Have you heard of Esther the Wonder Pig? Her story has taken the internet by storm. One pig grew into a worldwide sensation and successful animal sanctuary story. And it all happened when one couple adopted a micro-pig.
When Steve and Derek took in a tiny, malnourished pig, they thought that she would behave similarly to their two dogs. They were so wrong. The two would end up changing their entire lives for their pet. The story of Esther the pig has brought many people to tears.
The Ultimate Animal Lovers
In August 2012, Steve Jenkins and his husband, Derek Walter, lived in their three-bedroom house in Ontario, Canada. The two worked from home; Steve worked as a real estate agent and played bagpipes in his free time, and Derek was a professional magician.
The couple didn’t live alone in their ranch-style home. They also owned three cats, two dogs, two turtles, and a koi pond in their backyard. Nobody in the area loved animals more than Derek and Steve.
Bonding Over A Mutual Love
Both men have loved animals all their lives. Derek grew up with cats, dogs, and a rabbit because “it seemed like a magic show wasn’t complete without a rabbit.” Steve also had plenty of pets and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian.
The two met at Montana’s Cookhouse Restaurant. Derek performed magic there while Steve was a waiter. They bonded quickly through their mutual love of animals. But could they surpass the challenge that awaited them?
Would They Adopt Another Pet?
While browsing Facebook, Steve saw an acquaintance post an adoption opportunity. She said that she had a five-pound micro-pig that she could no longer take care of after having twins. Steve’s first reaction was, “Yes, of course, I’m interested, I love animals.”
Steve figured that the micro-pig would act as a third dog. The poster said that the tiny pig wouldn’t grow bigger than 70 pounds. While Steve adored saving animals, the situation did come with risks.
The Risks Of Adoption
Adopting a micro-pig came with some risks. For one, owning hooved animals was illegal in their small community of Georgetown. Second, Steve had to pick up the pig that day. He didn’t even have time to tell Derek.
“It was one of those things where it seemed easier to beg for forgiveness than ask permission,” Steve said in a later interview. Despite the downsides, Steve decided to pick up the pig and give her a happy home.
Bringing The Sow Home
Steve’s acquaintance delivered the micro-pig in a laundry basket, wrapped in a blanket. The sow was only 12 inches long from tail to snout. She seemed slightly malnourished but was still energetic.
As expected, Derek wasn’t happy when Steve returned home with a surprise pig. But after getting to know the snuggly piglet, his opinion would change. “Anybody that has a bleeding heart loves baby animals,” Steve said. “You can’t help but fall in love.”
Meet Esther The Pig
The dads named their piglet Esther for its sweet, old-fashioned sound. At first, the micro-pig looked slightly underfed, with sunburned ears and a tight collar. But she soon became active, playing with the other pets and even using a litter box.
The only off-putting aspect was how much Esther ate. She regularly ate a pound a day. Steve and Derek would give her pig food supplemented with tomatoes and cucumbers. When they ran low, Esther ate whatever they were eating.
Something Seemed Very Off
As much as Derek and Steve loved their pig, they launched into a “nightmarish” eight months. The two noticed that her tail was clipped. They also saw scars that indicated that she was spayed. Was she truly a micro-pig, or a commercial pig?
“It was speculation, at first,” Derek later said. The dads began charting Esther’s growth. Before they knew it, she grew to 60 pounds, and she was still only a couple of months old.
The Mystery Behind Esther, Solved
Eventually, the pair decided to confirm Esther’s size. They took her to the vet, who also noticed her clipped tail. The vet said that no breeder would cut a pig’s tail. “He told me, ‘I’m pretty sure you’re dealing with a commercial pig here,” Steve recalled.
Still, her dads kept up hope that Esther was simply a big micro-pig. That is until she grew to 250 pounds. By that time, Esther had already stolen their hearts.
Could They Care For A Giant Pig?
Since Esther was actually a full-sized pig, Derek and Steve had to change their plans. Could they afford to care for a 250-pound pig? Could they supply enough food and exercise space? By the time they received the news, both men had already fallen in love with the pig.
Steve and Derek realized that if they hadn’t adopted Esther, she would have been slaughtered and eaten. This understanding impacted the couple, and they both stopped eating bacon.
