Unlikely companions

February 16, 2016

Josh Smith, Cofounder of Odd Man Inn with his wife Wendy, adopted Pig Newton from the Multnomah County Animal Shelter

Gomez stretches his neck and honks. It’s the loud continuous blare of an African Grey goose, the sound that once nearly got him killed. Now he honks to alert Bubble Gum, an aloof 7-foot-tall llama who aggressively guards a pack of goats against animal predators (but plays dead under threats of the human variety).

Today both charge the fence as visitors approach the Odd Man Inn. Cofounder Josh Smith scoops up Gomez with one arm and waves a car in; guests offer a welcome break from the feeding, grooming, stall-cleaning, home renovations and oil change that are on Smith’s to-do list today.

The commotion interests a turkey named Clarence, who approaches the strangers with a sideways glance of his one good eye. His red bald head turns blue, and he expands his feathers in a show of Napoleonic puffery.

Seemingly disinterested, an obese potbellied pig named Newton wanders nearby, alternatively chewing grass and burrowing his snout in the soft dirt. A deep gash on one cheek is healing. A tattered ear will be forever scarred.

A four-week-old lamb named Junebug totters after him.

The creatures make an unlikely pair except in this barnyard filled with animals who don’t stick to their own genera. Junebug hasn’t left Newton’s side since arriving at the nonprofit refuge nearly two weeks ago; they eat together, roam the 3.8-acre farm together, and curl up together at night.

“It’s easy to see this as a cute novelty,” said Josh Smith’s wife Wendy. “But sometimes in our society we’re really detached; we think of chickens as packaged in Saran wrap. People laugh that our animals have names. But they have names because they have personalities.”

Each has a story.

The story of Newton and Junebug begins on a dead-end street in Southeast Portland.

Taffy Burrell, a field officer at Multnomah County Animal Services, was dispatched Jan. 15 to a southeast Portland home squeezed between Interstate 205 and 82nd Avenue. It was a drizzly cool January night when the property owners called Animal Services about a stray pig that had come to pay a visit.

In the yard, Burrell spotted the family’s two pitbulls. The youngest of the dogs was trying to convince a very fat, very young, pig to play.

“I tried to leash the pig, I had done that before,” Burrell said. “This pig did not want to be leashed. I tried coming behind him and picking him up. But he ran away.”

She went back to her truck and rifled through her lunch for two sticks of cheddar cheese. The property owners grabbed a box of peanut butter crunch cereal. Those were lure enough to corral the pig into a kennel.

Animal Services staff named the potbellied pet Pig Newton and the clinic staff stitched up a long gash in Newton’s cheek. His ear had also been torn, likely the result of a dog attack. They made a note “OBESE” in his chart, took his photo and drafted a profile for the website.

“We post photos, reach out to farms or nonprofits that take specific animals, make a plea to the public,” said Randall Brown, the county’s animal health supervisor. “Our goal is to adopt every animal out to a good place, even something as simple as a chicken, we want to make sure they go to quality homes.”

Days passed, but no one came for Newton. Staff reached out to an animal sanctuary in Estacada, but they couldn’t take the creature. Then they called Patty Hill, founder of the Northwest Miniature Pig Association.

“It just makes me so sad,” she says. “You have backyard breeders telling folks these pigs will stay 35 pounds. Then they get too big. They get to the point where they’re not trained, they need vet care. They start tearing up the house then people just throw them outside.”

Pot-bellied “miniature” pigs bred for pets can grow to 200 pounds; that’s small only when compared to the farm hogs that can top 1,000 pounds.

“Pigs are very smart and they’re easy to train,” Hill said. “But you have to be on them all the time. It’s like having a 4-year-old child. For 18 years.”

Wendy and Josh Smith support the Odd Man Inn with wages Wendy earns as an emergency room nurse at Legacy Emanuel in Portland (and a part-time job teaching nursing). Her co-workers, in a combination of amusement and sincere support, send her adoption announcements of all sorts -- bunnies, a giant tortoise, even a porcupine.

