Back to the Farm: Piglets and Peacefulness at Poplar Springs

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So happy that you all responded to my post on the little lessons of veganism. Also impressed to hear that so many of my readers were already in the habit of treating insects humanely! Wish I could say I’ve always been so conscientious. What a wonderful community this is Smile

Friday was a good night to talk about animals, because I had a trip to Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary, where I sponsor a pig named Hamlet, on Saturday, for their annual Montgomery County Farm Tour. The last time I wrote about Hamlet was April, right after I met him for the first time:

Hamlet, I’m told, was destined to be killed by a local farmer—not for sale, but for a family pig roast. The farmer’s children fell so desperately in love with Hamlet that the farmer couldn’t bring himself to kill him, and offered him up to Poplar instead.

In spite of sweltering heat on Saturday—truly, face-melting heat—Hamlet was doing well, half-submerged in a mud puddle. His friends were trying to stay cool in the pig barn, occasionally being misted by one of the considerate Poplar helpers:

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Such contentment, in spite of the heat. I was even inspired to set aside some of my sweaty malaise and seek relief in the hay:

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The fun surprise of the day was that two new baby piglets had arrived on the farm. They were so adorable, I could barely stand it:

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Such peaceful little babies. I loved keeping them company for a while.

Other highlights of the trip included the strange, yet beautiful sight of some overheated cows taking respite in the clearing of the nearby woods. It was as if they were a band of wild horses:

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And indeed, a horse or two was keeping them company:

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I also paid a visit to the goats, who were also being good sports about the summer heat. This particular fellow had found a comfortable perch:

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And for a while, I perched below him:

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The leader of the goat pack had lost a horn while trying to escape a local farm, but he’s no less majestic for the loss:

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And the goats are soon to be joined by Poplar’s newest resident: a tiny baby sheep who was recently rescued by the Humane Society and brought to Poplar. She was born blind, and wasn’t wanted by the farmers who were keeping her, but it’s hard to imagine how anyone could not want to offer this creature a good home:

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These visits to Poplar remind me of how grievously we’ve failed to extend our humanity to farm animals. Here in America (and around the world) we celebrate and heap love upon our companion animals (dogs and cats) while simultaneously turning our backs on the 56 billion or so animals who are killed each year, simply because we like the way they taste.

Perhaps more people would stop accepting this moral dissonance and start making connections between the animals they love as pets and the animals on their plate if they could spend a day or at a place like Poplar, where animals are cared for as equals, and given the freedom to enjoy full and rich lives.

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I’m personally grateful to all of the folks at Poplar—and at America’s ever growing list of farm sanctuaries—for giving these animals a new chance to be alive, and safe.

If you’re interested—and especially if you’re exploring an animal-friendly lifestyle—I encourage you to look for a farm sanctuary in your area, to sponsor an animal, and to visit or volunteer. It’s well worth it.

Happy Monday!


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  1. What an amazing post, Gena. I was so excited to see this in my Reader after seeing other pictures of not so fortunate piglets around the …ahem..blogosphere (gag) . Anyways, thank you for posting these beautiful pictures. This is why I love you, and your blog. Keep up the good work!

  2. If only every one could wake up and start their days off with a post like this the world would be a better place. Hamlet is incredibly cute! For me, learning about how intelligent (especially emotionally) pigs are and the cruel conditions they are raised for their meat in solidified my commitment to vegetarianism 4 years ago. Thank you for this loving reminder about living a compassionate life.

  3. I’m a little late in the comment game, here, but better late than never. This is truly the kind of “Pig Party” I enjoy reading about. These animals are so cute and deserve to live long and happy lives. So glad to see a blog where healthy debate is encouraged and people can be free to express their comments without fear of being ridiculed! Great job, Gena!

  4. Gena, thank you for showing us that pigs are beautiful, intelligent, sentient creatures, capable of the same lived experience that our domesticated animals enjoy.

    Recently, a restaurant in the city where I attend college briefly considered serving lion meat in tacos. I was interviewed for the article because I am the president of the campus animal rights organization. My remarks, while obviously in a different context, shared many of your sentiments in this post. This is a link to the short article, if you are interested:

    After all of the hatred, it feels great to be in harmony with the animals, doesn’t it?

