Esther the Wonder Pig inspires fundraiser for large animal CT scanner

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TORONTO — At six years old and 650 pounds, Canadian social media sensation Esther the Wonder Pig is living comfortably on a sanctuary in Campbellville, Ont., where she likes to take a dip in her kiddie pool to cool off in the summer.

But she does have a back issue that emerged last fall and hasn’t been diagnosed.

The problem? There hasn’t been a CT scanner big enough in Canada to fit her — until now.

Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, who write about their “pig-daughter” experiences in their new memoir “Happily Ever Esther,” have hit their US$508,000 fundraising goal to buy Canada’s first large animal CT scanner for the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College.

Jenkins says the Italian-made Pegaso machine from Epica Medical Innovations is the largest of its kind in the world and can fit a horse.

The scanner has been delivered to the college, which has to pay about $500,000 to renovate a room to accommodate it and get special permits, says Jenkins. He hopes it will be installed in the next couple of weeks so they can get Esther in there.

Jenkins and Walter also raised US$60,000 more than their goal and plan to put that into a fund to help other sanctuaries and rescue organizations pay for the cost of using the scanner in an emergency situation.

They’ve also negotiated a discount on the cost of using the scanner for any charity or large animal rescue or rehabilitation organization.

“OVC is one of the best vet schools in the world and it was shocking to us that they didn’t have the equipment to diagnose her — when you think of the amount of horses that they work on or that they are the go-to hospital for the Toronto Zoo, who has a countless number of large animals,” Jenkins said in a recent phone interview.

“So then of course we started to question: ‘Where do these guys go? What does the zoo do with their animals? What do these racehorse owners do with their horses that are injured?’

“And the answers we found were incredibly disheartening — they do nothing. The option usually is euthanasia, because those are money-making animals, they’re not family members, per se.

“Well, Esther is a family member and not knowing what was going on just wasn’t good enough for us.”

With over 1.3 million Facebook followers, Esther has attracted fans including actor Alan Cumming, who wrote the foreword for “Happily Ever Esther.” He has also visited Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary, as has comedy star Ricky Gervais.

“Happily Ever Esther,” the followup to “Esther the Wonder Pig,” explains how a friend of Jenkins’ contacted him in 2012 about adopting a so-called micro piglet. Esther was only five pounds at the time but, to their surprise, grew to be a full-sized commercial pig.

Jenkins and Walter eventually left their jobs and moved with Esther from their small home in Georgetown, Ont., to their current farm that houses more than 60 animals.

Readers learn about their struggles to learn the ins and outs of farm life, how Esther went through a “bratty” teen phase, and the challenges of being public figures and running a sanctuary.

The book, co-written by Caprice Crane, includes “Esther approved” vegan recipes.

“We left our jobs and threw ourselves into something that we didn’t have a clue about,” Jenkins said.

“We had a lot of really interesting and fun experiences, but it changed a lot about our personal life and friends and families.”

Tour groups are allowed on the property a few times a year but Jenkins noted it’s not a petting zoo and visitors are only allowed to see the animals from the other side of the fence.

“We’ve had people come from halfway around the world just because they wanted to see Esther and unfortunately she didn’t want to go outside that day — and that’s just the way it goes. We will not force her outside to see people,” he said.

“Now, that said, 99.9 times out of 100 it’s like Esther knows that it’s tour day and she knows when there’s a group of people that come by the backyard.

“So she comes out, poses for a couple of pictures, goes for a swim in her pool and sits there for a few minutes for more pictures and then she gets up and goes back inside. It’s really hilarious.”

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

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