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Rising from the ashes

  • Ora the pig stands in straw

    Rising from the ashes

    Ora the pig defies the odds and recovers from near-fatal burns suffered in a barn fire

    Ora, a 9-month-old Idaho Pasture Pig, recovers at home after receiving treatment for burns she suffered in a barn fire. Photo courtesy of Keya Cook.

Ora Marie, a 9-month-old Idaho Pasture Pig, shares a lot in common with her namesake. Her big personality and heart immediately reminded her owner, Keya Cook, of her late grandmother Ora Marie, who had similar traits and coincidentally, a love for pigs. 

Cook also credits that spunk for getting Ora through a traumatic event that would leave the little pig fighting for her life. 

Ora resides on a hobby farm Cook and her husband started in 2020. Cook intended the then-8-week-old piglet to live inside her home, but Ora had other plans. She made it clear she wanted to live among the other pigs, goats, and fowl that call the farm home. 

Ora, 8 months old at the time, sleeps under a blanket.
Photo courtesy of Keya Cook.

As time went on, Ora turned out to be a clever pig. One morning while Cook fed the chickens, Ora began smacking her lips as if she wanted food. Cook gave her some feed, which she took a bite of and then began running around in circles to coax Cook into following her. Ora led her straight to the goat pen. 

“She wanted me to feed the goats,” Cook says. “I thought, no way. That did not just happen, but she did it again with her pig friends the next week. Apparently, Ora is an altruistic pig.”

In hindsight, it’s a characteristic Cook is incredibly grateful for. On a cold morning in February 2021, Cook had gone outside to check on a set of piglets. In her haste to bring a chilled runt inside her home, she forgot to fully latch the pen’s gate. After she exited the barn, Cook thinks one of the animals pushed the gate open and knocked over a heat lamp. 

After managing to warm the piglet, Cook looked out the window and saw smoke. The lamp had ignited a fire that was now devouring the barn. Racing outside, Cook tried to open the doors but the vacuum created by the flames kept them stuck shut. She rammed her car through the door and began calling for Ora. 

Lorelei (front) sleeps next to Ora during her treatment
at the College of Veterinary Medicine Large Animal
Hospital. 
Photo courtesy of Keya Cook. 

“The pigs and goats were in the back section of the barn,” Cook explains. “They were trapped behind a cattle panel, and Ora was the only one strong enough to get past it—which is exactly what she did. I’ll never forget it. She came flying out of the barn like a bullet, with smoke curling off of her back.”

Ora and her pen mate, Lorelei, escaped the fire, but Ora didn’t stop running once they were out of the barn. With the help of firefighters, Cook tracked down the panicked pig and rushed her to the Univesity of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center, receiving treatment at its Large Animal Hospital. 

Ora’s diagnosis was serious. Burns covered 90 percent of her body, and she also suffered heat damage to her feet and airway, according to Dr. Zoe Inglis, a large animal internal medicine resident who oversaw Ora’s care with assistance from Drs. Alex Bianco and Anna Firshman

“Ora was able to stand and walk but was incredibly uncomfortable and there was effectively no skin that hadn’t been burned,” Inglis says. “Initial bloodwork showed such severe inflammation that her bone marrow was kicking out the most immature of white blood cells to meet the demand on her body due to how badly she was affected by the fire.” 

Over the next two weeks, Ora remained at the Large Animal Hospital for treatment and recovery. Treatment of burns in pigs is rare, so Inglis and others consulted with clinicians across the UMN College of Veterinary Medicine and doctors that treat human patients on how to manage Ora’s pain. 

Ora's skin continues to heal after sustaining
burns in a February barn fire.
Photo courtesy of Keya Cook. 

“Ora was just so vibrant and strong throughout some levels of pain that might have made other animals completely give up,” Inglis says. “Plus, the fact that she was injured in the process of saving another animal just made it so hard to accept giving up at any point.” 

Throughout Ora’s treatment, Cook says she received frequent updates from Inglis that highlighted her continued progress. They were a bright spot for Cook in the time after the fire, which claimed the lives of the goats. Over time, Ora’s condition improved and the day came for her to return to the farm, much to Cook’s delight. She is incredibly grateful for the level of care Ora received at the Large Animal Hospital. 

“Dr. Inglis didn’t know what Ora’s outcome was going to be but when she saw the fight in Ora, she and the care team went for it,” Cook says. “Because of their quick action and dedicated care, Ora is now home with me.”

 

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