  5. I had to do a community service trip at a school that happened to have a pet pig and some bunnies! It was the firt time I saw such an enormous pig sitting right in front of me.

    He was so gentle and cute…he just likes to laze around and be fed 😀

  6. I love this post… I love your blog, and this post just reinforced that not only am I vegan for health, but for being kind to the animals. I read an unexpected post the other day on a blog about a pig roast, and it made me so sad. My heart is warmed by your post. Thank you for all you do 🙂

  7. Those pigs are sooooooooo incredibly cute! I have a strong urge to hug them lol.

    Fun fact: Pigs are the smartest animal.

    And I could never imagine harming one of these babies for a meal. Veggie power.

  8. Omigahhhh those piggies are adowwable. I want a teacup piggy <3

  9. What beautiful photos and experiences…. it is truly shocking to me.. (I should be used to it by now.. I’m almost 40) that people eat animals. I am so so grateful I was raised vegetarian.

  10. fuzzy and feathered reminders are the best ones. glad you finally got out there! I want to take my niece someday. although I hope people realize that farm sanctuaries are NOT petting zoos, the animals needs come first and there are limited times for visiting and so forth. most sanctuaries use the tours as outreach times for education, so people should be cautious with little kids and be able to do some follow up explaining.

  11. I agree with Ali- it would be great if schoolchildren took field trips to farm sanctuaries to learn about the animals in a peaceful environment. I had a friend who grew up in Texas, and her elementary school class visited an actual factory farm/slaughterhouse as a field trip. And yes, the field trip ended with them eating meat from it! She said she was the only one in her class who refused to eat it! (She wasn’t even vegetarian.) It’s so sad that eating meat is so culturally ingrained in us that even when presented with how horrible it is, people have a hard time not eating it.

  12. Such a beautiful post! I love looking at those safe and obviously happy animals. The pigs look like they are smiling! And they have such beautiful long eyelashes. It really is amazing that anyone could eat them. I wish it were mandatory in school to go to farms a couple of times a year to learn about what animals are really like. Hopefully more people would then make the connection between the animals they saw and fell in love with and what is on their dinner plates.

  13. I have actually volunteered at Poplar Springs and it’s such a wonderful, magical place.

  14. I LOVE this oh so very much! When can I meet dear Hamlet? And can I sponsor the goats? I adore them all, especially the one perched up on his throne. Amazing! Clearly you know how I feel about this, and yet I still get so choked up when I think about how it was my little pug Louis who really started me down the path towards full-fledged veganism. When I realized that I couldn’t snuggle with him in my bed, treat him as an equal — a part of the family really — and not do the same to all other animals, it was an eye-opening experience. Thank you for writing about this. <3.

    • Katie,
      My little doxie led me into being a vegetarian…hopefully being full fledged vegan is around the corner for me. Yes, you can sponsor goats there!! I have 🙂

  15. What a beautiful post and pics. And great pics of you. The piglets, goats, and … well all the animals are adorable. Thanks for the information, visiting a sanctuary is on my list for the near future and hopefully I can take my nieces and nephew.

  16. What a sweet, thought-provoking and inspirational post! It makes me so happy to see how positively blissful you look at the farm, Gena! Thanks for the Monday cheer!

  17. Wonderful post–so important for the world to see. I actually had a pet pig when I was younger (just for a few weeks though :)) and have the utmost respect and compassion for them–they are so unbelievably smart and caring.

    Question–was this post in response to a recent post on a blogger’s site about a “Pig Party”? Whether yes or no, your post comes at a relevant time. Thanks as always for your insight and dedication to a truly worthy cause.

    • Samantha,

      Not a response, no. I’d been planning to go for the Farm Tour. But I did see that post, and comment.


    • Very relevant time! Veganism took a beating in that comment thread, so this post is a really safe, happy place for me today 🙂

  18. Beautiful post! Numbers alone easily go unnoticed, but numbers like 56 billion attached to a real animal, or a picture, is heart wrenching. Love to Hamlet and all his friends!

