Meet our new rescue Tabitha! Her story is heartbreaking, but don't worry, it has a happy ending. Actually, it's not an ending at all - it's a new beginning!
The initial email I received about Tabitha wasn't too unlike all the other emails I receive about pigs needing homes. I get a few of those every week. I sure wish I could rescue them all, but alas...
But this email had a sense of urgency and desperation that I couldn't ignore. It was from a nice woman named Geretia who had watched her neighbors move out of their rental home, leaving their pet potbelly pig behind.
Geretia had assumed that the renters had made arrangements for someone to feed and water Tabitha until they could come back to get her, but to her horror, they NEVER CAME BACK.
And NO ONE WAS FEEDING OR WATERING HER. Geretia discovered this one day when she was inside her home and suddenly saw water shooting up from the ground outside her window. Out of sheer desperation, poor Tabitha had busted through her pen, made her way over to Geretia's home, dug up her water line, and busted it wide open! Can you imagine how desperate she must have been for water? I'm not sure about you, but I would say that was one dehydrated pig!
Here is a glimpse of Tabitha's pen behind the rental property. Why in the world did the people throw old furniture and coolers in there with her? I guess they were OK with Tabitha living in their little trash dump.
It didn't take long for Geretia to realize the severity of the situation. She immediately made contact with the rental property owners to see what they could do, but they had no intention of helping poor Tabitha. They just wanted that "filthy pig" out from behind the house so they could rent it out again. Geretia even called animal control to see if they could find her a better situation. Unfortunately they weren't able to help either. Now desperate for help, Geretia started contacting animal rescues.
Fortunately for Tabitha and Geretia, Jenna and Friends was one of those rescues. We knew we had to get Tabitha out of that situation as fast as possible. Geretia agreed to create a make-shift enclosure to contain Tabitha until we could get there, and she made sure that Tabitha had plenty of food and water. I'm sure that was Tabitha's first encounter with someone who actually cared about her.
The day of the rescue was quite eventful. Our buddy Randy stepped up to help (as usual), and we started making our way to Cameron, NC with a large dog crate loaded in the back of his SUV. We honestly had no idea what to expect.
Here's Randy getting ready to hit the road.
When we arrived in Cameron, Geretia greeted us and pointed the way to Tabitha. With the help of Geretia's relative, we guided Tabitha into the dog crate and loaded her into the back of Randy's car. Poor Tabitha looked so sad and defeated that she didn't even try to stop us. Maybe she knew she was leaving that awful place. And maybe she sensed our kindness. I'd like to think so!
Once Tabitha was all loaded, we started on the hour-long trek back home. Tabitha seemed exhausted and slept most of the way. She had no strength to fight or complain.
After we got her back and unloaded her into a pen, we were able to inspect her skin condition a little more easily. She had two growths that were very concerning - one on her butt area and the other on her back. The growth on her back was particularly bad. It was a golf ball-sized mass covered in flies, decayed skin, blood, and puss. To make it even worse, we found out later that it was full of maggots! It must have been incredibly painful for sweet Tabitha. First to be abandoned by your so-called family, and then to have to deal with this horrific mass growing out of her back.
We called Dr. Shannon Swink from Hoof and Horn, and she immediately fit us into her schedule. She examined the growths on Tabitha and decided she needed to remove them ASAP. Dr. Swink and her assistants sedated sweet Tabitha, removed the growths, and packaged them up to send to the lab for biopsy. We've since gotten the results back, and we are thrilled to say that the growths are benign melanomas. No cancer! Woot! And as of now, the two areas are healing just fine.
So now begins Tabitha's journey of freedom. She will live out her life here at Jenna and Friends surrounded by a loving herd, a comfy bed of straw, healthy food, mud puddles, and fresh water. She won't ever have to be afraid, hungry, thirsty, or lonely EVER AGAIN.
Please continue to pray for sweet Tabitha as she continues to adjust to her new life. We don't know the level of trauma she's dealt with and how it will affect her in the coming months. We will do everything we can to make her feel loved and cared for.
By the way, if you ever meet a kind lady named Geretia from Cameron, NC, please give her a hug from all of us. She never gave up on finding a better situation for Tabitha. She saved her life, and we are forever grateful.
Just about everyone who visits the sanctuary asks me how I got started. They want to know what it takes to start a little animal refuge like mine and how much work it involves. Sometimes folks are just curious, but sometimes they want to know because they want to do something similar. My response? If I can do this, so can you!
I had entertained the thought of starting an animal sanctuary for many years, but it wasn't until about 10 years ago when I knew the time was right. I wasn't wealthy by any means, but I had a good, steady job working from home, and I had learned a lot from talking to folks who either ran or worked at other sanctuaries. I had also done a great deal of online research. It was time.
