THE BLOG
01/28/2016 03:52 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2017

Heroism and the Snowzilla Pig

Jeremy Maude via Getty Images

"Heroic."

That's what the Washington Post called the Smith family of Maryland's actions during the blizzard that pounded the East Coast this past weekend.

The blizzard of 2016 may have rendered our capital a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but for the Smiths, the landscape wasn't totally lifeless. Driving through the gale-force winds in Maryland, the Smiths pulled over, heeding their son's call that there was something amiss on the side of the road.

And indeed, amidst a sea of pure white snow they found a pink, shivering piglet -- battered and bruised -- in the process of freezing to death. How he got there is anyone's guess, but the Post's declaration of heroism stems from what the compassionate family did next: They brought the piglet inside and stayed up all night to keep him warm and tend to his abrasions.

Everyone likes a happy ending, so let me assure you that this little piggy, now named Wee Wee, isn't going to the market. Rather, despite his suffering, he hit the porcine jackpot and will spend his life at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary.

The Post is right: The empathy and compassion showed by the Smith family when confronted with this suffering creature are indeed heroic. Yet Wee Wee's story raises some pretty uncomfortable questions about the plight of pigs just like Wee Wee.

Chances are that Wee Wee fell off a truck transporting him and his siblings to live in cramped, filthy factory farms where they never step foot outside. He likely came from a mother who remains at this very moment locked inside a gestation crate for her entire life, unable even to turn around.

In nearly all of the pork industry, these complex, social and highly intelligent animals are deprived of feeling the sun on their back and the grass beneath their feet. Their first breath of fresh air is the day they're loaded onto a truck bound for slaughter.

While we should all be overjoyed by Wee Wee's escape, we must ask ourselves: Are we able also to spare a thought for the millions of his hooved brethren who are still languishing on the factory farms that produce virtually all of our pork?

Studies show that people have a great capacity for cognitive dissonance, which in this case demonstrates how people can simultaneously dislike hurting animals yet eat them daily. People often instinctively do the right thing when an individual animal is directly in front of us, yet we just as easily look the other way when vast numbers of pigs are systematically abused in horrible ways.

The good news is that more and more Americans are overcoming this dissonance by choosing to help pigs just like Wee Wee every time they sit down to eat. People are increasingly practicing the "Three Rs" of eating: "reducing" or "replacing" consumption of animal products, and "refining" our diets by switching to products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.

Perhaps we'd all be better off visiting rescued farm animals like Wee Wee at a sanctuary when spring arrives. Assuredly they can teach us a lesson in compassion. In the meantime, we may not all be called upon to act as heroically as the Smiths did in the midst of the historic blizzard. But we can each be a hero for animals in our own lives -- three times a day.