heart wrenching decision of putting her to sleep just because she couldn’t walk easily. I had made a decision after putting my beloved pug, Jerry Bean, down to sleep on May 14, 2010, that I could never do that again. I wanted Missy to go naturally, without pain. Just go in her sleep - AND - I wanted to be with her. When I told my vet, she informed me that in all the years she worked with pot-bellied pigs (which was many) she could count on one hand how many died naturally. They are persistent and strong animals and would fight to live in even the most awful health conditions. I told her she would have to add Missy to her one hand when her time came.
Outside of her joint pain - she was thriving. She still had all her teeth - which is unheard of in a pig her age; she wasn’t sick in any way - just sore joints and she still loved sunbathing, getting tummy rubs and talking to me in her piggy grunts. So, we began giving her more prednisone and put her on Tramadol. Within two days her improvement was amazing and she was able to walk again without looking like she was feeling pain. Still a tad slow - but no limping or sliding on her bent front legs.
She remained inside and the hard work began. The medication didn’t seem to be the most pleasant with her mind. She seemed agitated a lot and was restless at certain times of the day. She talked more - but it was more angry grunts. I have to admit that it would get on my nerves to hear this all the time. I knew she couldn’t help it - after all, those were the side effects of this drug. After a few weeks on the new pain killer, she seemed to get quieter, but I could tell she really wasn’t clear in her thinking. She seemed groggy and would often topple to the side when she walked. I got into the habit of straddling and walking over her so she didn’t tip over. I’d help her on and off the porch, hand feed her if she didn’t feel strong enough to stand up long enough to eat her food and I’d wash her, sometimes daily, if she went to the bathroom and didn’t have the strength to walk away before she laid down.
I didn’t mind. She was more than worth it.
Then September rolled around and it became harder to get her to take her medication. I tried hiding it in everything. Everything. But many days she would just flat out refuse to eat it.
Truthfully, I didn’t blame her. It’s like she knew her body needed a break from it.
Then Sunday, September 15th came and her refusal to take her medicine was different. She didn’t even want medication-free treats of bananas, strawberries or peanut butter waffles. Monday she refused her medication again - and she didn’t want to eat her solid food (roasted veggies, carrots, fruit, etc.). This was not common nor normal for her. By Tuesday when she still would absolutely not take any medicine and she refused her chow, veggies and juice, I knew.
I knew this was end. I can’t say exactly how I knew, but inside I knew and I began preparing myself for this. I reminded God that I wanted her to go on her own, without pain and I wanted to be with her. Needless to stay I stuck even closer to her the rest of the week. More than I normally would have.
Wednesday came - still refusing to take medicine and she still wouldn’t eat. I helped her outside to go to the bathroom and to let her lay in the sun for a while. She even got up for a few minutes and grazed a bit. I tried to give her juice, but she refused. I had to lift her back on the porch since she could hardly walk. That’s what will happen when you are no longer taking the medication that, a week ago, gave you the strength to walk and move around. This was the last day she spent outside.
Thursday, no change. I didn’t even try to take her outside. I spared her the pain. I tried hand feeding her.
Nothing. Yet, she was peaceful, quiet and had no signs of pain.
Still preparing myself. Sitting with her a lot. Talking to her. Telling her how much I loved her, how much I loved being her mom and how honored I was to grow up with her. She’d lift her head and look at me and grunt a bit. She even kept trying to stand up and shift herself over so she could lay her head in my lap. She succeeded a couple times and I cherished every minute.
Crying. I did a lot of crying. But it occurred to me on Thursday afternoon that she was not clouded by medication anymore. She was peaceful, calm and wanted to be right next to me. And she wasn’t in pain. No sign of pain whatsoever. I still cried though. I let my parents know that I felt this was the end and they came and said their goodbyes. She was just as much a part of their life as she was mine. They loved her and came and said goodbye to a pet that jump started a new season for all of us 20 years earlier.
She moved around quite a bit Thursday afternoon, shifting her sleeping position, and she would end up off of her bed and I’d have to try to move her back into her bed which wasn’t easy. She didn’t even try to help - so it was a lot of limp weight. I did this a few times. My dad was there to help once. I cried when I had to do this. Where was my spunky little pig?
I didn’t mind, though. She was more than worth it.
Thursday night I made a make-shift bed right next to hers and slept next to her in case she needed me for anything. I woke up a couple hours after falling asleep to find that my husband was laying right next to me. He’s amazing.
Friday came and she’s still with us, but now we’re on the 6th day without medication and almost 5 days without food or water. I began using a turkey baster and squirting water with sea salt into her mouth to see if I could help her hydrate even the tiniest bit. She was still shifting around a bit and would pick up her head to look at me when I was down talking to her or taking care of her, but she was unresponsive to things, which made it clear her body was shutting down.
No matter how hard I tried to get her mohawk to go up - by rubbing her belly or scratching her behind the ears - it would just lay flat. I was able to mess around with her mouth and touch her teeth, and this was never something I could do without her getting irritated and moving her head away from me. Now she just laid there and would just look at me and blink while I did it. I tried to keep busy during the day to keep my mind off of what was happening, but I’d still stop and just sit with her in her bed and talk to her. Later in the afternoon she was shifting more - trying to get in a comfortable spot- and I noticed her breathing was a little more labored. I figured it was because fluid was probably in her lungs.
