Out in Poolesville, at the end of a gravel road that winds through 400 acres of farmland, there are some very hot residents of the Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, where pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, turkeys and geese live out their retirements in serenity after suffering neglect or abandonment or beatings.
There’s Heidi, a Jersey cow who outwitted a farmer and took off on slaughterhouse day. There’s Dexter, a thoroughbred gelding dumped on the property two years ago, frail and coated with bug bites. And then there’s Roxanne, a 10-month-old pig whose owner got too old to take of her.
Roxanne was apparently so hot on Saturday morning — as the temperature spiked toward record levels — that she took leave from the pig yard, wandered over to a nearby pond and waddled in for a swim, confusing a gaggle of ducks who swam over to investigate the situation.
“She looked like a big ‘ol hippo in there,” Terry Cummings said, her face drenched in sweat. (Watch a video of Roxanne swimming.)
We were standing and watching pigs roll around in the mud, underneath a cool mist spray that Terry and her husband Dave Hoerauf set up to cool off their not-so-little friends. They founded the sanctuary in 1987. They were living on the farm, in a little white house dating to
1736, happy to have a cattle pasture essentially in their front yard, when one day a truck came to pick up their neighbors for a ride to the slaughterhouse.
“It occurred to me that my next hamburger could be one of my friends,” she said.
They became vegetarians and started the sanctuary, eventually taking over the 400 acres after the land owner donated it to them. With a small staff and volunteers, they take care of 200 animals on a budget of $350,000 funded totally by donations from private citizens. Their mission: spoil the animals, treat them as family. On Thanksgiving, they have dinner with their turkeys.
“We try to give our animals a nice life,” Terry said.
And during this heat wave, that means running huge fans in the pig barn, pumping water into the mist machine, and filling big bowls with cool water for turkey foot baths. As I watched Terry round up Tilly the turkey and deposit her feet into the bath, it occurred to me that Terry was one of those people who made it impossible to measure yourself against: You can never be so good.
But sometimes, at some temperatures, no amount of pampering will do. At lunchtime, the Bethesda Co-Op dropped off left over baguettes for the pigs. This would normally be a time of great enthusiasm for the 800-pound snugly wonders resting in the barn beneath some cool fans, but when Dave and Terry called “piggies, here piggies, c’mon piggies” their ears went up but their bodies did not.
They called again, “C’mon piggies. Piggies!”
After a couple minutes, a few pigs found the energy and courage to face the heat, shuffling and grunting outside to the feeding area. But as one baguette after another was launched in, no feeding frenzy materialized. A few pigs nearby in the mud, basking in the cool mist, couldn’t even be bothered to look over.
“Not many takers today,” Dave said.
Terry stood at the fence watching.
“They are just so hot,” she said.