Esther the Wonder Pig Interview

Health

How One Pig Convinced Thousands to go Vegan

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This is the modern fairy tale story of how one pig was saved, becoming a bonafide celebrity who has –without even trying– convinced hundreds of thousands of people to go vegan. It’s called “The Esther Effect”, and if you’ve ever loved a pet, you can relate!

How One Pig Convinced Thousands to go Vegan

Esther the Wonder Pig

As the owner of a difficult senior poodle, I was intrigued by the idea of a full-size farm animal being as beloved as my own pet. I discovered Esther on Facebook at a time when I was having a lot of trouble with my dog, Rocky. Adopting him when he was just six weeks old, I quickly learned he was going to be a handful. He would freeze at the sight of another dog, he would quiver at the thought of being left alone, and he was never a “sit” or “stay” kind of dog.

How One Pig Convinced Thousands to go Vegan

A Recent Picture of Rocky and I

At the same time, he was the most loyal companion I could have hoped for. We started every morning together, with him jumping up from under my bed, tail wagging. After a few life changes, he had a hard time adjusting and began withdrawing emotionally. Anyone unfamiliar became a threat, and if he was startled he would growl and bite. With the brunt of his caretaking now falling on my aging parents, it would have been easy to give him up.

Anyone that has ever fallen in love with a pet knows that you simply can’t stop loving them when things get difficult. No one knows that better than Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, pet parents to Esther. Their journey inspired me to keep working with Rocky, and to extend that love to all animals by going vegan. And I’m not the only one. Esther has become an international celebrity, raising over $400k from fans (both Hilary and I donated) to buy farmland and start a sanctuary. Suffice to say, their lives –and the lives of Esther’s uber-devoted fans– have been immeasurably changed.

Sitting down for a chat with Steve, we got the story behind the Esther the Wonder Pig phenomenon.

How One Pig Convinced Thousands to go Vegan

Esther at Home

Urbanette Magazine: Can you tell us the story of how you came to cherish Esther?

Steve Jenkins: Absolutely, it was a completely unplanned and unexpected thing. I got a message online from a friend I hadn’t heard from in years, asking me if I wanted a mini pig. I agreed to take her and met this girl the following morning to pick up Esther. Derek had no idea, so it was an intense day as I tried to come up with a story as to why we all of a sudden had a pet pig.

How One Pig Convinced Thousands to go Vegan

How One Pig Convinced Thousands to go Vegan

Esther taking a nap with her family

Urbanette: And not just any pet pig, but you soon found out she was a full-size 650 pound pig! At that point, did you doubt whether you could handle her?

Steve: It was a strange process. We had been told she was six months old when we got her, and that she came from a pet pig breeder, so she would be no bigger than 70 lbs. We took that info to the vet who immediately told us 70 lbs was not going to happen. [At that point] we definitely questioned ourselves and if we could do it. But at the same time, we had both fallen madly in love with Esther, began to learn a lot about the meat industry, and couldn’t fathom the idea of giving her up. Options for full size pigs finding a loving and proper home are few and far between. She was a pet, and we couldn’t give up on her.

How One Pig Convinced Thousands to go Vegan

Esther when they adopted her, and now

Urbanette: I read the National Geographic piece that you were featured in and was surprised to find that passing off average sized pigs as “mini-pigs” is actually common and almost always ends badly with the pigs then being euthanized or sent into crowded shelters. What made you so committed to raising Esther despite her size?

Steve: It was a combination of a quite a few things. First of all, she wasn’t a potbellied pig, so the chances of a regular shelter even considering taking her in were slim to none. Shelters are overflowing because people expect a tiny pig that forever fits in a purse, like those designer dogs that are all the rage in Hollywood. When it doesn’t happen, the pig suffers as the human drops them off at a shelter, or worse, sends them to become part of the food industry. Esther was even harder because she was hundreds of pounds larger than a potbellied pig, so who would adopt her as a house pet? Pigs also have been known to become very attached to their families, and can suffer terrible depression or even death after having been abandoned by their owners. She didn’t ask to get as big as she did, so how could we blame her and make her suffer for it?

