A spunky dog named Phil is the constant companion and protector of his BFF, the world-famous Esther the Wonder Pig. Together with their extended human and animal family, the two of them are bringing cheer to millions as they promote compassion for all animals.
First Came Esther
It was in 2012 that a friend asked Steve Jenkins if he and his life partner, Derek Walter, would be interested in taking in a “mini pig.” They couldn’t resist the tiny pink charmer and agreed.
It turned out that Esther was NOT a “mini,” she was a full-sized American Yorkshire pig—the kind of pig, according to her Facebook page, “commonly used in cross-breeding and intensive pig farming around the world.” It didn’t take long for her to grow to a whopping 600 pounds.
Esther continued growing in the digital world, too, transforming into the social media dynamo, “Esther the Wonder Pig.” In 2014, with a crowdfunding campaign by Esther’s followers around the world, Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary was founded in Ontario, Canada. Now, Esther and her non-human siblings help the dads rescue and rehabilitate abandoned and abused farmed animals. The Sanctuary is home to a variety of animals including chickens, ducks, peacocks, goats, sheep, rabbits, a horse, and a donkey.
Despite her size, Esther lives in Jenkins’ and Walter’s house with some surprising siblings—including her dog brother, who the dads affectionately know as “four home Phil.”
Cupcakes are just muffins that followed their dreams – Esther
Then Along Came Phil
In 2018, Esther was mourning the loss of her two dog siblings when the dads got a message on Esther’s Facebook page, asking if they’d be interested in adopting Phil, a 7-month-old bundle of energy.
“The current owners were having a heck of a time dealing with Phil’s separation anxiety and thought that the farm might be a good place for Phil to thrive,” said dad Steve Jenkins. “We had lost both of our elderly dogs (Shelby and Reuben) six days apart just three weeks earlier, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.”
Because Jenkins and Walter were at home all day, they knew they could provide Phil with the companionship he craved, along with the stability of a loving home with lots of property for him to burn off his crazy puppy energy.
“And of course, we took one look at his face, and that was it, we were in love,” said Jenkins.
“We jokingly called him ‘four home Phil’ when we got him, so it’s no wonder he had separation anxiety,” Jenkins said of the Boxer, Beagle, and Staffordshire Terrier mix. “Poor little guy kept getting abandoned over and over. And he just had so much love to give, for some folks who don’t understand separation anxiety, it can be very difficult to deal with.”
The Meet Cute
When Phil arrived at HEEFS, he was nervous and sad. Jenkins provided the following translation.
“Here I was, going to yet another home, when all I wanted was people to love me forever,” Phil said. “But my new dads immediately took me for a walk around the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary, and all the new smells made me giddy with excitement! And then I saw all of the residents, and I knew if I stayed here, I would have a lot of friends.”
Esther did not like Phil at first.
“Here was this wiggling fool, who wouldn’t calm down at all, kept stealing my toys, and performing running fly-bys all around my mattress,” said Esther. “A girl needs her beauty sleep you know, and Phil was cutting into my nap time. Plus, I had just lost my best friend Shelby dog, who was like a surrogate mother to me, so I wasn’t quite ready for another pup on my mattress. “
But Phil was thrilled.
“I was so excited to see this giant pink ‘dog’!” said Phil. “I immediately ran up to her, wanting to give her a hug and a kiss, like I do with everyone I meet, but Esther wanted none of that and she growled at me and told me to keep my distance.”
Over time, Jenkins said, a beautiful friendship began to develop between Esther and Phil.
“Esther was still grieving the loss of our beautiful Shelby, who had been her constant companion, and then in bounded Phil, who was no calming presence like Shelby had been,” he said. “He was a non-stop ball of energy, so we closely supervised them for the first couple of months. But Phil kept trying to kiss Esther, and cuddle with her on her mattress, and I think his persistence won her over.”
Now the two of them are inseparable, and if he’s not glued to one of the dads, he is by Esther’s side.
The Family Bond Deepens
Jenkins said it took over a year for Phil to find relief from his separation anxiety.
“(He) went into panic mode if Derek and I even walked into the yard without him, and although he could still see us, he would go into a frenzy and beat on the sliding glass doors so hard, he actually vibrated them open,” Jenkins said. “Next thing we knew he would come flying out to be with us. It took months of constant reassurance, cuddles and lots and lots of hugs, to teach him that he was ‘home,’ safe, loved, and would never be left again.“
Phil tries to include his BIG sister in his adventures.
“Sometimes I will steal her ball, but she in turn often steals stuffed toys from me and holds them in her mouth to spite me, but eventually Esther tires of the game, because she likes to sleep, a lot!” Phil explained. “So, she will give it back to me, and then have a nap. And I will happily snuggle up beside her, she’s like sleeping with a giant hot water bottle.”
Phil and Esther are now best friends, and he’s very protective of her and the house, especially if dads aren’t inside.
A Turkey Comes Home to Roost
Esther and Phil are also roommates with a turkey named Cornelius who arrived at HEEFS from a small family farm when his people could no longer care for him. Within a few weeks of his arrival, he started to wander up to the house and roost on the porch.
Jenkins said “Corno” would fight the sanctuary staff who tried to take him back to the barn at night, and once let out of his stall in the morning, back up to the house he trotted.
“One day it was raining, and he was staring so forlornly at me through the glass doors, I felt bad for him and let him in,” said Jenkins. “That was it, he became a house turkey and I got to work sewing him up some diapers. Turkeys are very indiscriminate poopers.”
Corno has adopted dad Jenkins as his one true love and is never far from his side, but when he’s unable to follow Jenkins, he will remain with Esther and Phil, acting as their personal bodyguard.
“Corno lays beside (Esther’s) mattress every single night, and sometimes will get on the bed with her,” said Phil. “He doesn’t like it when she’s not in the house. In fact, when Esther spent six months in hospital two summers ago, Cornelius visibly pined for her and spent every minute on her mattress until she came home.”
Naturally, Happily Ever Esther
Now, Esther, Phil, the dads, and all the animals of the sanctuary are living ambassadors who promote compassion for all animals.
Jenkins said he and Walter encourage people to think a little bit harder about what it means to never give up on an animal.
“Esther pushed us to our limits on many occasions, but we knew we couldn’t live with ourselves if we gave up on her,” he said. “We had fallen in love with the most unlikely companion, and we had made a commitment to her when we brought her into our family. Too many times people discard a pet as it’s the easier thing to do.“
Jenkins said visitors to Esther’s social media may experience “The Esther Effect,” where folks become smitten with Esther’s smile, and delight in her relationship with the dads, and with Phil, Cornelius, and kitty sister, Delores.
“We receive countless messages telling us how Esther has changed their lives, whether it was giving up pork and turkey products, being able to cope with tragedies and illnesses, or how she is always able to bring a smile to their face even on the darkest of days.”
Jenkins said Esther has become a “happy place” for a lot of people.
“The messages are incredibly overwhelming and often put us into tears they are so heartfelt,” he said. “We have been given this amazing privilege and opportunity and it is not one which we take lightly.”
“There’s something really special about pigs, if you ever get the chance to meet one you must take it, to look deep into their eyes is magical and will change you forever.”