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Family rescues freezing piglet by the side of the highway in blizzard

The Smith family was right to think there was something out of place about a splash of pink they spied on the side of the highway in Hagerstown, Maryland, on Friday night.

"My son and I both kind of saw it at the same time," Perry Smith told TODAY.com, explaining how he and his family had been driving very slowly on their way to a hotel after a day of skiing at a local resort. "It was like this pink puffball type thing, and the color just didn’t quite match the snowbank."

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This family rescued a piglet from the snow and nursed it back to health

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This family rescued a piglet from the snow and nursed it back to health

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At first, Smith figured the strange silhouette belonged to either a raccoon or a possum. But with the knowledge that there was a snow plow not far behind them, the family decided to carefully back up and take a closer look.

"We knew that plow was gonna be an issue for whatever this thing was," he said.

That's when another Perry, Smith's 13-year-old son who shares his name, looked out this window and said simply, "It's a pig, Dad."

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"I thought, 'You’ve gotta be kidding me,'" laughed Smith. "How can that be true? But sure enough, it was a pig, so I told my son, 'Let’s pick this thing up and see what happens.'"

Unfortunately, the as-yet-unnamed piglet was shivering uncontrollably and the trail in the snow behind it led the Smiths to believe it had been walking for some time — maybe 75 snowy yards. There didn't seem to be a question in any of their minds about what to do next.

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"It was simply the right thing to do. It was a family decision," said Smith. "My son and daughter said it at the same time: 'We have to keep it.' Of course we had to keep it."

With Catherine, Smith's daughter, offering a sweatshirt to wrap up the cold critter, and the younger Perry helping to brush snow off his back, the piglet found himself safe and swaddled in the backseat of the car.

The question remained: Where to?

"We didn't know where it came from and we were in the middle of nowhere. We put out a call to a local humane society and didn’t hear anything back right away. And we didn’t see any indication of a police station," said Smith. "So we decided we'd just have to get back to the hotel."

But while the pig eventually became lovingly known as Wee Wee, a name with some sweet family history, the hotel that housed the pig shall remain unnamed. "There was a strict no-animals policy, so ... I'm going to have to state that this was an undisclosed location," laughed Smith.

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Realizing that they couldn't just walk past the lobby desk with a pig, Smith and his wife drove around the side of the hotel where they entered using an emergency exit. "I looked up and saw there was a camera mounted on the wall," said Smith. "But there was no going back now."

After safely smuggling Wee Wee into the room, the Smiths took turns wrapping the pig in some warm towels, volunteering to sleep in the bathtub with the pig to make sure he was OK, and Googling things like "Do pigs react poorly to cold?" and "Can pigs catch pneumonia?"

Of course, now the Smiths were stuck in a hotel with a pig. "It was very surreal all of a sudden," remembered Smith. "At that point, there was no discussion of us going skiing. We were snowbound in a hotel room because the highways had shut down."

The next morning, the Smiths woke up and tried giving the pig food based on their Google searches and the feedback they'd received from posting photos of the pig on Facebook.

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"We tried some milk with yogurt, but he wanted no part of that at all. Finally, when he stopped shivering and started drinking water, we tried a banana. He loved that banana, so we thought, OK, let's give him more of those."

At that point, the Smith family had a tough decision to make: What would they do with Wee Wee when the snow stopped coming down?

"I explained to the kids that building an enclosure in the backyard wasn't really a realistic idea," said Smith. "He was going to grow to be around 700 pounds, after all. And he should be around other pigs."

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So they began the process of looking for animal sanctuaries to take him in. That decision turned out to be a simple one: Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Maryland promised a life of happiness for Wee Wee, along with 50 other pig friends and no chance of ever being slaughtered.

"They had a great reputation in our area, too, according to reviews," said Smith.

Still, because of the blizzard, there was no way to get Wee Wee out to the sanctuary. The Smiths would have to live with their little puffball a few more days, which, luckily for the Internet, resulted in a few more adorable photos of Wee Wee running around their family home.

"I think that what should really be taken from this story is something my kids understood in an instant," said Smith. "We didn't really weigh it out one way or another when we saw him walking out there in the cold. It was just the necessary thing to do at the time, and it was a no-brainer."

He added, "It’s the type of thing that you realize should be done, and that’s all we’ve ever tried to articulate to our kids: Do the right thing — you'll know what it is when that happens."

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