Junebug the lamb attached himself to Pig Newton when he arrived at the Odd Man Inn

“Wendy, you need this,” a colleague wrote on Jan. 26, sharing a Multnomah County Animal Services Facebook post about the pig.

The Smiths drove to the shelter that night and took Pig Newton home.

“We instantly fell in love with him, Wendy said. “He blended right in with the dogs. He comes when he’s called. He stands by the door when he needs to go outside. Our intention was initially, that well, I guess he can live inside.”

Two days later a local feed store called. Someone had left a diaper box at the shop with a 3-week-old lamb inside. So Josh Smith drove to the store and brought the male lamb home too. They named him JuneBug.

“I took him inside the house and Pig Newton was there,” Josh said. “He went right over and that was it. When Pig Newton walked away, Junebug started bleating.”

“Babe, you’re not going to believe this,” Josh texted his wife Wendy.

Junebug followed Newton everywhere. And, because it was wet and cold, and because Junebug needed a bottle, Wendy made a bed for the pair in her walk-in closet.

Today Newton and Junebug burrow into the straw at night, under a heat lamp in the barn, where colored christmas lights hang from the rafters.

Nearby a potbellied pig named Bailey stretches out, half hidden in the hay, safely tucked under a set of stairs. Until Bailey came to the Inn last fall, she had lived her whole life outside, under a tarp, eating dog food. She had never had her hooves trimmed, so they curled painfully up like elf shoes.

During the day Newton and Junebug wander the grounds. They graze, sniff, laze in the yard. The geese are freed from their raised hut (complete with swimming pool, rain-catchment system and chandelier). The chickens leave their coop, which, like the goose house, is built with a hodgepodge of materials salvaged from the Portland Rebuilding Center. By midday, a pair of dangling heads of cauliflower have been pecked clean.

The birds take to the pasture.

Ruthy, Lexy and Mabel dine on a donated box of organic greens

There’s Crazy Mickey, the fastest chicken at the Inn, buzzing past with her 1980s punk hairdo; and Claudette, a Mille Fleur D’uccle Bantam who, at 10, is the oldest hen on the farm. Hazel the chicken came with Alabama the turkey. Alabama had saved Hazel from a possum attack, but not before Hazel lost her tail feathers. And Tiny the duck came with a fellow muscovy named Scrapper, who had saved them from a racoon.

Scrapper also went beak-to-nose with Meatloaf, the Smith’s rescue Bernese. Meatloaf had been returned to a shelter because he barked and walked too much. A trio of goats -- Ruthy, Lexy and Mabel -- try to convince the dog to play. Meanwhile Peaches, a wild 10-month-old llama, smothers strangers with affection, emitting soft noises like those from a muted clown nose.

Then there’s Roswell, a 100-pound lab who came so abused that he bit Wendy, Josh and two of their friends. He’s the reason the Smiths started the farm.

Wendy Smith works two jobs in Portland to fund the nonprofit, while Josh puts in long hours on the farm. He’s working on a marketing strategy to help offset the bills. Already a few farms and stores donate bruised produce. But he envisions a sponsored bike ride, karaoke night, even a pumpkin brandy with Clarence the turkey on its label.

Josh has had a lot of jobs; he sold timber, did construction, worked on a boat. Wendy served in the Air Force. They met at a halloween party, and bonded over roller derby. Today they laugh out loud at the turn their life has taken.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t know this kind of life existed. I didn’t even know to dream of this kind of life,” Wendy Smith says. “I love our life.”

One day Junebug will probably ween himself from Pig Newton. But not yet.

The sun breaks through on a rare dry February afternoon. The air is filled with the smell of wood smoke and the sound of Gomez honking. Some days he’s so insistent on being carried, Josh and Wendy struggle to get their farm work done.

Today he’s content supervising the movements of visitors. Nearby, Pig Newton leans into the trunk of a pine to scratch his flank. Junebug stands a few feet away, seemingly unsteady on his feet, waiting.

Then Newton noses out a soft dip in the warm dirt and flops onto his side. Junebug takes his cue. He totters over and curls into the soft warm of Newton’s pink underbelly.