  19. Thank you for posting your visit…truly inspired me to look in my community for a local animal sanctuary. Like Emily….no more of the 95% vegan….never meat products but occasional “bites” of my kids ice cream, etc to please them…. My birthday is this weekend, a good day to start fresh!!! Love your blog Gena!!!

    • I’m glad to hear you’re ready to give up the last 5 % of animal cruelty as well. For me, the first 95% was for health, the last 5% is to save these beautiful Beings.

  20. My brother and sister-in-law have inadvertently created an animal sanctuary on their acreage. They now have 7 cats, 5 goats, 2 donkeys, 3 horses, and 3 (large) dogs. My sister-in-law also works with a group to rescue horses that have been sent to auction–they raise money to buy the animals (often mares and foals) so they can be sent to sanctuaries rather than pet food factories. I have 5 cats (they seem to accumulate like lint), so I’m the family’s official crazy cat lady (like on the Simpson’s). Sadly, you can’t save everything and stories of animal abuse bring me to tears, but it’s nice to know that so many people care what happens to our furry friends.

  21. So great!!

    I just spent the weekend in a rural town where one of my friends works with several pig farms. I kept telling him he should hire me to “snuggle” the pigs. When I saw the picture of you hugging the pig above I finally felt like someone else understands me!

  22. Yesterday I read the meat and dairy products section of Crazy Sexy Diet, and today I read this post. I have finally decided to make myself 100 % vegan, none of this 90 or 95% percent stuff just to make my family happy.

    Thankyou for posting such valuable information. By doing so you are helping other people explore veganism and in turn, saving precious animal lives.

  23. Oh my goodness, there’s pretty much nothing cuter than a piglet or a tiny baby goat!

  24. Aw, this was such a lovely post to read first thing in the morning. The story of Hamlet is kind of like the story of Wilber in Charlotte’s Web! And oh my god, that baby goat is precious. I want.

    Reading what you said about differentiating between the animals we love as pets and the animals we eat really has me thinking. I looked down at my cute kitty as I read that, and I cringed at the thought of eating him.

    Being a former vegan, I still feel a connection to my old lifestyle. Sometimes it’s hard to read posts like these and not feel guilty for giving up veganism. (I mean that as a compliment to your writing!) I have been eating very high-vegan lately, but this post makes me feel like high-vegan is just not enough! Look at those piggies!

    Do they have cows at Poplar? Cows really pull at my heartstrings…

  25. Love all of these pics! It sounds like a wonderful experience. Can’t wait to go myself one of these days!!! Thanks for posting.

  26. This was just what I needed.

    After seeing too many images of animal cruelty lately, this was like a warm hug.

    Oh those animals are beautiful. My heart, sigh. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Thanks Gena!

  27. Every single one of them is so cute! It’s reassuring to know they have a good home and are treated well. I submitted a volunteer application at a farm sanctuary here but haven’t heard back. Now I’m inspired to look into it!

  28. Adorable!! I want to hug and squeeze them! A beautiful, cute and very seriously meaningful post Gena. Thank you. You look so happy in these shots 🙂

  29. Your last visit inspired me to sponsor Clover at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and I am forever grateful! So glad you were able to get back out there and visit those lovely creatures!

  30. My heart is so happy. The girls and I would have had a blast there with you. I think I just figured out what I want to do tomorrow…

  31. Gena, thank you, thank you, for this post!!! The world needs to see this. I have seen too many images of slaughtered animals recently, both in person on my own travels as well as in the blogosphere, and I am so grateful you posted these beautiful images.

    The pigs are sooo cute! And the little goat….adorable. I love the pics of you posing with them.

    “Perhaps more people would stop accepting this moral dissonance and start making connections between the animals they love as pets and the animals on their plate if they could spend a day or at a place like Poplar…”

    Amen girl. Amen.

    Thank you for this post and our emails.

    Hope you have a great week!

  32. I love animals — including livestock — but it still doesn’t bother me to consume them. Granted, factory farming disgusts me so I opt for grass-fed meat. In Texas I’m friends with the guys who sell me my beef and chicken.

