Wilbur, Oswald, You & Me


This is Wilbur, a rescued pig at the Sonoma Humane Society. When I walked up to his pen, he was sleeping in his straw bale house in the shade. I called to him like I would a dog, and he came running up to me. I started scratching his back the way I scratch Oswald, my dog, and said the same thing to him that I say to Oswald: “Who’s my piggy boy?” He made the same kind of snorting noises that Oswald does. The difference, of course, is that Wilbur is a pig and Oswald only sounds like one. Other than that, they acted exactly the same. They come when I call, they snort when I scratch, they roll over on their back for some tummy action, and the quickest way to their hearts is through their stomach:Ozzie loves Tofurky slices; Wilbur loves heirloom tomatoes.


Wilbur is as much a dog as Oswald is and Oswald is every bit the pig that Wilbur is. I can find little difference between the two beyond the superficial difference of how they look. This isn’t mere sentimentality. It’s science.


Emory University Professors determined that pigs are “gregarious” by nature, “highly social,” have a “robust memory,” can retrieve a frisbee, play with a ball, sit, fetch, and jump when asked, and are highly motivated by food. In other words, they’re dogs.

The authors also noted that pigs can play video games. Not really. But they do like to play and can move a modified joystick (no easy undertaking given the lack of opposable thumbs) and are aware that it impacts what is happening on a screen. And that makes them smarter than dogs.

In “Dogs Are People, Too,” a recent article in the New York Times, Dr. Gregory Berns indicated that “dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.” And this, he writes, “suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.” Accordingly, Dr. Berns posits that the law should not regard dogs as property, but as legal persons, and that puppy mills, vivisection and dog racing should be banned. His research also demands that it should be illegal for “shelters” to kill them.

The latest review of the literature suggests that similar treatment for pigs is warranted. If dogs are people and pigs are dogs, then pigs are people, too. Some other findings:

  • Pigs are optimistic and agreeable;
  • They prefer familiar individuals of both the pig and human variety to strangers;
  • They can read human facial cues;
  • They are empathetic (they are sensitive to the experience of others);
  • They are altruistic (can make decisions based on empathy);
  • They have unique personality traits that overlap that of humans; and, not surprisingly,
  • They think more popcorn is better than less popcorn!

We all rightly condemned China for the barbarism of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. Let’s take pigs off the menu here.


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