Not long ago, this little piggy was on his way to market.
The piglet's snipped tail and the number tattooed on his ear were the markings of an animal that had lived its short life on an industrial farm, raised to be slaughtered.
Instead, Wee Wee the piglet, rescued by a family from the side of the road in the middle of the weekend's blizzard, arrived at the equivalent of animal heaven: a sanctuary run by vegans.
The two-week-old piglet is set to live the rest of its life at Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland, which takes in abandoned and neglected farm animals. At Poplar Springs, where even the geese get names, Wee Wee eventually will join other pigs who spend their days lounging in a heated, red-roofed barn on beds of soft hay.
That's where the Smith family, who has cared for the piglet, said a tearful goodbye.
"You're going to be fine, piggy," father Perry Smith said, giving Wee Wee one last head scratch goodbye. "You're going to be a good boy."
The piglet's unlikely journey started on the side of a road near Hagerstown, Md., where the Smith family spotted him as they headed home from a day of skiing. It was snowing hard and visibility was limited, but 13-year-old Perry Smith spotted something moving up the hillside off the road, "a little lump in the snow, a pink lump in the snow."
The piglet likely fell off a transport truck, said Terry Cummings, co-director of the animal sanctuary.
The family stopped the car and Perry Smith, the father, pulled the tiny pig from the snow, wrapping it in his daughter's sweatshirt. Smith believes the piglet, squealing wildly and encrusted in ice, was mere hours from death from hypothermia.
They took the animal in, hand-feeding it rice cereal and bananas while cradling it to keep it warm in their hotel room. Perry, 13, spent half the first night in the bathtub with the piglet, cradling it to keep it warm. He and his sister Catherine, 12, took turns feeding and cuddling with the baby pig, which they named "Wee Wee" after their uncle's childhood imaginary friend.
Catherine entertained thoughts of keeping Wee Wee as a pet, envisioning the family building an outdoor shelter for him.
Smith, the co-founder and former co-owner of a District of Columbia restaurant group, said there were other suggestions for Wee Wee's fate. His chef friends hinted, perhaps facetiously, that Wee Wee would taste pretty good. But there was no chance Wee Wee was making it to the dinner table, Smith said.
The Smiths were realistic and knew they could not keep a pig as a pet because it's illegal in their suburban community. And the realities of raising a piglet -- Wee Wee is clingy, noisy, had an upset stomach and is a surprisingly squeamish eater -- started to set in once they returned home. Perry Smith, the father, was forced to sleep on the couch with the piglet Tuesday night when it would not rest.
But even so, their attachment grew. Wee Wee became a part of the family, seemed to recognize his name and entertained a parade of visiting neighborhood children.
Catherine held the snoozing piglet on her lap during the long drive to Poolesville, wrapping it in her sweatshirt.
"You get to go meet some buddies," Catherine whispered to the piglet as they pulled up to the sanctuary.
Once at the sanctuary, Wee Wee was taken down a snow-covered trail to the small stand-alone building that serves as the sanctuary's medical center. There, Wee Wee dug into a deep bowl of pig chow and sniffed around curiously.
"I'm going to miss him," Catherine said, breaking down into tears. Wee Wee was home.