Urbanette: Can you explain the reality of what life would have been like for Esther in a factory farm?

Steve: Esther was born to be a “breeding sow”, which ultimately means she would’ve been a baby factory. She would likely have spent upwards of 3 years confined to a “gestation crate” and artificially inseminated to produce as many litters as possible (typically 2 litters per year) before she became spent, at which time she would go to slaughter. Gestation crates are basically metal cages 6.6′ x 2′, where the pigs have just enough space to sand up and lay down, but not enough to walk or even turn around. It was this thought that resonated with us the most, imagining Esther spending three years in a metal prison was, and still is, heartbreaking. She would likely be nearing the end of her time had she not come to live with us, it’s a scary and very upsetting thought.

How One Pig Convinced Thousands to go Vegan

Steve and Derek Jenkins, and Family, at the Happily Ever Esther Sanctuary

Urbanette: Wow, and beyond just accepting Esther, you’ve really uprooted everything to accommodate her, raising funds and creating her very own sanctuary – ‘Happily Ever Esther’. How were you able to stay motivated to become so successful with the phenomenon that is Esther?

Steve: It’s hard not be motivated when we look at her every day. Our motivation lies in what Esther’s life could’ve been if she hadn’t made it out. Getting to know Esther elevated pigs in our mind from these mindless food items, to unbelievably complex and amazing animals. We had spent our whole lives loving dogs, cats, dolphins, anything cute and furry, all the while eating pigs, cows, and chickens, because “that’s just the way it goes.” Derek and I always considered ourselves animal lovers, and once we got to know Esther, we started imagining her in a factory farm, then we’d imagine our dogs in the same scenario, and we weren’t okay with it anymore. Nobody told us we needed to change, Esther showed us. That’s a very important point and that’s what we try to convey online.

Urbanette: She has definitely become a social media star and vegan advocate just by being herself! What is it about her everyday pictures that inspires so many people?

Steve: I think it’s the fact that people can see an animal you wouldn’t expect to see in the situations we are able to show her in. She’s the size of a Smart Car but she lounges on our couch, or in her own kiddie pool. The general circumstances are interesting enough to get attention, but it’s the underlying story that I think really hits home. Yes, she’s funny, and cute, and smart, but if she’s all of those things, what about all of the other pigs? She elevates pigs from the barnyard food item most people associate them with, to a member of a family, with friends, and things she enjoys. She has a character, and a personality, and most importantly a face. We help people understand that she has feelings, and people all of a sudden make the connection just like we did. We call it “The Esther Effect” and it’s like a light bulb going off.

How One Pig Convinced Thousands to go Vegan

Urbanette: Finally, what has Esther’s impact been on the vegan movement?

Steve: We’d like to think she has opened people’s eyes to the idea of changing their lifestyle. Some people, us included, had a wall built around the word “vegan”. It scared us, and we used to think it was a very harsh and judgemental movement. We try to introduce people to the idea by using the term “Esther Approved,” to make it more approachable, and to start a conversation. Nobody told us to go vegan, we did it because we got to know Esther and she made us want to change. We have so many alternatives now, why wouldn’t we do something that helps our health, helps the animals, and helps the environment? It just seemed like the obvious choice, and we have a pig to thank for helping us realize it.

Urbanette: Thank you for bringing Esther into our lives and for sharing your journey!

Check out Esther on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

After obtaining her Honors B.A. and postgraduate journalism degree, Pegah has written and researched for a variety of magazines and newspapers, with celebrities, fashion and travel being her topics of choice. Now settled in Toronto, she has lived in many corners of the world, including the U.S., Switzerland, and Japan. In her spare time, she divides her love unevenly between her poodle, chocolates and shopping.

