The Beacon Hill Children's Farm with all its animal and human members is saying goodbye to MAPLE.
Our year seemed to be off to a smooth start but then last week life just took a very unexpected turn that left us with a broken heart and a huge hole in our midst: Sadly and very suddenly we had to say goodbye to our pig Maple and everyone here is truly feeling his absence and mourning this loss.
Maple was eleven and a half years old and for the last 5 years he has been living with us at the farm. At his age Maple was an elderly pig with some of the normal old age ailments but they were just minor concerns that were monitored and treated by our vets when necessary. Depending on the weather his arthritis gave him a little trouble and we also kept an eye on his dental health and hoof growth. But everything was going really well and Maple had pretty much made it through the winter (which is always the hardest season for our senior animals). Last week at dinnertime Maple suddenly exhibited trouble walking with his back feet and even being at risk of losing his balance. We helped him back into his barn where he seemed happy to go to bed, allowing us to touch and examine every leg, joint and along his back without any sign of pain. We reached out to our vet at once and luckily he could come right the following day. In the morning Maple’s balance had gotten worse, but he was in a surprisingly good mood, ate all his breakfast and went back to bed. At that point we were all just thinking that his arthritis had gotten much worse and Maple might need different medication, supplements or some exercises with massages. After our vet examined him and shared his diagnosis, our hopeful outlook was shattered. Maple suffered from deterioration of the nerves in his spine and through that he couldn’t control or feel his back legs anymore. The good news was, that he didn’t feel any pain, but the bad news was that he would never regain the ability to walk – it would only get worse from here. So, with hope being gone, there was only one way, one decision for us to take: to allow Maple a safe, peaceful and pain free passing in the company of the people he knew and trusted.
During his time with us Maple’s home was always the very first enclosure when entering the farm, he was everyone’s first impression and when awake he liked to greet people by the fence. He was very vocal and most days his voice would tell us his current mood: it could range from little happy grunts, excited squeaks, high pitched singing, deep barks of worry or short outburst of protest. Maple wasn’t shy on letting everyone know how his day was going. Maple was probably one of the most weather sensitive animals at the farm (he shared that quality with our farm cat Leo). Not only would he not step outside of his barn on rainy or cold days, but we could really predict his mood according to the weather: rainy day = grumpy pig, sunny day = happy pig! And he would certainly let us know which one it was – as if the bad weather was our fault. He was a very clear communicator about his moods, he always reminded us that animals have bad days too, just like humans. And that’s okay. He was our friend and as such we enjoyed every day with him – good and bad and in between. The happy and sunny ones we shared with snuggles, songs and finding-food games (he was a champion!) and the bad days we tried to make a little sweeter with some easy talking, an extra pile of soft hay and the offer of our company – which sometimes he still declined. Some days he just wanted to crawl back in his bed right after breakfast, and who of us doesn’t have that same feeling occasionally?
Maple’s absolute favourite time of day was feeding time, and he always made us feel that we were late for it. When we arrived for work in the morning he would start knocking against his barn door to remind us that he should without doubt be the first one for breakfast. And in the afternoon he would start rattling the gate whenever a coworker was in sight. Maple got the most special mix of food, always freshly prepared. His dish would contain a healthy creation of soaked pig pellets, yogurt, diced fresh fruit and veggies topped with boiled egg. He would just dig right in, make a mess and dump it on the ground to polish it all off in the end.
Maple was a good example of how an outward appearance can be quite misleading. Being big and black he always appeared to have a tough, brave and self confident personality, but under his thick skin Maple was hiding his sweet, timid and sensitive soul. The pig area and especially his barn made up his safe place – his home – and he would be quite protective of it. Over the years he met many volunteers and staff members who he allowed to get to know him – which in Maple’s book was a progress and one had to work for to gain his trust. Trust wasn’t just granted to everyone who stepped through his gate. And it also wasn’t won through bribery. While offerings of food were always appreciated by him and made a happy pig – short term – it would simply lead to an excited Maple who expected more. In Maple’s world trust needed to be earned through patience, consistency and time spent together. Thinking back – with a smile and many tears – we remember how we used to introduce new staff members to Maple and explain to them how to clean out his barn. He would glance at them, give some disapproving grunts about strangers in his bedroom and for the first few work shifts one could always tell by his protesting singsongs that they were tidying up his place. He could be so dramatic! But once they got to know each other, they learned to read his signals and he was getting familiar with them, we could see the little flower of trust starting to grow. And when Maple’s trust had grown enough that he would lay down for a new coworker and welcome a belly rub, there was a smile on both their faces – pig and human. Being one of Maple’s people was an honour that needed to be earned, but that made our bond with him that more special and meaningful.
He leaves behind this big empty space now – not just an empty enclosure at the farm that reminds us every day of his passing- but also a hole in our hearts. We are holding on dearly to all the memories we’ve made over the years with him, they are a treasure that no one can take from us. And while they make us sad now when we remember this great sweet big boy, we feel overwhelmed by the gratitude that he allowed us in his life and offered us his trust – that was the biggest gift he could make;truly an honour!
“Maple, our friend, we miss you a lot: every happy squeal as well as every disapproving grunt. You have touched many of us, and you have shown us that trust and friendship are something we have to constantly work for. Thank you. It was a very hard decision to let you take your final walk over the rainbow bridge. Several of us were able to come by and say their last goodbye in person, giving you many treats and pets along for the journey. We saw many tears shed that day and afterwards that truly say: We love you, Maple. Rest in peace, sweet big boy, there will always be a special place in our hearts just for you.”
Maple had so many fans – more than he ever knew – and each of us has their own personal memories of him. Sharing them and talking about him now, will help us heal and keep his spirit alive in our hearts.
Thank you for remembering Maple together with us.