Pigs are friendly, inquisitive and smart animals who are at least as sensitive and intelligent as the dogs who share our hearts and homes -- they are also some of the most abused animals on the planet.

Pigs are friendly, inquisitive and smart animals who are at least as sensitive and intelligent as the dogs who share our hearts and homes -- they are also some of the most abused animals on the planet. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

For the first time, pigs have been documented using tools, according to a recent study published in the journal Mammalian Biology. Ecologist Meredith Root-Bernstein and her team recorded a family of rare pigs at a zoo in Paris picking up pieces of bark and digging with them while building their nests.

Pigs are friendly, inquisitive and smart animals who are at least as sensitive and intelligent as the dogs who share our hearts and homes. They lead complex social lives, bond and communicate with one another, are known to dream and learn through trial and error. They have unique personalities and experience a wide range of emotions. They can recognize themselves in the mirror and even use mirrors to find food that has been hidden from them. They recognize their own names and will come when called - if they like you. They are also some of the most abused animals on the planet, as PETA's new video expose of a decrepit pig farm in Indiana reveals.

An eyewitness found that mother pigs were crammed into metal crates barely any larger than their own bodies. Up to 1,200 pigs at this farm spend most of their miserable lives like this. The video shows others so crowded in pens that they couldn't move.

They were impregnated repeatedly. And when it was time to give birth, they were confined to crates that were even more restrictive and that prevented them from tending to their babies. They spent day and night lying immobile on the slatted floor.

Without their mothers' help, some piglets died, enduring intense unrelieved and prolonged suffering. Dead piglets were found decomposing just a few feet away from their own mothers and siblings.

One worker cut the tails off the surviving piglets - without any pain relief, as is common in pig factories - then threw the crying youngsters several feet into the air to another worker. Their tails were left strewn on the filthy floor.

All this happened in the presence of their distressed mothers.

Young pigs were moved to bleak pens, where up to 4,000 were being fattened on any given day for eventual slaughter (if they survived that long).

Pigs with ailments such as bloody sores, abscesses and injured legs, shoulders or hooves were left to suffer and languish on the filthy floors.

A sow who appeared incapable of standing or moving was unable to reach a source of drinking water. When the eyewitness offered her some, she drank frantically for nearly two minutes.

Pigs are naturally very clean and, given sufficient space, don't soil the areas where they eat or sleep. At this farm, however, they were forced to live amid feces and just above the reeking pit that held their manure, which continuously backed up beneath the slatted floor. Several piglets were seen struggling to stay afloat in the manure pit. The feces on the flooring teemed with maggots, and other surfaces were crawling with roaches.

PETA's video expose spotlights just one farm, but cruelty in the pork industry is rampant and routine.

Pigs used for breeding are commonly confined to crates so small that they can't walk or even turn around. Their muscles atrophy, and they're chronically sore and stiff. They never get to engage in any natural behavior. After several years of this round-the-clock imprisonment and continuous insemination, pregnancy and birthing, their bodies wear out and they're sent to slaughter.

Most of us couldn't stomach the idea of treating dogs like this. It should be equally unacceptable to treat pigs in this manner. The best way to spare pigs (and other farmed animals) enormous pain and suffering is to stop eating them and instead choose vegan foods. With so many delicious, healthy options, it's never been easier.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Colin Henstock is the assistant manager of investigations in the Cruelty Investigations Department at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

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