The Eat with Care blog

Writing about humane farming issues by Caroline Abels, founder of Humaneitarian. Your comments and feedback welcome. (All replies are screened and posted, if thoughtful and respectful.)

Book Review: “The Good, Good Pig,” by Sy Montgomery

December 12, 2012

by Candra Merreighn, Humaneitarian’s research assistant

I recently learned that our puppy, Nala, enjoys cookbooks almost as much as she enjoys socks. I also learned that when she doesn’t want to be in the kennel she just moves the chain link aside and squeezes her way out. We actually have two dogs, a Neapolitan Mastiff, Celeste, who I lovingly refer to as our “horse dog,” and a rambunctious beagle-bulldog mix, Nala. Our dogs are extensions of our family and their personalities fit right in. I’ve heard that you can learn a lot from dogs and the way they handle different situations. I’ve even noticed a new fad: pet-themed novels, mostly about dogs and the life lessons they teach their owners. This made me wonder, do these life lessons only come from man’s best friend?  As my husband and I prepare to extend our animal family to goats and pigs, I find myself wondering what life lessons I might learn from them.

In my latest read, The Good Good Pig, Sy Montgomery proves that animals of all walks have a lesson to teach if you’re willing to listen. Her lesson just happened to come in pig for — a very LARGE pig, at that. The author is a self-proclaimed naturalist who has traveled the world researching animals for her books. She holds multiple degrees and has written both adult’s and children’s books focusing on the importance of animal conservation. Of all of her travels, she says she learned the most from her 14-year “love affair” with her pig, named Christopher Hogwood — an affair that took place right in her backyard.

At the time Christopher came into her life, Sy was struggling with her relationship with her parents, and the piglet represented more than just a new pet. Her father was dying and was living a few states away. The piglet encouraged her to reach out to her parents, and as the pig grew it also encouraged — or more so forced her — to develop relationships within her community. She first describes how he came home in a shoe box on her lap and how she and her husband weren’t sure the piglet would make it through the night. Surprisingly, Christopher did make it through the night, and soon afterwards gained confidence, weight and curiosity. Sy recounts many of the stories of Christopher’s escapes and subsequent jaunts through the neighborhood, which every time provoked visions of me running down the road after a stray pig, or apologizing for ruined garden beds with baked goods. Maybe pigs wouldn’t be a good fit for our family yet.  I’ve always heard that pigs are extremely intelligent and curious, but I never realized the intensity of it until reading this book.

This book also attests to the importance of human and animal interaction. Throughout Christopher’s life he made the newspaper a number of times, mostly the police log for his escapes, but the story of his that touched me the most was the letter written by a close friend of Sy’s to the editors of a local paper: “This letter is an obituary for an animal, a pig named Christopher Hogwood, who died in his sleep on May 9, at age fourteen, in Hancock.”

The letter goes on to explain the importance of Christopher’s life to not only his owners but to the community as a whole. It also gained the attention of the editor of the newspaper, who ran a longer story, and from there word spread like wildfire. Sy and her husband began to receive endless voicemails, letters, baked goods and more, from people wanting to show their sympathy.  This display of affection showed me that the impact of Christopher’s life didn’t end with the community he lived in but extended to anyone who knew or learned of his story.

This book was a quick, refreshing and inspiring read. The author has a way of writing that helps you feel her emotions and allows you to cry, laugh, and run down the road after Christopher with her.  Prior to reading this story I did a little bit of research and found out that the story actually took place a couple of towns over from my husband and I, and a couple my husband works with actually knew the pig. While we were visiting this couple and their rescue pigs (who you can read about in my previous blog post), the couple told us how their daughter used to go over and help bathe Christopher. It was great to hear from someone who had known about, and been affected by, the life of Christopher Hogwood!  And while we were talking about Christopher, I realized that this couple’s pigs were also touching a life — my daughter’s.

So while the lessons I learn from our dogs are not always life changing, I’m waiting for that one moment when they open my eyes and inspire me, as pigs are clearly able to do.

Candra Merreighn is earning an MS in Environmental Studies at Antioch University New England in Keene, New Hampshire. Her focus is on hunting as a conservation method. She was Humaneitarian’s summer research assistant in 2012. Thank you, Candra, for all your efforts and assistance!