Before I go into detail about the logistics and decisions that led to where I am now with over 20 rescued animals, let me tell you about a very important ah-ha moment that literally changed the trajectory of my mission.
I used to have dreams of a large animal sanctuary with several acres of beautiful, healthy animals. I could envision a charming red barn sitting perfectly in the middle of a picturesque pasture, animals milling around, with lots of volunteers hard at work changing water and feeding the animals. People would come from all around to visit this magnificent place of love and beauty. And I wouldn't have to worry about money because it would just come flooding in through donations. Local businesses would support me, and people would volunteer to lead fundraising campaigns on our behalf.
I started by looking for the right property. Five acres was my absolute minimum, but I was hoping for more. After all, the last thing I wanted to do was run out of space and have to move all the animals. I wanted to be 100% prepared for my inevitable growth.
I knew it would take a lot of hard work to make my dream come true, but I was so ready. Thinking about my future animal sanctuary brought me great joy. My brain was constantly romanticizing about what a slice of heaven it would be. Dream of a lifetime!
But along with this joy also came great stress and anxiety. What if the money wasn't there? What if I didn't get all those donations pouring in? What if I lost my job and couldn't pay the bills? What if I couldn't find the right volunteers to come out to help me with the day-to-day operations while I was either working or attending a fundraising event? What would I do when there was an emergency? What if I had an accident and couldn’t physically handle farm duties anymore?
Would I really be able to handle all this? These are the things that kept me up at night. Something didn't feel quite right about my dream, and I needed to resolve it. Fast.
One day, I was looking at Zillow at available properties, and one in particular popped into my list. It was only five miles outside of Chapel Hill and didn’t have any restrictions for farm animals. After looking more closely, I saw that it was only three acres, so of course I immediately wrote it off as too small. It didn’t fit my criteria.
But I kept thinking about that little property. Wouldn't it be nice to live so close to town? Didn't I want a social life? Didn't I want to be close to grocery stores, coffee shops, and events? Did I really need to lose all that to have an animal sanctuary?
About that same time, someone told me about the microsanctuary movement and suggested I do a little research on it. I found out that it’s all about empowering people with limited space and resources to rescue farm animals. It’s not about the size of your property or how many donations you get. Even if you rescue one or two farm animals and give them a forever life of love and respect, your project is considered a microsanctuary.
According to their website, the microsanctuary movement is centered on the premise that "our space and our resources, no matter how limited, often are still sufficient for us to provide sanctuary to individual animals RIGHT NOW in order to prevent them from ever again being used as commodities. Additionally, microsanctuaries aren’t to be seen as stepping stones to larger sanctuaries but ends unto themselves."
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was the perfect candidate to start a microsanctuary. It didn’t have to be about the size of my property, the money I invested, and how many volunteers I had. Actually, It was just about doing my part to make a difference for farm animals using the resources I already had. It was just that simple.
I nervously scheduled a time to visit that little property outside of Chapel Hill. When I got there, I fell in love at first sight. The house was the perfect size, and the surrounding woods were so peaceful. I could just see pigs grazing out there among those trees, rooting around, tails wagging, making their little oinking and snorting noises in delight. The property was well within my financial means. I could still fulfill my dream without putting myself in a risky financial situation. I could do this. This was my ah-ha moment.
Now, almost seven years later, with over 20 rescued animals living out their beautiful lives in that patch of woods, I still say to you, “If I can do this, so can you.” Jenna and Friends is truly a microsanctuary. It feels right, I can manage it with my own finances (although the donations help tremendously), and I'm not overwhelmed with the day-to-day work. It's been the best thing I've ever done in my whole life.
If you’re thinking about starting your own microsanctuary, come see me! But in the meantime, I’ve put together some very high-level information about what you should consider as you plan your dream.
Budget your money
People always ask me how much money I spend to keep things running smoothly. My answer is that it depends on the week. Some of my guaranteed expenses are food, straw, heat lamps, water tubs, infrastructure repairs, light bulbs, and vet bills. Vet bills are not too bad unless you have an emergency. I've taken three pigs to the NC State Vet School, and let me tell you, they ain't cheap. But they're the best. And with those crazy expensive bills, I was able to recover over time. I’ll cover fundraising a little later, but let me just say that an animal emergency just begs for a donation campaign. People truly want to help, and I’ve received lots of help to pay off those bills, even from complete strangers.
