When Deirdre Sheehy pulled into Greensgrow, the urban farm in Kensington, on Tuesday, she knew something was immediately wrong when her companion, Milkshake, didn't come to greet her.
"He's one of the first people I talk to every morning," says Sheehy, head farmer at the spot at Cumberland and Gaul Streets. "He usually grunts and howls and is out there before all the rest, waiting to be fed, but on Tuesday, he was nowhere to be found."
Sheehy went straight to Milkshake's pen and found him lying in his little hut, vomit by his head, and showing signs that he was having trouble getting up. It was clear that the farm's pet pig — loved and known by many in the surrounding community — needed to be taken to the hospital.
"At first, it was like, 'How do we transfer a 250-pound pig that doesn't want to move and get him to where he needs to be?'" says Sheehy. "All of our mother instincts quickly kicked in, and we got to work pushing him up onto his feet."
After being nudged into a dog crate, Milkshake was transferred by way of a forklift into Sheehy's pickup truck and driven to Mount Laurel Animal Hospital. The vets ran a bunch of blood tests, all of which came back normal. Yet, head held low, Milkshake was clearly not doing so well.
"What I learned from the vets is that pigs have very sensitive gastrointestinal systems," recalls Sheehy, who notes that Milkshake's tummy troubles are suspected to be a result of something he ingested. "They eat a lot of different things, but if they come into contact with something they're not supposed to have, it can do a lot of damage."
The vets flushed his system, and advised that they'd need to keep him overnight. Sheehy went home, but then things took a turn for the worse.
"I ended up getting a phone call around 10 o'clock at night. They said he was still vomiting and would need to be transferred somewhere else," says Sheehy. "Mount Laurel Animal Hospital is a small animal hospital and Milkshake is obviously not a small animal. We knew we had to pull the funds together and make this happen, because he's a part of the family."
Sheehy hopped back in her pickup truck with Milkshake in tow, and set out on an hour-long track to PennVet's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, refraining from pressing pedal to the medal in fear that Milkshake might get cold.
Milkshake finally stabilized at the New Bolton Center of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, where he was released on Wednesday afternoon. Now back at home, he's slowly regaining his appetite, munching on Swiss chard, lettuce, beets, and other harvests from the farm. As he sleeps off the remainder of his illness, Greensgrow is asking for the community's help.
The final receipts for Milkshake's hospital care are not yet in, but the bill for the overnight stay alone was quoted at $2,000. Sheehy created a GoFundMe account asking for help in paying for the veterinary care of the beloved neighborhood pig. It didn't take long for Milkshake's loyal following to show their support.
"Milkshake's become a symbol of the farm in ways I don't think we could've ever predicted," says Greensgrow Farms' executive director Ryan Kuck. "We see kids that have changed the way they walk to school in the morning to come say hi to Milkshake, or adults who stop by every day on their way home from work to give him a visit. Milkshake just brings joy to people's lives."
Within just one day, the GoFundMe page has raised more than $3,700 toward a goal of $5,000. Nearly 130 people have contributed.