    When I look at domesticated animals like cows and chickens, I see animals that were bred for [potential human consumption. I don’t look at your cute piggies and see bacon, but I see the heritage. I totally support farm animal sanctuaries though. It does save animals from potential factory farms and that’s always a good thing.

    It’s really amazing when an animal touches your life. I remember being in awe of a calf I bottle-fed on my parents’ ranch, or the amazing years I had when I rode in horseshows. Hamlet and co are adorable!

    • Animals suffer when they are bred for food. Even those animals who are raised on small farms suffer – albeit less so than those on factory farms. I have never understood why the empathy of people who claim to support “humanely-raised meat” extends to animals only up until the moment before they are slaughtered (at a very young age).

      There is of course no nutritional need for people to eat animals – to be aware of this fact and continue to do so is inhumane.

    • this begs the question: would you eat your cat or dog? but maybe you don’t have any.

      • @Noah. I do sincerely believe there is a nutritional need for people to at least consume eggs and dairy. I also think it’s naive to assume a vegan lifestyle eliminates suffering. What about the creatures killed in the harvest of crops? Methylparaben in wine? I see a world of difference between raising an animal in a horrific feedlot and treating an animal with care and respect until it’s time for it to be eaten (the reason it was bred and born in the first place).

        @Bitt. I’ve grown up with dogs my entire life. No, I would not eat my dog because dogs have never been, in my culture, a food source. Well, perhaps if we go all the way back to the domestication of the dog…there is evidence to suggest we did snack on them until we figured out how useful they were as hunters and guards. Some Asian cultures consume dogs and I do not begrudge them that. I have a definite problem with how those dogs are kept until slaughter, but the simple act of eating a dog, while not agreeable to my own upbringing, is not something I see as inherently wrong.

        Both of you — I completely respect your life paths to not eat animal products. I am not familiar with you, Noah, but I admire Bitt’s blog for its sincerity and great recipes. But as Gena has never squashed debate, I saw no wrong in expressing my opinion.

        • @Mimi,

          You know I welcome debate!

          I agree with Noah that independent, small farming does nothing to change the fact that an animal is killed; sure, it’s better than factoring farming, but saying that it’s fine to kill animals for food just so long as you do it “humanely” is akin to saying that their lives themselves have less value than ours. In other words, I object to both the circumstances under which we kill farm animals AND the fact that we take it upon ourselves to end their lives.

          As for the fact that small creatures and insects die through farming: that’s true. But (more on this below, to Inga G) that doesn’t mean that I won’t still do all I can to reduce death and suffering. Yes, there are things outside of my control, but the choice to be vegan is entirely within my control–why wouldn’t I do it, if I know that it’s at least one means of sparing another living being from pain? In other words, no one’s without complicity in suffering, but there are very real and practical means of minimizing our impact, and veganism is just that.

          As for heritage, it’s true and powerful, but then again, the fact that something’s a part of human heritage has never made it right. Witch hunting and human bondage were deeply embedded in our culture for a good long time, too.


          • @Mimi. I agree with everything that Gena said, but I’d like to make one more point. You can feed many more people from an acre of corn if they just ate the corn than you could if that corn was turned into feed for livestock. So you would have to harvest much more corn (and kill many more animals) to produce a pound of meat than you would a pound of corn. If you really want to reduce animal suffering as much as possible, the only logical choice is to go vegan.

          • @Noah

            I don’t think cows should be fed corn at all. It destroys their digestive track and is the reason they have to be given so many antibiotics to keep them alive until slaughter. That’s why I don’t support factory farmed beef.

            Cows thrive on grass. And grasslands, when grazed upon, are better for it. The cattle fertizile the fields and when they move to different pastures, the grass has a chance to regrow. My family owns a ranch that has a very large cattle herd. The pastureland is in great shape and cattle have grazed on it since the 1850s.

            Also, a herd of cattle is better for the land than a field of corn. Corn takes a lot of resources to grow and for all that effort produces very little nutrition. Cattle just need grass, occasional supplemental food during winter, and water. Corn fields damage the land far more than cattle fields.

