For more than 20 years, Allison Argo has worked on the front lines fighting for the just treatment of endangered and abused animals. She has produced, directed, written, and often narrated films, broadcast by PBS and National Geographic, reaching audiences worldwide.
THE LAST PIG, releasing next Spring, continues Argo’s mission to speak out for those without a voice. This thought provoking documentary chronicles the journey of Bob Comis who gave up humane pig farming to focus on growing vegetables and his transformation into a vegan advocate. During the year Argo spent filming at Comis’ upstate farm, she gained valuable insight into the lives of pigs. They not only had unique personalities, but also exhibited behavior similar to humans, including strong social bonds and demonstrating empathy.
Here, Argo shares the lessons she learned and hopes you, too, can experience the delight of being in the presence of these special beings, even if it’s by watching them on the screen.
- Pigs are individuals: Even in a herd of 30, each is completely unique. It didn’t take long before I was able to tell each of them apart. No two pigs are physically alike – all have clear markings (if you learn to read them), a droopy ear or an especially curly tail. Their personalities are also clearly distinct. Some are shy, while others are insatiably curious. My favorite pig was the runt of the youngest herd. She had no idea she was a small pig. She was a born leader—a big, little pig. She also loved to explore things with her mouth, which is why we named her “Niblet.” I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for this big little pig.
- Pigs stick together: There’s a remarkable cohesion within the herd. While each pig is clearly unique and individual, there’s a collective identity. Like a flock of birds, if a noise startles a single pig, the herd suddenly becomes one. Together, they run for safety.
- The “Pig Pile” is for real: We’ve all heard of (or participated in) a pig pile. But now I know where the expression comes from. When pigs rest or sleep, they’re always touching – even if it’s just a foot or a snout. Some pigs even spoon. It’s another expression of their strong social bonds. Bob explained early on: If a pig is alone when it’s sleeping, it’s probably sick.”
- Pigs aren’t dirty: When given enough space and the option, pigs always choose to do their business away from where they sleep. And pigs don’t sweat, so it’s water that cools them off. They love a good wallow, just like elephants. Pigs also have sensitive skin and get sunburned. For pigs and elephants, mud is the perfect sunscreen and bug repellent.
- Pigs remember: We spent one week each month on the farm. Each time we arrived, I couldn’t wait to hike up the hill to see the pigs. They have poor eyesight, but as soon as they heard my voice and caught my scent…bang, there was instant recognition. I think they were saying, “Hah! It’s those crazy people again—let the fun begin!”
- Pigs like people: In fact they liked us so much, it was hard to keep a distance to film them. Wherever Joe and I moved, they would follow. They wanted to sniff and taste us and all of our gear—or just to be close to us while they rooted around in the earth. I spent much of my time trying to lure them away from the camera, so Joe could shoot (every moment of which I totally enjoyed 🙂 ).
- Pigs are smart: Niblet learned her name in a matter of days. It didn’t take training or food rewards. She just heard the word a few times in context and figured out it was her name. Studies have shown that pigs are smarter than 3 year-old human children (of course, it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges).
- Pigs show empathy: When one pig in the herd was injured, we witnessed unmistakable concern from her herd mates. Bob tried to help the hurt pig, and when she protested, her herd mates rallied around to make sure she wasn’t being harmed.
- Pigs just wanna have fun: On a gorgeous, cool autumn day, we went to film the herd living in the woods. I have rarely, if ever, seen such joy and abandon – absolute revelry. They were absolutely celebratory, running and frolicking, tossing sticks into the air and chasing each other. My face hurt from smiling. I wanted to join in!
- Pigs have a soft spot: Once I gained their trust (which didn’t take long), I discovered a deliciously soft spot. Their ears are thick and quite tough, but just behind them is the softest, warmest spot you can imagine. During our winter shoots, I would burrow my frozen fingers in this sweet spot. They didn’t seem to mind :).
- Pigs have beautiful, soulful eyes: I could look into a pig’s eyes forever. They’re deep and soulful. Thoughtful. To some other species (like some primates) a direct stare is considered a threat—but not to pigs. They’re comfortable holding your gaze… until they get sleepy and their lids drift down.
- Pigs are trusting: Once they got to know us, the pigs would follow us anywhere. It was relatively easy for Bob to load them onto the trailer. They liked Bob. He was kind to them and tended to their every need. This made the slaughterhouse all the more inhumane (even though it was a “humane” slaughter house). The betrayal of this trust was soul-crushing. I understand on a very deep level why Bob could no longer live with that life and chose to uproot it.
Argo hopes the THE LAST PIG sheds light on humane farming and repairs the disconnect between people and what is on their plates. Filming is in final production and Argo has begun fundraising efforts in collaboration with Farm Sanctuary.
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