The distraught owners of an ailing, world-famous pig are petitioning the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to waive its cross-border quarantine rules so they can seek medical help in the United States.
"Esther the Wonder Pig" is a 650-pound swine who captured the hearts of owners Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, and has millions of social media followers across the globe. They shared her story online and in a book, which rocketed her to superstardom.
Now, almost 100,000 people have signed a change.org petition asking the government to waive its three-week quarantine period for livestock transported across the border— as the pig's owners worry that she will be treated like food, not a pet.
Esther vaulted to international fame back in 2014 when her owners thought they were buying a micro pig, which then grew into a behemoth of a pet.
Esther's followers were disturbed to learn that last weekend, she had some sort of medical episode, which Jenkins thinks might have been a seizure.
'She truly is a member of our family, and should be treated as such.'
- Steve Jenkins
"Her whole body was convulsing, she had a hard time breathing," Jenkins told CBC News. "We're not able to figure out what's wrong."
The Campbellville, Ont. residents rushed her to the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, hoping for a diagnosis. Esther has received excellent care, Jenkins said, but pinpointing just what happened hasn't been possible.
What she really needs is a CT scan, he said, but Esther is too big to fit inside most diagnostic equipment.
Her owners are hoping to bring her to Cornell University Veterinary Hospital in Ithaca, NY — but that would require her to undergo a three-week quarantine with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) upon her return to Canada.
Jenkins says that's not an option for him.
"We're just not willing to do that, for so many reasons," he said. "These guys are in the business of processing pigs, not protecting them."
"She's not just a pig, she's a member of our family."
CFIA spokesperson Maria Kubacki said in an email that the organization is "working closely with Esther's owners and the University of Guelph to find a suitable solution."
"As an organization dedicated to animal health, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency sympathizes with Esther's owners and animal lovers," she said. "We want to make sure that Esther and pigs across Canada are healthy and stay healthy.
"That's why we have import controls: to prevent animal diseases from entering and spreading in Canada, and to avoid unwanted economic and health consequences for the tens of thousands of swine across Canada and the people who depend on them."
For the moment, Esther appears to be stable. In the meantime, Jenkins says they'll keep working on a solution to get her treatment.
"She truly is a member of our family, and should be treated as such."