Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Wilbur’s long road to recovery

Wilbur is one of the piglets who arrived with his mom earlier this year. A couple weeks ago when I was at the sanctuary, Terry told me that he had lost the use of his back legs the previous week, and was at the vet. The vet wasn’t giving him a good prognosis. The vet was essentially telling Terry and Dave that there was almost no chance of his recovery. They’d examined some spinal fluid and had found evidence of an inflammation or infection, and thought that it was likely that he’d had an abscess that was pressing on the nerves, causing the loss of the use of his back legs.

Theoretically, they said, treating with antibiotics should take care of this. However the vet said that they’d never had other animals respond to the treatment, hence the extremely poor prognosis for Wilbur. They’d seen it in calves and goats, but they’d never seen it in pigs. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen in pigs, just that it hadn’t happened to a pig who had been brought to the clinic…we all know that few animals, other than companion animals or those deemed monetarily valuable receive medical care when they get sick.

Terry and Dave were determined that Wilbur would have his chance, despite what the vet said. So Wilbur came home, and for the first few days he didn’t move around much at all. He couldn’t sit himself up, wasn’t interested in dragging himself around. After a few days he seemed to show some signs of improvement, and they put him into a sling that is designed to support animals who can’t stand on their own. He loved it. As Dave said, he wanted to do everything at once!

A few more days went by and he showed a little more improvement. A little movement in his legs, he learned how to sit himself up, he started dragging himself all over the portion of the barn he’s staying in now. The meds looked like they were starting to work for him.

When I visited him in the pig barn last weekend, he was sitting up. Soon he dragged himself over to the fence where the rest of the pigs sleep, and Dave and I both noticed that he seemed to be using his back legs to help a little as he scooted across the floor. This was a pretty major thing, considering that one week before he had no movement in his back legs at all. He rolled over for a belly rub from Dave, and a few minutes later I saw his technique for sitting himself up. He props himself up on his front legs, and then scoots the front part of his body around in a semi-circle until his front half is positioned so that he is in a sitting position. Clever boy!

Dave says his attitude is great. He’s smart and he is clearly willing to fight off whatever it is that made him sick to begin with.

It is always heart-breaking when any of the animals get sick. It just seemed that little bit extra unfair for little Wilbur to get sick when he’s so young, and one of just two babies that Polly was able to save when they were struggling to survive in the abusive neglect-filled situation they were living in before they were rescued. The first pig family who arrived at the sanctuary, you can’t help but to want them to have a long life together. Before Wilbur got sick, he and Patrick were almost always together, and very often right near Polly. Very often when pigs arrive at the sanctuary together, they remain life-long friends.

I think Wilbur will pull through. He’s made more progress already than the vet seemed to think he’d possibly make. If he had some nerve damage from the abscess, it is definitely improving. Nerve damage does take time to heal.

This week there was even more progress made. Though he can’t stand up on his own, the farm manager has been able to help him stand by lifting his back end with a towel supporting him under his belly, and once Wilbur is standing and stable, Sandy removes the towel and Wilbur is able to keep standing. This is huge, really. He needs to lean against something – Sandy’s legs, or the wall – but this means that they can help him retain some of his muscle as he recovers. The vet estimated his weight at 200lbs, after all, and he’s still a baby. Today there were a bunch of us at the sanctuary, enough to try to get him into his sling. As it turns out he really didn’t want to go into the sling, but as we tried to help him into it, before it was clear that he just wasn’t interested, he ended up walking around and around the portion of the barn he’s in with Terry and Ryan holding up his back end with a towel under his belly. You could see that he was using his rear legs to a degree, and once I saw him push off from the wall and for one step he was walking completely on his own.

His recovery clearly is not going to be speedy, but it has been steady. It is encouraging. We no longer talk about “if” he recovers, but “when”.

This speaks not only to Wilbur himself, but to the sanctuary. For Terry and Dave, for always having a lot more hope and confidence in their residents than the vets ever seem to have. For Sandy the farm manager, who manages to do amazing things to assist the animals in their recovery. It always seems to me that Terry has hope against all odds; that Dave views the situation pragmatically, always making sure that quality of life remains at the top of the priority list; and that Sandy has a special kind of determination and perseverance which perfectly bridges the Terry and Dave’s outlooks. They are not the only ones on the Poplar Spring team, of course, sanctuaries have to be group efforts.