          • Hey Gena! Thank you so much for welcoming debate. It’s one of the many things I love about your blog.

            I don’t think eating animals is quite equatible to witch hunting or slavery. Witch hunts happened sporadically throughout history, and largely on account of religion-based fears or prejudices. Traditionally “witchy people” have been assimilated into culture, whether it be the medicine woman in the woods or the epileptic who some consider a seer.

            As for human bondange and slavery, of course mentalities have changed as humans have further studied morality, ethics, and philosophy. Now most people in the world think of slavery with revulsion, as they should. But for every “new concept” that becomes an evolution in though, plenty more are eventually rejected. Sit with a group of educated, thoughtful intellectuals in the early 1900s and most of them would have believed that the way for humans to thrive was a subordination to the state, usually through Marxism or Fascism. It was only after all the messes those regimes caused that the idea was rejected. I see veganism as a potentially new concept intregrated into cultural norms…but it’s not alone. There is also a push to get back to traditional foods and the like, which includes animal products and opposes factory farming. A people names that come to mind for that push are Daniel Vitalis, Robb Wolf, and Catherine Shanahan. It could just as well become a new (or regained?) cultural norm. I believe it’s too early to say. I think our food frontier is changing (or at least seriously needs to) but I do not think veganism is necesarrily the next evolution.

            As for not eating dogs and cats but eating the cow, it’s not that I value its life less than my dog. It’s like you say in your stranger example — in feeling more for the death of a friend than a stranger. I have an emotional connection with my dogs that I don’t with a steer in a field. But I still see that animal as an animal — I don’t disregard its right to exist, and I pay top dollar to farmers who I know treat their animals right. But I still, at the end of the day, see a cow as an animal that’s a potential food source to me.

            I do think it’s possible to have reverence for animals and still eat them. While plants offer a host of amazing benefits, I believe most people need animal products (even if in small amounts) to thrive in the longterm. I think it’s necessarily then for some animals to die (and again, it’s what we bred them for) or at least have their eggs and milk taken, but there are ways to do that where the animal is still treated with dignity, even if it’s ultimately killed. I do wind up going pretty close to vegetarian when I can’t buy grass-fed, but I don’t have an ethical problem with properly raised meat.

            I guess it’s a case of agreeing to disagree, but I really enjoy being able to have intelligent dialog. Thank you for having a blog so open to it, and for always expressing your beliefs so well and so sincerely.

          • I think this all boils down to what value we place on life, ALL life. As soon as it was decided that some animal’s lives had no value other than to feed us, some could argue that it does not matter if the animal is raised “humanely” or “inhumanely.” If it has already been determined that a cow is only bred to come into the world to be hamburger meat, then it is hard to justify why the animal should be treated nicely until it’s time to die for us. That’s like saying slavery is okay, as long as the slaves are treated well. Once we as a people, value ALL life, we will begin to open our eyes to the unneccesaary slaughtering of animals, AND eachother.

        • I have been a vegan for 7 months now and I was a vegetarian for 3 months before that and I have only seen my health improve. There really isn’t a need for people to consume meat, dairy or eggs. All of your nutrition can be consumed firsthand straight from the earth. It is very wasteful to go through all of the trouble of raising animals just so you can kill them. Also I would like to know why you believe that we need dairy? Cows make milk to feed baby cows not humans. We are the only animal on Earth that drinks another species milk. We do not need it and it is not good for us either.

      • I hope I don’t intrude but I really do find this discussion fascinating and important!

        **this begs the question: would you eat your cat or dog? but maybe you don’t have any.**

        I don’t think this question really serves the purpose it’s supposed to serve. Would I eat my cat? No. Because it is MY cat with years of memories and deep emotional attachment to this particular cat.

        There is a big difference between cognitive and emotional mechanisms. Studies have shown that a person may despise racism but still show racist behaviour in subconscious tests – and that it is not general awareness that combats this, but personally knowing somebody of the minority in question. And that is also how animal sanctuaries work: they create emotional attachments to animals we don’t regularly interact with.

