CENTRAL SAANICH -- Ingrid starts laughing the moment we meet, one of those wonderfully infectious laughs.

“Why are you laughing so much?” I ask.

“Because I’m happy about the pigs!” Ingrid beams. “You have to come see the pigs!”

Before she offered that exuberant invitation, Ingrid had been searching for someplace happy to counter the occasional loneliness of being stuck in an apartment during the pandemic.

“There are many [happy] places in town, the beaches, blah-blah-blah,” Ingrid says. “But the pigs are something else!”

Ingrid was first told about the pigs by her friend Hilde. Now they regularly travel along the Lochside regional trail to visit a trio of pigs who live alongside it.

“Their ears wiggle, their snout wiggles, they make you smile,” Hilde says. “To find something that makes you smile every time is delightful.”

When I finally meet them, I can’t help but smile too as they greet me with a gregarious snort and peer curiously into the camera lens.

Although the pigs are retired — with no obligation to breed or fear of being food — their owner says they still seem to work at inspiring smiles.

“They’re the best animals, I think, even better than a dog!” Frans says. He’s had pigs on his property for more than 50 years. “They come towards you, they like you, and they have personalities.”

The boy acts bossy, Frans says, but it’s the girl who’s actually the alpha. And then there’s the other female, who Fran’s daughter, Emily, calls, “the sassy one.”

“I give her a back-scratch and she’ll do a little dance,” Emily smiles.

I ask for a demonstration and Emily starts petting the pig. What ensues is a hoof-stomping, tail-twisting, full on booty-shake.

“Legend!” Emily laughs, as smiling people stop to watch. “The legend of Lochside!”

Hilde bends down to offer one of the pigs some lettuce from a nearby box of vegetables. They seem to exchange a meaningful look.

“They look at me and I think they see me,” Hilde smiles. “So I want to see them.”

The retired minister says these visits have inspired unexpected lessons in gratitude, empathy and acceptance.

“If I can look at a pig [being] a pig and enjoy what that is, then maybe I can look at other people who I don’t understand and say, ‘Be who you are and enjoy that too,’” Hilde smiles.

After experiencing the piggy positivity, I thank Ingrid for the invitation. By this time, the pigs have cuddled up together to nap. Their snouts snore gently as their mouth turn up broadly.

“They look like they’re smiling!” Ingrid laughs. Then I laugh too.

Even while dreaming, the pigs can inspire a joyful reality.