An Enormous Bundle Of Energy
From the start, Esther displayed a level of energy that even the owners’ dogs didn’t have. In an interview, Steve said that Esther would chase a ball around the living room and dining room. “She’d get everything out of that ball, whereas the dogs would get bored of it,” he detailed.
The couple also noticed Esther’s cleverness. Even though she was young, she mastered a peanut butter-filled treat ball. Her dog brothers, Shelby and Reuben, couldn’t keep up.
Pigs Are Smarter Than Dogs
Steve described Esther as “super clever.” “We’d see an intelligence in her we didn’t even see in our dogs,” he explained. The piglet quickly learned how to open the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets using her snout. When the men weren’t looking, Esther would quietly steal food.
Derek and Steve trained their pig to go to the bathroom outside. Whenever she did, they gave her a cookie. Esther quickly caught on, and she would fake a squatting stance just to get the cookie.
Changing How They Saw Farm Animals
Steve said that before he met Esther, he split animals into two categories: the warm, cuddly animals that we love, and the farm animals. After he bonded with Esther, he could no longer ignore the welfare of farm animals.
“[Esther] made us think, ‘They’re not really that different at all,'” Steve said in an interview. “They’re only different because we see them differently.” Steve and Derek agreed that Esther’s intelligent changed their view of commercial farm animals.
But Their Pet Was Growing Too Big
Esther grew faster than either of her owners expected. Within three months, she weighed 70 pounds–the amount that her former owner said would be her maximum. By the first year, she skyrocketed to 250 pounds.
Derek and Steve read online that she would grow more during her second year. At first, the men laid a cat bed for Esther in the living room. They soon upgraded her bed to a kiddie pool. Within months, even that wasn’t large enough.
Would They Have To Give Her Up?
Caring for a full-grown pig was harder than Steve and Derek expected. At one point, they considered sending her elsewhere. They tried contacting Esther’s previous owner, but she never replied to their messages.
The couple checked local sanctuaries, but all were at their full capacity. They refused to send her to a commercial farm. Esther kept growing–at 18 months old, she tipped the scale at 420 pounds. And the family loved her too much to let her go.
Becoming An Internet Star
While the owners worried about caring for Esther, the pig settled into their family. The dogs played with her as one of their own. She made them laugh frequently, and the men eventually decided to share their situation.
In December 2013, Steve and Derek made a Facebook page for Esther. In 80 days, the page received 10,000 likes. People loved Esther just as much as her owners did. By May 2014, the page garnered 250,000 followers.
But The Family Was In Legal Trouble…
With the rise in followers, Steve and Derek weren’t thrilled. They were worried. “We knew she was illegal,” Steve admitted. “We were flaunting the fact we were breaking the law. She was 450 pounds, and we splashed her all over social media.”
On top of that, the couple understood that they weren’t giving Esther her best life. They didn’t have the space for her food and the rest of their pets. But they couldn’t give her up, either.
That’s when Steve and Derek discovered a loophole. If they bought a farm, they could legally care for Esther and have enough space to foster future rescue animals. However, they didn’t have enough money to pull it off.
The two found a 50-acre farm around 40 minutes’ drive from their current home. However, the price was a hefty $1 million. They didn’t have enough money, but they did have hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers.
Will Animal Lovers Support Esther?
In 2014, Steve and Derek set up a crowdfunding site. They advertised the site on Esther’s Facebook page. They said that, in order to buy a suitable and legal home for Esther, they wanted to raise $400,000.
Within two months, they raised $440,000. Over 9,000 people from 44 countries donated, with the largest donation being $5,000. “It was so much bigger than anything we’d ever thought of,” Steve admitted. “It was a phenomenally overwhelming moment.”
Happily Ever Esther
In November 2014, less than a year after they established Esther’s Facebook page, Steve and Derek moved into their new sanctuary. They named it Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary in honor of their latest family member.
The couple consulted with animal experts to build the best environment for Esther and their other pets. They devoted the farm to abandoned farm animals in need of a home. All of this happened because of one “mini” pig.
Saving Animals Changed Their Lives
Soon after purchasing their farm, Steve and Derek adopted a cow, goats, horses, and a pregnant pig in addition to Esther. They upgraded their single social media account to ten accounts. Steve said that it all happened quickly and has been “the weirdest change of pace.”
Throughout their support of farm animals, Steve and Derek had become vegans. Derek’s family were composed of meat-eaters, and Steve doesn’t like most vegetables. But they still accomplished their new diet.