        **Even those animals who are raised on small farms suffer – albeit less so than those on factory farms. I have never understood why the empathy of people who claim to support “humanely-raised meat” extends to animals only up until the moment before they are slaughtered (at a very young age).**

        Do animals raised for human consumption in responsible conditions suffer? But relative to what? Animals in the wild suffer: they deal with parasites and predators and/or hunger every single day of their lives. I would never forget the scenes of an old wild caribou, suffocating in the mud trying to escape being eaten alive by biting flies. It died after a long agony. Watching good animal documentaries makes one appreciate just how merciless life in the wild is. And how few survive into the old age, torn apart by predators or competitors: most animals give birth to a lot of offspring – because only one or two of them will live to see the next spring. Yet we view the wild as a treasure in itself, as something to be preserved and protected from expanding human civilization.

        Humanely raised farm animals have shelter, food, predictability and protection – yes, for meat animals it comes at a cost of guaranteed shorter lives, but they lack the awareness of imminent death anyway. Honestly, I don’t know which life I would rather choose.

        Yes, most people feel great on vegan diet. But there have been examples of vegans who did everything in their power for years to eat healthy, supplemented – yet found their health deteriorate. So there is a certain minority for whom it is a nutritional need.

        As well, we do inhumane things every single day of our lives. For example, it is really humane to spend $15 on even a vegan restaurant meal when that amount can feed, clothe and pay for school for an African orphan for an entire month? But we pick and choose every day between the causes that are meaningful to us, causes that are just too much to deal with, and our own comfort.

        • That is the most intelligent and mature response I have read. It is brilliant ! I agree with every single word you said and yes I mostly agree that there are many vegans whose health deteriates by not inclding meat in their diet because they are lacking in so many nutrients that vegan food in no way can provide.

          • Inga,

            Thanks for a thoughtful remark!

            I do have a few counterpoints. First, of course your emotional connection to a dog or cat exceeds your connection to a farm animal you’ve never met. That does indeed explain why it FEELS worse to you to eat the dog or cat. But IS it worse? If a friend or family member of mine were to be killed, the loss would obviously be tragic to me in ways that the loss of a stranger would not. But is it actually a greater loss? No, it’s not: it’s just greater to ME. Most people couldn’t bear to kill and eat a family pet because they’re attached, but that doesn’t mean that it is objectively any better to kill and eat a farm animal: it just means it’s more emotionally charged.

            As to your point about the cruelty of nature, I don’t think any vegan (at least not me) will disagree. Nature’s brutal. But its an inanimate force, and I’m a person with free will: why should I choose to directly perpetuate any of that cruelty if I don’t have to? Animals die painfully in the wild, but that doesn’t mean that it’s my job to participate in their early and unnatural death in captivity.

            And yes, at any given moment, there are a million things I might do to support every cause of social justice and compassion. But I never claimed that being vegan reduces all suffering globally, or that every one of my choices (for example, treating myself to restaurant food when I could donate the money to charity) is ethically solid. All I’m arguing here is that veganism is one good thing I can do, and want to do–one good thing. We all pick and choose our moral crusades, and we do so with a fair amount of subjectivity, depending on which causes speak to us, and which don’t. That doesn’t discredit things we don’t do: it just means we’re selective about what we ultimately pour our effort into.

            Finally, while I do know that there is a very small portion of the population that fails to thrive on a vegan diet, I can also tell you that the portion is very small indeed, and that people who are unhappy as vegans often express that unhappiness by saying that they feel poorly physically (understandably, of course, since the two are connected). Naturally the unhappiness should be heeded and confronted, but failure to thrive from a medical standpoint if one is eating a well rounded and well planned diet is not commonplace among vegans.

            So glad you enjoy the dialog!


  33. Oh my goodness, I love all of these pictures! The piggies all look so content and happy as can be despite the heat. It makes my heart melt! Thank you for reminding us that farm animals deserve just as much love and consideration as common domesticated pets. 🙂

  34. I just read “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows”, and the facts about the factory farm industry were horrifying.

    Seeing these candid shots of these lovely pigs remind us that they have hearts just like us.

  35. Gena, those piggies are adorable! They remind me of by bulldog, Pudge! Keep up the good (and very important) work!