This is what happens when the body starts shutting down.
I remember when this was happening to my pug 3 years ago, I had asked the vet if he was in pain and he told me, “No.” He described it as more of an uncomfortable feeling, like when we run for a long distance and then stop, we are breathing heavy and it’s a tad uncomfortable. So, I knew she wasn’t in pain. At about 7:00pm my husband and I moved her into a more comfy position with her back against her fluffy pillows. It took both of us to pivot her into this spot, but she seemed happy and comfy. I put lots of lotion on her, talked to her, prayed over her and covered her in her warm blankets.
Bedtime came and I set up my bed next to hers again, husband by my side, and laid there listening to her breathe. She kept lifting her head up to see if I was there, so I finally reached out and put my hand on her front leg to let her know I was still there. I never did fully fall asleep that night. I just listened to her breathing. As I laid there listening, it got quiet. I waited a couple seconds to see if any noise would start up again, but it didn’t. I quickly looked at the clock and it was 3:27am. I jumped up and turned on the light over her bed and saw her laying there, peacefully. Eyes closed and propped up against her pillows.
She was gone.
I cried. It was probably more like sobbing. A constant for over 20 years of my life - was now gone.
I was heartbroken.
With my husband by my side, I just sat in front of her crying. No matter how much I prepared for her departure, I wasn’t ready and it hurt in the pit of my stomach. My parents had stayed over that night and my dad must have heard me, because he came up to check on me. How comforting that my dad, who was the one with me the night we brought her home, was right there next to me on the floor when she left. He cried and put his arm around me and just kept saying, “I’m sorry, baby.”
I will never forget that night. Although I was feeling such loss, I was thankful that it happened in just the way I wished it would. Missy passed away naturally, without pain, with a clear mind and with me right beside her. Thank you, Lord.
It’s been a little over two weeks since she passed on and I’m still getting used to her absence. We had her cremated and now her ashes are in a beautiful silver and black urn sitting on my mantle, right next to my puppy’s urn. The house is quieter - although I still have two kids to keep things lively and loud. But there isn’t any oinking or grunting throughout my day - sounds and noises I heard on a daily basis for over 20 years of my life.
I miss it. I miss her.
Everywhere I turn there are reminders of her. Her food in the bottom drawer of the fridge that I never got to give her. Her essential oil spray I have by the back door that would keep the flies and bees off of her when she was outside. Her big bed that sat there empty for a week before I was able to move it out of the house. The corner seems so empty now - after all, her bed was there for six years. When I open the cupboards her prescription bottles are still there with the title “Missy the Pig” on it. My iPhone still reminds me that it’s time to administer her medication. I love hearing that reminder. The lotion I put on her is still sitting on the ledge that was next to her bed. Her ramp is still leaning up against the house where I put it on Wednesday after she went outside for the last time. Her magenta bowl is still sitting in it’s spot on the back porch.
I’m slowly and surely moving things and putting items away - but it’s a process. If I do it too fast, I would feel like I’m just shoving all her memories away. I can’t do that. She was a part of this family and was intertwined into our daily lives - it’s not easy to just get rid of everything in a heartbeat.
I miss our little ‘chats’ that we would have while I sat here at my computer and worked. I’d say her name, she’d give a famous piggy purr. I’d say it again, she’d grunt a little more. I miss seeing her black body laying next to my porch when I look outside and I miss seeing that pile of blankets on the porch where she’d eat and sleep. When I’m making my smoothies, I have nobody to give my strawberry tops to and if I juice, I don’t get to share any with her anymore. And those bananas that sit on our counter every week will remind me how they were one of her favorite foods.
I miss her. I miss seeing her, touching her and just knowing she’s right here in the middle of everything.
She was loved and loved intensely. We grew up together and I was always her favorite person. And she was my favorite pig.
Adjusting is a daily habit lately. I’m doing good! My life has always been busy, having kids and all, so I have plenty going on to keep my mind on other things. I stop every once in a while when something reminds me of her and every once in a while, some tears fall, but I smile when I remember what a wonderful and long life she lived. She was with me for over 1/2 of my life and I am thankful for every day I had with her.
Everything I ever had to do for her, every ‘sacrifice’ I had to make, every family celebration that I missed out on - I didn’t mind and I don’t regret a single moment. She was more than worth it and I believe she knew I felt that way.
So, now I sit here today, writing this journal, looking at a chair in the corner which used to be my pig’s favorite spot. She’s not talking to me, but I swear sometimes I still hear her. It makes me smile.
That’s what I’m doing right now as the beautiful days of fall remind me of what she is missing out on: green grass, fresh carrots from the garden and late afternoon sunbathing. Although I’m sure she is pretty content in her heavenly pasture, abundance of all things good, her brothers by her side - I sure wish she was here with me. Her body has no pain and her mind is clear. I’d say she has the better end of the deal.
But I still miss her.
Here we go. One day at time. She may be gone from this earth, but she will live in my heart forever - and for that I’m grateful.
In honor of you, Missy! Mama love you!