48 Comments

  1. Kimberley Foulkes

    What a heartwarming story <3 I think this pig is really luky. It really touchedmy heart! 🙂

  2. Melissa Princeton

    Very very cute, and the luckiest pig on earth, thank thank you for opening our hearts with this story!

    • Pegah

      You’re welcome, the story of Esther deserves to be told!

  3. Molly Twain

    So beautiful! I alway wanted pet pig living with me ❤

  4. Evelyn Sandler

    Bravo! Animals enrich everyone’s life – Thanks for sharing!

  5. Kim Hartford

    Awww. Bless them for saving her. I gave up all pork products in 2014 and I don’t ever want to go back. Pigs are smart, wonderful animals.

    • Pegah

      Pigs are really smart! They have roughly the same intelligence as a 3 year-old.

  6. Jennifer McSween

    We share over 98% DNA with pigs and can put their organs into our bodies, so how can we justify the cruel subjugation of mass pig production!!? GO VEGAN!

  7. Diana Hewitt

    Beautiful article. I always had a soft spot for pigs. 🙂

  8. Roberta Bennett

    Pigs are way much more smarter than Mmost pets. Me and my husband have a pig as well, we love him so much he is our baby piggy!

  9. Amanda Roberts

    VERY Lucky pig. 🙂 i love it!

  10. Emma Blackwood

    Wonderful story, proud of them for going vegan!! Esther, the racoon, cat and dogs are very fortunate to have KIND humans around them.

  11. Leslie Williams

    Thanks for the feel good story and good luck to the boys and Esther. 🙂

  12. Leslie Williams

    This interview brought tears to my eyes! Thank you for being a voice for all animals…local and abroad. I look forward to reading more of your posts! 🙂

    • Pegah

      Thanks! It’s definitely an emotional story and I’m thrilled Steve could express it so well.

  13. Sibel Jenkinson

    We need more news like this in such a dark world.

    • Pegah

      I completely agree. They took a difficult situation and turned it into something amazing.

  14. Delilah Peyton

    Absolutely beautiful story. Wonderful people! Lucky and deserving animal companions!! Thank you for this great article!!

  15. Camila Hilhorst

    OMG, Esther is absolutely adorable! Great article too. 🙂

  16. Olivia Peterson

    Thank you so much for sharing her amazing story with us!

  17. Sydney Nowak

    I love the pic of her laying on the bed with a big grin on her face. What a cutie!

  18. Anna Kaplan

    Awww, this pig look so cute! Love her. 🙂

  19. Julia MacLean

    I quit eating pork when I realized pigs are the only other animal that wags it’s tail in happiness when you come home. Get rid of the cloven hoof and put paws on them and no one would eat them again.

  20. Franny Pimms

    I could live without eating pig ever again. Pics and footage like this makes me not ever wanting to eat MEAT. You just look into their eyes and realize there is so much more than meets the human eye. They are not just animals.
    What a happy & harmonious household!! Love all their and just liked the Facebook Page too. Very, very cute! Esther is probably THE happiest Pig in the World!
    I wish every animal was treated with so much love & dignity!

  21. Monica CONOVER

    She is so amazing. I wish I had a pet pig! 🙂 Go vegan <3

  22. Colleen Frasier

    Great article! Love that pic of you and Rocky! 🙂

  23. Lena Dzeko

    I read on Daily Mail that now Esther the Wonder Pig is the size of a polar bear…

    • Pegah

      Steve mentioned she is the size of their sofa!

  24. Kaitlyn Barrett

    I follow Esther the Pig on Twitter. 🙂

  25. Heather Strobel

    No animal wants to be caged and harvested. I was also thinking of getting a teacup pig. I’ve read somewhere that they really like to dig. We have a back garden and i’m thinking of making it as a living space for the pig because i don’t want to tie the it. I’m just worried if they will make more of a nuisance to our neighbors than to me.

    • Wendy Boissevain

      Make sure you check out your city’s bylaws first of all and see if they are even allowed. Pigs root, they don’t dig. If you’re already thinking of leaving the pig alone outside because you don’t want to be tied to “it”, don’t do it. They are a someone, not a something.

