Where do your pigs come from, anyway?
When folks come out to visit the sanctuary, inevitably some of the first questions I hear are "where do you get your pigs?" and "how do pigs end up needing to be rescued?" These are honest questions. Most people can easily give you a list of reasons why cats and dogs end up in shelters and rescue organizations. But pigs? How do they end up in these situations, anyway?
Here are some typical reasons I've encountered why potbellied pigs end up with no home.
People are duped by breeders and false advertising.
Teacup "micro" pigs don't exist, and any breeder who tells you otherwise is just lying to make a sale. We've all seen memes and videos on social media with adorable little pigs running around someone's apartment with a pink bow around their necks, snuggling up with the puppy in a cozy blanket. Those pigs are NOT teacup pigs. They're BABY pigs. And those baby pigs will grow up to be big pigs. Unfortunately, by the time some pig owners realize the truth, they are totally desperate to surrender their pig. And finding a home is not easy, trust me.
For the record, a typical adult potbellied pig weighs anywhere from 80 to 180 pounds, sometimes even more. Just look at Bobby, a six-year-old adult male potbellied pig. He weighs approximately 160 pounds. He's a big boy, and he definitely doesn't belong (or want to be) in an apartment.
People can't control their pig's "destructive" behavior.
When people send me an email saying they need to find their pig a home because she's destroying their home and yard, I want to scream "but that's what pigs do!" Their natural behavior is to use their snouts to root around and forage in the dirt looking for food and things to chew. And they kill the plants and vegetation in the process. They seriously do this all day long. If you deny your pig a natural environment by putting her in your apartment, she's going to act out. And if you think she's going to respect your nicely landscaped backyard, think again. It'll look like the surface of Mars in no time.
Let me show you what I mean. Here's a glimpse of what pigs will do to your yard. That area in the foreground used to be lush woods with lots of vegetation. If you focus in on the trees, you'll see that most of them have died from the pigs chewing off the bark. They literally destroy everything in sight with their incessant biting, rooting, and foraging.
No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Pigs need to be outdoors, and they need a fairly large roaming area in the woods where they can do what they do instinctively.
Pigs can act out when they're lonely.
Another reason pigs can show undesirable or destructive behavior is boredom and loneliness. Just like people, pigs can get depressed when they lack meaningful relationships. Pigs are very intelligent, social animals with strong emotions. They form deep bonds with each other and thrive when they belong to a herd of pigs with a fully established social hierarchy. To be happy, pigs need companionship. Pigs should always live with other pigs.
Here's a typical scene of pigs enjoying each other's company here at Jenna and Friends.
People get pigs without having a stable living condition.
I hear it all the time. "My landlord won't let me keep my pig anymore." "We're moving, and our new place isn't set up for pigs." "My pig is getting too big for my apartment." I understand that circumstances can change unexpectedly, but so many of these situations can be avoided if people who are considering getting a pig can just spend time planning ahead and thinking about their living situation and how it might change. Pigs can live just as long as dogs, so you need to commit to at least 15 or 16 years.
People get pigs without having the required resources and funding.
Resources include the obvious things like food, straw, money for vet bills, and fencing, but they also include bigger things like transportation for sick pigs. How will you transport your pig to a vet in case of an emergency? Have you established a relationship with a mobile vet who can come out for vaccines and hoof trims? These are all important aspects to owning a potbellied pig.
Here is a typical pig enclosure that I have for newcomer pigs as they get to know other pigs through the fencing. Notice the sturdy house with metal roof, wire panels for fencing, and gates with chains. Also notice that the space is in a natural woods environment where they can root around in the dirt and feel the sunshine on their backs.
And here is that same little house with our latest rescues Randie Lou and Penny Lane relaxing inside. Notice the fresh straw and heat lamp for cold nights.
Take it from me. There's no shortage of pigs needing to be rescued. The calls and emails just keep coming. If you're considering getting a potbellied pig, please do your research, make a commitment, and please don't ever - under ANY circumstances - support a breeder. Instead, reach out to a respectable rescue organization and find out where you can find your new best friend. Make sure you have a stable environment with proper housing and fencing. Also make sure you're prepared for vet bills, including vaccines and hoof trims every two or three years. And if you can rescue two pigs, you are truly setting them up for happiness.
Chances are, if you're reading a blog post from an animal sanctuary, you just love a good rags-to-riches story. Well, I've got one for you, so settle in and let me tell you all about what went down this past weekend.
First, a little background...
