Story written by Judy Allen | Photography by Lara Agnew
Although I’ve come to meet him, Stewart doesn’t budge from his spot next to the wood stove. With his nose sticking out from under the blankets he’s wrapped in, he accepts a few scratches, then shifts his ample weight to allow me to rub his belly. A few minutes later, he is asking to be let up on the couch.
Stewart is Aska Langman’s pet house pig. At the time of my visit to Aska’s property west of Victor, Stewart’s large family included two dogs, six cats, three horses, three goats, nine chickens, and three other pigs. All, like Stewart, are rescued, and all benefit from the sanctuary of Aska’s Animals, her home business and lifestyle. Aska’s calm demeanor sets the tone at the farmstead, as she orchestrates the care, behavior, and interactions of the tumult of critters.“The count never stays the same,” Aska says. “It’s chaos at any given moment. Someone’s always arguing territory. Everyone has a bit of a story and is a bit of a character.”
Aska’s name has become synonymous with animal advocacy in Teton Valley. Since moving from Burlington, Vermont, in 2011, she has worked with the Teton ValleyCommunity Animal Shelter, been a vet tech for Victor Veterinary Hospital, and served a stint as executive director of Wyoming Untrapped. She continues to do feral cat trapping for PAWS of Jackson Hole and, through Jackson’s AnimalAdoption Center, participates in spay and neuter clinics on the Wind RiverIndian Reservation. She also fosters dogs for the Western Border Collie Rescue and bottle feeds thirty or more foster kittens each year.Such devotion begs the question: Why animals? As a child, Aska explains, she brought snails, hamsters, kittens, and bunnies into her family’s New York City home. “My parents never discouraged the random picking up of animals,” she recalls. “I’ve always had creatures.” She went on to earn a B.S. in animal science from the University ofVermont. “Animals are way easier than people,” she says. “Even complicated animals—there’s usually a reason they’re the way they are.”
Aska’s sensitivity to animals has led to her speaking up for their circumstances. Take pot-bellied pigs, for example. In addition to Stewart, Aska cares for Mr. Hamilton, Rupert, and Doogie, who all reside on a king-sized mattress in her huge barn and who Aska describes as “lifers.” Pot-bellied pigs can live for twenty years, she says.Because they’re pack animals, they establish a pecking order, so if you have only one, that single pig can get aggressive and challenge the resident human.Owners can tire of this popular pet when they realize these realities. “People think it’s one cute YouTube video after another,” Aska says with a sigh.
With her growing reputation in the valley, Aska finds that the public follows her animals’ stories. Bullet the dog is an infamous resident (see the Vimeo video of the same name), as was Wilbur the blind pig. Stewart is “a good ambassador,” Aska says. Kids stop by to bottle feed the kittens, or people come over after hearing she has a pig you can pet. She even discovers cats dropped off in her driveway.With the population burgeoning at times up to eighty animals, Aska and her husband, Will Haywood, agree some limits are in order. There’s the five-species rule, but Aska points out that Will has never specified a number for each species (except dogs).Astute readers will notice the animal list on page 29 actually includes six species. That’s because the horses are “grandfathered,” Aska explains. She’s had all three since she was a child and moved them here from New York. Then there’s the two-dog rule, where Aska and Will rotate in a new dog only when they lose one of their own. The exception here is the senior dog policy, where they rescue a senior canine and provide it with a dignified ending. “We do the best we can while they’re here,” Aska says.
Last June, Aska and Will welcomed a new species and a new individual, this time a human one. “Baby Leo seems to just be one of the animals, with another mouth to feed and poop to scoop,” Aska says. Taking not a moment to slow down, she fostered kittens before, during, and after Leo’s birth.In addition to mothering all species on-site, applying for nonprofit status for Aska’s Animals is on her winter to-do list. She looks forward to the future, when Leo can be another hand to help. With love and quiet compassion, Aska plans to continue todo whatever it takes to care for and nurture the fortunate critters who find their way into her realm.