Written by Nicola Vernon, Founder of Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary
Photography by Cassandra Bright, Bjarne Rombach and Smilla Rombach
The tiny piglet was a sad sight as she lay flat on her tummy in a filthy pen full of rusted roof sheeting, wire and rubbish. She was all alone. Her back legs were splayed out on either side of her body. She looked up as Toni Brockhoven, head of Beauty Without Cruelty South Africa, reached out and gently picked her up. The little pig snorted in Toni’s ear and immediately became Snortie. Toni had negotiated with the farmer of the backyard piggery in Cape Town to release the pig into her care and into a new life at the Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary.
When I took Snortie from Toni and placed her on my lap, she snuffled her snout into my neck and I was completely in love. I knew that we had to do everything we could for this brave, trusting little girl. It’s hard to believe that she can be so affectionate when all she’s known is neglect. Had the farmer tied her back legs together, temporarily, shortly after birth she would have been able to walk, but this didn’t happen, leaving her paralysed.
We placed Snortie in a small paddock with another pig called Big Bella Boo, who’d come to us as a former pet pig but become so obese that she had fat blindness – her eyes were forced closed by the fat around her face. Under our care she’d lost a lot of weight but she was fragile as a result of her past and didn’t move around much. As we’d hoped, Snortie soon found comfort and warmth in Bella’s still quite large, round tummy, and that night she was snuggled up to her, protected against the cold winter’s night.
We took Snortie to the vet the next day for x-rays and her skeletal system was found to be intact. She does, however, have compressed vertebrae from arching her spine to pull herself forward with her front legs. We pulled the legs together with soft, wide elastic and then thought about therapy. We approached Pets in Balance in Somerset West where there’s a hydrotherapy tank.
At her first session, Snortie showed a willingness to work hard and she was soon standing, buoyed up by the warm water. The therapists fell in love with her as quickly as I had and offered to sponsor her sessions. We did three months of intensive therapy, three times a week. It was a big commitment, the journey taking one hour each way, but we all did it for Snortie.
We took plenty of videos of Snortie in the tank and then being dried off. She absolutely loves the treatment and a video of her being towelled dry went viral with over 500,000 views. Her cute pink snout and happy demeanour have turned her into quite a poster child. The artist Marius van Vuuren has been commissioned to build a huge sculpture of a sitting pig in London and he’s asked Snortie to be his model.
Snortie suffered a setback when her friend and adoptive piggy mom, Bella, passed away after a short illness. Sadly, the health conditions of her past caught up with Bella and we were devastated when she left us at the age of just seven. Snortie’s grief was plain to see in her face. Her usually happy demeanour changed into one of quiet sadness. That night we rolled Bella’s sleeping bag into a big ball with a pillow inside to give Snortie a replica of the friend she’d lost – just to help her over the next few nights. We didn’t leave her side for a few days and tried to find ways to raise her spirits.
After a week she started to perk up. We opened the gate of her paddock which leads to another space where yet another formerly obese pig, also called Bella, lives with her friend Ollie, a black pot-bellied pig. Ollie and Bella no. 2 accepted Snortie and she now lives with them, sometimes returning to her paddock to sleep but always happily joining her new friends during the day.
We don’t know if Snortie will ever walk, but we’re determined to keep trying as long as she’s happy for us to do so. She now has a trolley that we use for therapy to try and get her back legs used to the rhythm of walking. If she fails to walk then we’ll get her a permanent set of wheels so that she can roam around the farm for as long as she’s comfortable and happy.
Watch Snortie in action here https://youtu.be/8LCLkvDiDcY