BURRILLVILLE – Pot-bellied pig Opie had a fantastic fall season, but as colder weather began to move into northern Rhode Island, the wily boar on-the-run decided it was time to return home.
The pig, who escaped captivity in late August, went back to his pen last week following a three month adventure that left him fat and happy – and the small staff at Burrillville Animal Control fully exhausted.
“We’re glad it’s over,” Animal Control Officer Kerry Courtemanche told NRI NOW this week.
The hog’s long and wild journey reportedly began over the summer, after Courtemanche’s office alerted one Glendale resident that his home was not zoned for several farm animals found on the property. The homeowner was working to comply with town zoning laws, and on Monday, Aug. 21, he was loading the animals for transport to an out-of-town farm when Opie first broke free.
“His pen was secure, but once he got out of it, it was ‘game on,'” said Courtemanche.
“He got the other animals out, the way he was supposed to,” Burrillville Police Major Albert Carlow explained of Opie’s owner.
Following the escape, the pig chose a new home in the wild in the area surrounding Bella Restaurant on Route 102, including the nearby woods that led back to the property where he was once held captive.
“He would go back to his property, but he would not go back to his pen,” said Courtemanche.
In the initial weeks following the escape, Opie wasn’t the only errant pig in town. A second pig got loose in August when a family new to Burrillville tried to move that boar to his new home.
“it basically escaped the minute they took it out of the car. There was a period of time, it was both of them,” said the ACO, noting that other pig was captured by Deputy ACO Daniel DiBattista two weeks later.
Opie, meanwhile, remained evasive, and was making friends – and a mess – in the grass beside the popular Burriilville restaurant. The spot serves as a bus stop for students traveling out-of-town, and in addition to taking photos, local families began feeding Opie fall treats such as apples and pumpkins.
“They’d all sit there in the morning and watch him,” Courtemanche said.
When his friends weren’t available, it only took a little digging for Opie to access his other favorite foods, including acorns, grubs, roots and other vegetation.
Then, there were the many, many treats used by animal control as they tried to lure him back to captivity, such as donuts and bagels from the nearby Dunkin.
“We made multiple attempts to capture him,” Courtemanche said. “He had no shortage of food.”
And so, Opie grew – from a roughly 75-pound pig – to some 150 pounds.
“He got to be quite the good-sized pig,” said Carlow. “I’d say he was pushing 175 at the end.”
The slippery boar was now living his best life, and he didn’t let the weight slow him down.
Courtemanche said that for the first few weeks following Opie’s escape, attempts to capture him were like a full-time job. The two-person animal control staff changed up their regular schedule so they could work together in hopes to corner Opie. Soon, they got the SPCA involved to dart him with sedatives.
“He was darted multiple times,” she said.
Pigs, however, metabolize medications fast, and the drugs never slowed Opie down enough for animal control to catch up. But they certainly tried, chasing him through that forested area by the highway again and again.
“Dan, bless him, he’s a bull. It’s woods and brush, and Dan’s just crashing through it,” described Courtemanche. “We had no natural barriers to assist us.”
Next, veterinarians were called in to administer oral medications.
“We tried so many things,” said Courtemanche.
One time, DiBarista even managed to get a noose around Opie’s leg, but the pig still broke free.
“They’re smart,” said Courtemanche. “He didn’t want to be captured.”
While Courtemanche has maintained a sense of humor about the three-month ordeal – insert bacon puns here – she admits that for a while, the problem stopped being funny.
“Sometimes, we’d get ten calls a day,” she said of resident sightings. “He wasn’t hiding. The whole world saw him.”
One week, her office got notice that two more pigs had broken loose on South Main Street in Pascoag.
“It was the stuff of nightmares,” she said.
Fortunately, unlike Opie, that pair proved easy to catch.
Asked if she thinks the pig enjoyed eluding her, Courtemanche answers without hesitation.
“He was in his glory,” she said. “He could do whatever he wanted. He had a great fall.”
Carlow and Courtemanche note that to their knowledge, the smart hog never ventured onto the adjacent highway.
“He probably knows that area better than any hunter,” Courtemanche laughed.
Now, the local enforcement agencies have a message for town residents. Before you purchase any animal, check the zoning.
“That’s the biggest problem Kerry deals with,” said Carlow. “There’s rules in place for these reasons.”
“So many people are getting mini pigs,” said Courtemanche, noting that even miniature pigs can grow up to 150 pounds. “They are still livestock. They’re swine.”
“People really need to educate themselves before they consider getting them,” said Carlow. “Make sure you know how to care for and secure it, and make sure you can have it where you live.”
With the incident now behind her – and Opie secured at a farm out of town – Courtemanche can once again laugh about the adventure.
“The cold and the wind drove him to go back to his shelter,” she said. “One day last week, I’m imagining it was probably pretty cold and windy, he finally went ‘wee, wee, wee, all the way home.’ We’re hoping it was the silence of the hams.”