Photo Credit: Farm Sanctuary/Facebook
Instead of sending his pig to slaughter like everyone else, Bruno Barba made sure his pig would get a new home. The 16-year-old high school student purchased the pig named Lola through the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program at Fullerton Union High School in Fullerton, California.
Little did he realize how quickly their close bond will develop.
The school’s FFA program has a farm lot that’s attached to the school, and students are encouraged to purchase animals who are then housed on the FFA campus.
Like 4-H programs, FFA students are responsible for all aspects of animal care, from feeding and cleaning to learning to walk with their animals. They then take them to the Orange County Fair – just before their hand-raised animal is sent off to slaughter.
But for Bruno and Lola, a different, happier ending seemed to be destined.
For this pair, it was love at first sight. The young pig quickly took to Bruno and would eagerly grunt when he came to visit her each day. “She was like my best friend,” the boy said.
As their friendship progressed, Bruno’s feelings quickly began to change. “She’s just made a huge impact on me by making me realize that they’re just like us. They have the same feelings as anyone else and they don’t deserve to get slaughtered.”
Bruno added, “There was this one time where I was just feeling really sad about all the rest of the animals and I started crying, and she noticed I was crying,” Bruno said. “She was inside this little play area. I was sitting down on the ground. She came toward me. I started petting her and she just flopped on the ground so I could pet her belly.”
Most children in the program choose to hire a butcher to kill their pigs, and the butcher will come right to campus to do it. The pigs are killed on the lot right next to the high school — and in clear view of any student who happens to be passing nearby. Bruno said it doesn’t seem to phase the other students, but when he witnessed it, it was “heartbreaking.”
As their relationship deepened, Bruno became more and more depressed about the fates of Lola and the other pigs. He was also unnerved by what he believed to be the indifference of the other students, explaining, “I think it’s pretty sad because they don’t care — they really don’t care about it. I was just there, horrified of the experience.”
Instead of allowing Lola to experience a rather horrific fate, Bruno reached out to Farm Sanctuary.
“Sometimes they don’t make the connection that they need to not purchase pigs in FFA anymore,” Alicia Pell, national placement coordinator for Farm Sanctuary said. “They think, ‘Oh, I’ll just raise another animal in FFA next year and find a sanctuary again’ … That just perpetuates the cycle.”
But Bruno was different, Pell said, so Farm Sanctuary jumped in to help. Last week, Bruno and his mom joined Lola and the Farm Sanctuary volunteers on the pig’s six-hour journey to her new home at the rescue’s Orland, California location.
Bruno said that he realizes he’s lucky that he could help Lola escape, and that he also realized, animals are just like us. He and his mother decided to go vegan as a result, while Lola is now living happily in her new home with lots of grass and mud while endearing the caretakers.
“She loves the caretakers, she loves belly rubs – she’s incredibly sweet and friendly,” Pell said.