      • Heather Strobel

        Thank for reminding!
        oh i’m sorry i just noticed it now, i was going to say: i don’t want to tie them. i didn’t said that i will leave the pig outside ( did i said it?) our back garden will become the pig’s playground and please don’t over react because i know that they are also a living creature. i prefer dealing with them and be with them than with people because they have a much better attitude and animals are better than a lot of humans.

  26. Cornelia Green

    very interesting article! thanks for writing it.
    It is true that “An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.” Pigs are friendly and social by nature. I admire them for being a great parent for Esther and inspiring other people. it’s also changing the life of animals.

  27. Jenny Garett

    She’s so sweet and so cute too! i really love when pigs laugh. They simply beckon us to become personally involve with their personality and appearance. I’m still completely skeptical of making pigs as a pet, but i wouldn’t mind keeping one. Adopting to a vegan diet is not a diet but a lifestyle. I realized that they(animals) have feelings and emotions, they feel afraid, hungry and unhappy like we do.

  28. Hazel Collins

    Awesome read! There are people who keep pigs in their homes quite successfully like Esther. It may not be everyone’s choice of household pet but they really do make wonderful pets. Tea cup pigs are also good because they don’t grow very big at all. Better not to worry for those who have chosen to keep pigs as their pet because they are easily trainable, you can even train pigs to poo in one place i.e. using a cat litter tray. Results from experiments says that pigs are the 5th most intelligent animals in the world.

    • maggie

      There is no such thing as a teacup pig. That’s what this whole article was about. Please do your research before posting wrong information.

      • Hazel Collins

        i did checked if teacups do exist and found out that they don’t exist, sorry about that.

  29. Aw! I just love Esther! Thanks, Urbanette for sharing her story! This is really inspiring!

  30. Gabrielle Williams

    I could live without eating bacon and pictures, interviews like this motivate me more on this belief! There is really MORE that meets the human eye just by looking at them. I wish to have MORE Steve who would treat animals with respect and dignity and who would treat them as family 🙂

  31. Esther Earl Harris

    We (esther’s) are really good with socializing and we are also persuasive!kidding (haha). I showed Esther to my son Carl and he asked me if he can have a pig as a pet too, i said i will think about it first. I think keeping pigs as pets can be fun and they will become a wonderful pet. Keeping pigs as pets is both enjoyable and entertaining, they said. Her story is so cute! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  32. Okay, Esther’s story is not really new to me but this interview still got me intrigued. I checked on Esther The Wonder Pig Facebook account and I found very cute videos and photos! I am supporting their cause! I’m really delighted that Esther found a “HOME.”

  33. Hannah Mayers

    I guess it’s high time that we create positive changes. We really need to start on giving these animals the happiness, respect and dignity they deserve.

  34. Sarah Uibel

    Such a heartwarming story! I need to reassess my own eating habits. Stories like these make it very hard for me to justify a non-vegan diet. I’ve cut red-meat out entirely. Looks like I have more work to do. Thanks for the nudge Urbanette! xx

  35. I have read a story on “Esther” somewhere but your article still left a hook in my heart. This is a detailed story of this “magical” pig. Esther’s cute factor and Steve’s earnestness are a winning combination. Viva Esther 😉

  36. Ashley Moore

    yes!! why not make them a pet and part of a family, I’ve read some articles online saying pigs are smarter that other animals. wow! it is so rare to find people who raise pigs and make them as a pet. this also reminds me of the movie babe. I really adore Esther’s picture specially the first one(sleeping Esther). I’m also happy that she belongs to a loving pet owner and home.

  37. WOW! “Esther magic” just hit me! And yeah, Esther (all animals for that matter) has feelings that should be respected and cared for! Thanks, Urbanette for a very encouraging piece!

  38. Very cute story 🙂 I did not read the feature on National Geographic so thanks for sharing Esther’s story!

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