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A Love Connection Thanks to the Farm Animals

It’s not often you hear a love story where the matchmaker moos.

Ryan Phillips and his wife Mallory with cows, Annie and Jenna
Credit: Courtesy Life with Pigs Farm Ani

You know it’s a match when the bride and groom agree on an all-animal wedding party. 

It all began in 2011, when Ryan Phillips switched to a vegan lifestyle to improve his health and developed a passion for ending the suffering of animals farmed as food. Then a family asked if he could take in a breeder pig, and he couldn’t say no, despite living on the second floor of a Williamsburg, Virginia, condo with a no-pets policy. Within a few years, Ryan was caring for pigs Pumpkin, Charlotte and Millie; Tesla the rabbit; Emmie the Yorkie; and Beatrice the chicken—all in the condo.

Fast forward to October 2018, when Ryan bought land 10 minutes down the road and established Life With Pigs Farm Animal Sanctuary. He saved his first dairy cow the following month. She had a twin brother, and a heifer with a bull twin will most likely be infertile and unable to produce milk. The farmer had marked her to be killed, but his daughter begged him to let Ryan pick her up. Her dad agreed. Ryan named the three-day-old calf Jenna in honor of the farmer’s daughter and called his sanctuary friends for advice on keeping this scrawny but determined calf alive.

   Jenna asking to play

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 miles west, in Arizona, another animal-lover named Mallory had been following Ryan’s journey on social media. She loved seeing photos of Ryan snuggling with Jenna. It was clear that this cow considered Ryan, who slept in the barn with her during her tentative early days, to be her dad. In 2019, Ryan posted about wanting to save a local cow from abuse, and Mallory jumped in to help. She spent weeks coordinating the rescue with Ryan by phone. Eventually, Mallory flew east to meet the animals at Life With Pigs—and, of course, Ryan, whom she quickly fell for.

With her human-like behavior and goofy nature—sticking her giant head in every window until someone came out to play, for example—Jenna charmed Mallory further. Soon Mallory, who’d lived in Arizona her entire life, decided to stay in Virginia with Ryan and his growing animal sanctuary for good.

“I had a crush on a guy I saw on the internet hugging his cow,” she says on the Life With Pigs website. “I never imagined I’d end up spending my life with him.”

Ryan popped the question in the cow barn, with Jenna nudging his leg to remind him to get down on one knee. The couple traded cow rings in a farm ceremony as “best cow” Jenna and “cow of honor” Maisie led a wedding party of three dogs, three pigs and a gaggle of chickens and turkeys. “Jenna played such an important part in our meeting that we agreed she had to be front and center,” Ryan says.

Though she adores Mallory, Jenna still demands attention from her dad. “She’ll put her two horns on my waist and push her head up against me while I hug her neck,” says Ryan. “She can tell when you’re sad and will rub against you. The pigs will too. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is all animals have their own personalities, and they all know how to give and receive love.”

These days, Ryan and Mallory are busy caring for the 25 animals at Life With Pigs as they continue their mission of educating the public on animal agriculture. Their newest family member is Annie, a blind cow, who relies on Jenna for support. We’re sure Jenna’s up for the job—as long as Ryan is close by.

For more inspiring animal stories, subscribe to All God’s Creatures magazine.

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