NEW YORK — Winston escaped death to find a piglet’s paradise.
The little piggy found wandering this summer along a bustling Queens boulevard is among hundreds of animals — including cows, sheep, goats and chickens — that apparently managed to flee in recent years from New York City’s growing number of urban slaughter markets.
Escaping to the streets amid honking cars and busy pedestrians comes with a beautiful reward for those lucky enough to survive: a trip to an animal sanctuary in the wide open spaces north of the city where they can live out their days without fear of becoming someone’s dinner.
“None of them come to us friendly,” says Susie Coston, director of the Farm Sanctuary, which has taken in more than 500 farm animals from the city in the last decade. “They know what blood smells like and they’re very scared and high-strung, running to get away.”
The case of Winston, so named by newspaper readers who followed his fate, is hardly unusual. The little porker had apparently been on the lam for days in an area with many storefront slaughterhouses before he was caught by city animal-control officers. They turned him over to the sanctuary, and his home now is a five-hour drive and a world away, on a 175-acre farm in Watkins Glen, where he is free to frolic.
“Winston is doing magnificently well,” Coston says, adding that he “spends his nights rooting in the dirt and mud and spinning and playing with his best friend Ruby, a piglet who recently fell off a transport truck.”
Other residents there include Maxine, a cow caught in Queens six years ago after a police chase. An ear tag indicated she was headed for slaughter, as were a lamb found hoofing it through the South Bronx and a goat rescued from a busy Brooklyn intersection.
More than 100 chickens were on the loose at various times in the last year alone, along with 27 ducks, three goats and a pig, according to the city’s animal control agency. Officials say escaped animals are sometimes claimed by the slaughterhouses or urban farms from which they fled, but that is rare.
New York City is home to nearly 90 storefront slaughter markets, a number that has nearly doubled in the last two decades because of an influx of immigrants accustomed to cooking with freshly butchered meats.
Reading signs and prices often written in Arabic, Hebrew or Spanish, customers typically choose their dinner from birds fluttering in cages or goats and sheep staring from pens. In separate spaces, animals are slaughtered and eviscerated at lightning-fast speed following the halal Islamic practice or kosher Jewish tradition.
“Halal to me means more than just the slaughter; it starts on the farm, and we make sure animals are properly fed and cared for,” says Imran Uddin, owner of the Madani Halal live market in Queens’ Ozone Park neighborhood. As he speaks, a young goat pokes its nose through a chain-link fence and playfully nibbles at his shirt.
A retail menu scribbled on a blackboard one day included a young roasting chicken at $1.65 a pound, pigeon — also called squab — for $8 apiece, and a water duck for $13.
None of Uddin’s animals has ever escaped, but he says some from live markets in the surrounding residential neighborhood have gotten away in the past.
New Yorkers who catch sight of an animal on the run call police or city officials who drive them to a temporary shelter where it’s cared for until it goes to one of about a half-dozen privately funded sanctuaries in the state.
“We work very hard to get the animals placed, to get them the care where they can live out their life,” says Richard Gentles, spokesman for Animal Care & Control of NYC.