Maggie the pig was abandoned on an island in a river, then rescued after a flood. First, she nearly starved. Then, she nearly drowned. When Maggie arrived at Black Beauty Ranch in March 2023 at age 2, caregivers hoped to give her a life that would make up for all the suffering. But the pig, bred to be slaughtered by 6 months old, had the genes for fast growth, not long life. The rapid multiplication of her cells increased her risk for cancer. Her white skin offered no sun protection. Maggie developed skin cancer all over her body and secondary infections where the lesions broke her skin.

Maggie the pig investigates photographer before getting bathed
Maggie the pig.

Farm animal care manager Ashley Orr and her team did all they could to save Maggie. They trained her to come at the sound of a baby rattle to eat a pan of grain and diced fruit, so she’d stay still for medical treatments. Every two weeks over the course of seven months, they did 14 days of treatments—baths to clean her skin followed by painstaking applications of chemotherapy cream to eat away the cancer cells layer by layer. 

With older horses, the equine team provides medications as needed and supplements their diets with grains, hay, alfalfa and beet shreds. Geriatric horses are gently bathed with soapy water to wash away salt that accumulates and attracts flies. They are brushed while standing on a vibrating metal platform to improve their circulation.

Despite Maggie’s cancer, she gained weight thanks to the pans of nutritious treats. But the disease spread, and the team made the heartbreaking decision to euthanize her. “To admit defeat was really, really hard,” Orr says. “We’re fighting what people have made them to be, which is not a species that can survive in the real world.”

Maggie’s life was short, but she knew joy and comfort—and all the love Orr and her team could give.

“We’re here for these animals to live their best lives ever,” says Orr, however long or short those lives may be.

For each animal who comes to Black Beauty Ranch, rescued from misery or an early death, the challenge for staff is to give them a wonderful life in the days they have left, extending that time for as long as the animals are comfortable. The animals may live at the sanctuary for many years—such as 41-year-old Autumn the bison and 39-year-old Baby the tufted capuchin. Or the animals may quickly face life-threatening conditions. Caregivers may watch from a distance, as with the sanctuary’s wild animals, ready to medically intervene as necessary. Or, as with Maggie, teams may devote hours every day to providing residents months or even weeks of life.

In the case of neglected farm turkeys brought to the sanctuary by a sheriff, Orr’s team put the 2-year-old birds, bred to eat as much as possible, on a strict diet so they could lose enough weight to stand and walk—and maybe survive another year.

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Cover all All Animals Magazine Spring 2024 Issue