Wilbur has been spoiled during his convalescence. They’ve been hand-feeding him strawberries, earning a little happy-pig grunt with each one. He wasn’t as interested in belly rubs before as his brother Patrick is, but I’m betting that will change now that he’s getting so used to all kinds of attention.

I see him adapt to his situation and figure out how to work through his challenges, and I am so glad that he was rescued in time to come to Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary. Who else would have given him a chance to recover from this illness?

Of course if he hadn’t been rescued, he would have been dead already. If not through neglect, then through slaughter. It’s not like those who profit from death let the pigs live even a year. The equivalent of around a 6 to 8 year old child, that’s it.


9 responses to “Wilbur’s long road to recovery

  1. nothoney July 5, 2009 at 7:54 am

    Wow, I didn’t know anything about this! We weren’t in the pig yard for very long yesterday, though. I’m glad Terry and Dave are sticking with Wilbur’s treatments. I’ve learned through dealing with Mina’s cancer vets that any hope I have for a remission must come from me. Specialists such as Mina’s cancer vets are so limited in their view – they see the cancer and not the whole patient. Drives me crazy. Quality of life is my top priority for Mina and so far, she has a better quality of life than she had before the chemo.

    I hope Wilbur gets better. I’ll be out in the morning on the 25th, if Mina’s doing well. Hope to see you then.


  2. Nancy July 5, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    This is a wonderful news. Traditional chinese medicine has helped my other than human family live a healthy and long llife.

  3. Mary Martin July 5, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    I do hope he continues to improve. I’m always in awe of the dedication and creativity and perseverance of Terry, Dave and the other human animals. And then of course the will to live and the desire to enjoy life that the nonhumans demonstrate. Wilbur is lucky to have all of you!

  4. Deb July 5, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    @nothoney – we finished so fast yesterday, it seemed like we hardly had any time with the animals! the additional challenge with vets and animals who are not traditional pets is that they have little experience with them. anything that is complicated wouldn’t get a vet’s attention because of the expense and the implications in the profits they can get from an individual. anything that happens as a result of age, they simply wouldn’t have seen before, because “farm” animals aren’t allowed to age. but as you said, we will always be the best advocates for those we care about and have the responsibility for.

    @Nancy – that’s great that you’ve had good success with traditional chinese medicine. I have heard a lot of good things about holistic medicine.

    @Mary – the animals at the sanctuary really are amazing, in the things they’ve recovered from. (while the vets often are claiming they have no chance at all.) I’m so glad that Terry and Dave trust their instincts and are able to give the animals a chance that no one else seems inclined to give them. The entire staff at PS are great, I only wish I had a chance to talk to them more often than at the big events!

  5. Jennie July 14, 2009 at 10:44 am

    That’s scary, but I’m glad he’s okay. His mom and brother and him are three of my favorites to watch, the few times I’ve been out. I love to watch them snuggle.

    It is always nice to see people avoid being shamed into euthanizing a non-human animal just because a veterinarian gives them the option. How many animals are doomed for reasons that have little to do with their long term quality of life? At the very least we owe them a chance.

  6. Deb July 14, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    @Jennie – he’s definitely improving week by week. It is looking good for him now, as long as he keeps improving and doesn’t lose too much strength. They get him up and standing every day, to help with that. He really does seem to be doing well!

    And I agree about how the vets can easily turn people to euthanasia if/when they don’t show any hope. An additional challenge with running a farmed animal sanctuary is that the vets themselves have little to no knowledge or experience with entire species’ once they’re past “slaughter” age…which is, of course, quite young. So Terry and Dave, and all sanctuary runners, are pretty much figuring things out for themselves.

    Luckily that also makes them really good advocates for their residents. They’re used to trusting themselves.

    I have been reading your blog but I didn’t realize you have been out to P.S. Maybe we’ll see each other out there someday when you’re out next! 🙂

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