How One Farm Became A Business
Happily Ever Esther Farm survives entirely on donations. Nonetheless, the business grew to offer tours and sell Esther merchandise such as t-shirts and tote bags. The couple also hired three full-time staffers.
Then there are the volunteers. Every week, 40 regular volunteers help out on the sanctuary–some for a few hours, others for a full day. Several times a year, Steve and Derek open a “workday” for dozens of people to visit Esther and help the animals.
Leveling The Playing Field
Steve and Derek say that the purpose of their sanctuary is to connect people with farm animals. “We want to level the playing field between animals we see as companions vs. those we see as products,” Steve explains.
Although house pigs are becoming more common, Esther still surprises many people. According to Derek, a contractor once met Esther and was surprised that she didn’t smell. He said that the “stinking pig” stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth.
Why Do People Love The Farm?
Steve believes that people love Esther because she makes them smile. Her social media photos brighten peoples’ days. Steve adds that the farm has an upbeat, lively atmosphere that tour groups enjoy.
On their social media pages, Derek and Steve take down all comments from the “vegan police.” “We hid nasty comments,” Steve said. “We stick entirely to funny and relatable posts.” This way, Esther’s presence serves to keep people happy, not to spark controversy.
Steve And Derek Wouldn’t Advise Getting A Pig
Surprisingly, both Derek and Steve advise others not to bring a pig into their home. Raising a full-sized pig has been a headache for them, to put it simply. On top of that, their three-bedroom home didn’t provide enough space for Esther.
If you want a pig, Derek recommends adopting one through a local sanctuary. “You can adopt a pig by paying for its food and upkeep, and you can visit the pig at anytime,” he explained.
Esther, Still The Star Of The Show
Although the farm has turned into a business, Esther still receives plenty of attention. For a while, she kicked Derek out of the master bed and slept next to Steve. The couple had to move their bed upstairs and give Esther her own bed in the living room.
Esther owns trunks full of bonnets, coats, and evening gowns that she sports on her social media pages. As a house pig, she shares her space with two dogs, two cats, three rabbits, and several minnows.
Esther Hits The Books
In 2016, Steve and Derek wrote a book called Happily Ever Esther. In it, they detailed their journey with Esther growing from a five-pound piglet to a 650-pound pig. The sanctuary gained even more attention. The Dixie Chicks visited that year, and Ricky Gervais donated $25,00 from his comedy tours.
As for Esther, it seems like everything is going according to her plan. “It’s really funny because it’s almost like she knows,” Steve describes. “You’ll see it in her pictures; the eye contact she makes with the camera is mind-boggling.”
Keeping It Happy, Not Scary
When Derek performs magic, he focuses on comedy rather than shock value. He takes the same approach with Esther. Instead of promoting veganism through startling photos or long lectures, they introduce people to Esther the Wonder Pig.
Instead of labeling their recipes as vegan, they call them “Esther-approved.” Steve says that the word “vegan” has a heavy stigma, and they want to take that out of the equation. “We’re trying to start a conversation with people,” he clarified.
Helping Derek With Magic
Esther even wiggled her way into Derek’s magic show. It all started when Steve taught Esther to “sit.” After one try and a treat, she was able to repeat the action on command. Derek then decided to have her join him.
Derek said that during his magic training, he didn’t have to teach Esther tricks. She would walk next to him and sit on command. Adding Esther gave Derek’s routine a new level of joy.
Their Lives Now
Today, Steve and Derek’s jobs have taken a back seat. Steve still keeps up with real estate, and Derek performs magic on the weekend. But the bulk of their work goes to the farm and maintaining Esther’s social media. Derek and Steve respond to the comments personally.
Both men are surprised where they ended up. The two aim to keep the farm self-sustaining and promote veganism. Their career has become, as Derek put it, “bigger than us.”
The Esther Effect
Esther’s presence on the sanctuary and social media has changed thousands of peoples’ perspectives about farm animals. After seeing her, many people question the commercial farming system. Derek and Steve call this “the Esther Effect.”
“We’re promoting Esther because we want people to build a relationship with her,” said Steve, “and we hope that opens to the door and makes them start questioning everything else.” With millions of followers and hundreds of tourists each year, the Esther Effect keeps growing.