A few weeks ago, I got an email about two sibling female pigs living in a bad situation in Jackson Springs, NC, about an hour and a half away from the sanctuary. I wasn't shocked. I mean, seriously, I've heard it all. But this struck me a little differently. These two pigs (one named "Pork" and the other one named "Chop") were enclosed in a dark pen in the back of a shed, living in urine-soaked mud. They had no access to sunlight, and their health was deteriorating at only three years of age. If we wanted them to survive, we had to do something.
The more I thought about these two pigs, the more my heart went out to them. And when I saw their photo, I knew the situation was critical.
As you can see, both of these pigs are overweight, but the one on the right is morbidly obsese. When pigs get this fat, they lose their mobility and even their eyesight. Yes, that's right. They lose their sight because the fat folds on their faces grow so large that they cover the eyes. Overfeeding pigs with unhealthy food and confining them to a small enclosure that doesn't allow for exercise is just heartbreaking. Imagine you get so big that you can't move around anymore, and then you can't even see the world around you. You just sit there day after day in misery and pain.
I decided I had to rescue these two beauties and get them to a safe home immediately. And I guess the stars just aligned when I made that decision because my fundraiser for a new quarantine space had just ended with 100% success, and my church buddy Randy Mapes was already busy getting the quarantine space all ready with new fencing and a piggie house. Check it out!
Early Saturday morning, Randy and I rented a U-haul trailer and filled it with two large crates, a ramp, and bags of treats. With coffee in hand and nervous butterflies in our guts, we started our journey to Jackson Springs, not knowing exactly what to expect when we reached our destination. We passed the time by making small talk and pointing out all the beautiful scenery we passed along the way.
When we finally arrived, we were greeted by the current owners and taken to the shed behind the house. And once we were directed to the pig pen, the reality of the situation hit us. This was the first picture I snapped.
The enclosure was dark and filthy, and it smelled horrible. Both pigs were very lethargic and scared. They had no fresh water to drink. And to make matters worse, I could already see the health problems caused by the excess weight. The larger pig was suffering from that awful fat blindness I mentioned earlier, and her breathing was raspy and labored. The smaller pig had a leg injury, and both pigs were suffering with skin problems, most likely from lying in their own urine. Pig skin is not supposed to be red and puffy like that. Honestly, they just looked completely hopeless.
The next step was to round up the girls and get them into crates so we could load them into the trailer. If you've ever witnesses a pig rescue, this part is NOT fun. The pigs are terrified. They have no idea who you are and what you're trying to do. They squeal and groan. It's incredibly traumatic for everyone involved. We were finally able to round them up, and thanks to Randy's ingenious idea to add more support to the crates, we were able to safely drag them through the sand over to the trailer intact, push them up a shaky ramp, and load them in.
Here's Randy taking a breather after getting the girls loaded...
As expected, the drive home was stressful. The weather was a little hotter than we anticipated, so we had to stop several times to air out the trailer and give the girls water to drink. They were absolutely terrified.
When we finally got home, we used a harness to walk each pig to their new pen. With the leg injury and the weight issues, this was not an easy task. Both of them were exhausted and collapsed on the ground to rest several times on the way, but we finally guided each girl into the pen.
We sighed with relief, knowing we had gotten these pigs home to safety. They were surrounded by the beautiful woods with their own house full of fresh straw and a heat lamp. They could finally feel a gentle breeze and the warmth of the sunshine. And the ground was now the forest floor, not urine-soaked mud.
So what's next? Well, as with all new rescues, they will need to be vetted to see just what we're dealing with healthwise. I'll also need to put them on a plan to lose weight. And of course, I'll have to work on gaining their trust. They've already starting meeting the other pigs through the fence, and I will monitor things to see if and when they might be able to join the herd in the next several weeks. Their weight is my main concern at this point, so I'm just taking it one day at a time.
See what I mean about the fat folds covering the eyes? This is just heartbreaking!
Oh, their new names? Randie Lou and Penny Lane! Randie Lou (the larger pig) is named after the man who made this whole rescue possible - Randy Mapes! And Penny Lane is named after his lovely wife Penny. I can't think of two more compassionate people to name them after.
I also have to thank all of you wonderful supporters. So many of you have already reached out to check on the girls, and I appreciate your concern more than you know. My promise to you is that I will do everything in my power to give these girls the best life possible so that they'll forget the hell they just came from. Thank you for your prayers! And stay tuned to our social media channels for updates and links to fundraisers!
Anna O'Neal, founder and caretaker at Jenna and Friends Animal Sanctuary