The Hidden Lives of Pigs
President Harry Truman said, “No man should be allowed to be president who does not understand hogs.”
When in their natural surroundings—not on factory farms—pigs are social, playful, protective animals who bond with each other, make nests, relax in the sun, and cool off in the mud. Pigs are known to dream, recognize their own names, learn “tricks” like sitting for a treat, and lead social lives of a complexity previously observed only in primates. Pigs have been documented showing empathy for other pigs who are happy or distressed. Many pigs even sleep in ‘pig piles,’ much like dogs. Some love to cuddle and others prefer space.
People who run animal sanctuaries that include pigs note that they are more similar to humans than you would guess. Like humans, pigs enjoy listening to music, playing with soccer balls, and getting massages. Pigs can even play video games!
What the Experts Say
Pigs communicate constantly with one another. More than 20 of their oinks, grunts, and squeals have been identified for different situations, from wooing their mates to expressing hunger. Newborn piglets learn to run to their mothers’ voices, and mother pigs sing to their young while nursing.
Pigs have very long memories. Dr. Stanley Curtis, formerly of Penn State University, put a ball, a Frisbee, and a dumbbell in front of several pigs and was able to teach them to jump over, sit next to, or fetch any of the objects when asked to, and they could distinguish between the objects three years later.
Biologist Tina Widowski studies pigs and marvels at their intelligence: “When I was working with the monkeys, I used to look at them and say: ‘If you were a pig, you would have this figured out by now.'”
Scientists at the University of Illinois have learned that not only do pigs have temperature preferences, they also will learn through trial and error how to turn on the heat in a cold barn if given the chance and turn it off again when they are too warm.
Pigs don’t “sweat like pigs”; they are actually unable to sweat, and they like to bathe in water or mud in order to keep cool. One woman developed a shower for her pigs, and they learned to turn it on and off.
Pigs have been known to save the lives of others, including their human friends. According to London’s The Mirror, “a pet piglet called Pru was praised by her owner … after dragging her free from a muddy bog.” The owner said, “I was panicking when I was stuck in the bog. I did not know what to do and I think Pru sensed that. … I had a rope with me that I use as a dog lead and I put it around her. I was shouting ‘Go home, go home’ and she walked forward, slowly pulling me out of the mud.”
In addition to Pru, there is Priscilla, a pig who saved a young boy from drowning; Spammy, who led firefighters to a burning shed to save her calf friend Spot; and Lulu, who found help for her human companion, who had collapsed from a heart attack. A pig named Tunia chased away an intruder, and another, named Mona, held a fleeing suspect’s leg until the police arrived.
Many pigs in sanctuaries ended up in new homes after jumping off of slaughterhouse-bound trucks and escaping, and in England, a stone carving of a pig named Butch was placed upon a historic cathedral after Butch and his friend Sundance escaped from a slaughterhouse and roamed the country for several days before being captured. Fortunately, a national outcry against slaughter allowed Butch and Sundance to go to a sanctuary.
You can help save other pigs just like Butch and Sundance. Take PETA’s Pledge to Be Vegan for 30 Days and give a vegan diet a try.