Plan your time
Sometimes it's hard to quantify exactly how much time I spend doing sanctuary stuff each week. Some days are just basic feeding and watering twice a day (and walking out to check on everyone between work meetings). Some days I have more time-consuming projects like spreading straw, scooping poop, clearing the ramps, replacing light bulbs, and such. About once every 10-12 weeks, I do a total barn cleaning by first removing all the dusty straw and dragging it into the woods, sweeping out all the dust, and putting down new straw. I don’t mind this work at all. I put on loud music and make a day of it. Putting down the new straw is the fun part because the pigs get so excited. They love spreading it around with their noses.
Plan your infrastructure
Obviously your set-up depends on the type and number of animals you rescue, but regardless, you will need a sturdy, safe structure to serve as a barn. Animals require a barn to protect them from the weather. They need to be out of the wind and rain/snow. Flimsy structures just won't work. Go ahead and invest in a super sturdy barn. You won't regret it, and the animals will be safe and comfortable. Peace of mind is priceless.
You’re also going to need fencing, and unfortunately it’s not cheap. Even hog panels with tee posts are super expensive. But just like the barn, fencing is not where you want to cut costs. Trust me. Go ahead and get a professional to install your fence. And if you have a large property, remember you don't have to fence it all in yet. As you continue to run your sanctuary and get more accustomed to your finances, you can always expand later. And something like adding more fencing for more rescues or roaming areas is another perfect excuse for a fundraising campaign. People generally want to help, and they'll give when they can.
Get non-profit status
If you plan to dump your own money into your sanctuary, you'll definitely want to get 501(c)(3) status. It classifies you as a non-profit organization that you can use for lots of benefits. For example, by contributing to your own sanctuary, you can write off those charitable donations on your taxes, saving you a ton of money. As a non-profit, you are also eligible to apply for grants and get your sanctuary listed in corporate giving programs. People are also more likely to donate to a non-profit sanctuary rather than to an individual person. It just makes sense from a financial perspective.
Don't depend on donations
And speaking of donations, let me make something very clear. If I were to give you any financial advice at all in this blog post, I would tell you this - don't ever depend on donations to survive. That's a dangerous place to be. If we've learned anything with this pandemic, it's that you never know what the future holds. If you put yourself in a situation where you'll lose everything without donations, that’s a big red flag to scale back your plan. Scale way back. Like the microsanctuary movement premise I quoted earlier, it's not about the number of animals. It’s about the quality of life. And that includes YOUR life.
Set up a small business account
Still on the subject of finances, it helps to have a dedicated small business account to manage your sanctuary money and keep it separate from your personal accounts. You can tie this business account to your website donation form and social media fundraisers so everything sanctuary-related is all together in one place. Having a separate bank account just makes things so much easier to manage and track your expenses and donations. Oh, and while you’re at it, you might as well set up a separate email account as well.
Create a mission statement
Once you set yourself up as an official non-profit entity, you'll need a mission statement that describes your goals. Your audience is anyone who is interested in your organization, including financial supporters, volunteers, or organizations that provide grants and fundraising outlets. Put your mission statement on your social media pages and website so everyone can see it.
As an example, here is my mission statement:
Our mission is based on three founding principles: (1) provide a loving and safe forever home for pigs in need, (2) serve as an example for others who want to start a small animal rescue in their community with little-to-no funding, and (3) educate others through events and social media about the plight of pigs who suffer the consequences of the breeding and food industries.
It may change, but for now, I’m satisfied. It's always a good idea to revisit it every few months to (1) make sure you are complying with your mission and (2) evaluate if your words need to be altered. My statement has basically stayed the same over the years, but I've definitely tweaked it here and there.
Dedicate a quarantine space
One important thing to remember when you're planning your barn and fencing, you'll need a dedicated quarantine space for new rescues. Most established herds of animals don't just welcome newcomers immediately. You'll need to introduce them slowly. And you'll also want to make sure you get your newcomers vetted and neutered before introducing them to the other animals. You can also use it when you have to separate a sick animal. Having a quarantine space is a 100% non-negotiable requirement for an animal sanctuary.
Be active on social media
If you have supporters (I hope you will!), be as active as you can on your social media channels. Your followers want to keep up with what you’re doing. People love the “feel good” posts that show the animals living out their lives free from fear or worry. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are perfect for advertising your fundraising campaigns and updating your fundraising supporters. Facebook is particularly outstanding for managing donations!
So that’s it for now. We’ve just scratched the surface, but that will get you started!
I want to leave you with this thought. It relates back to my ah-ha moment, which I will preach over and over again if you'll listen.
It's not about how many animals you rescue or how big your property is. Trust me, there's no correlation between the size of your operation and the impact you're making on the lives of each and every one of those beautiful creatures.
What really matters is the day-to-day of it all. Standing next to the fence watching the animals, admiring them lying in a perfect sliver of sun, wagging their tails, loving life. Your heart will swell with love and satisfaction when you think about their horror stories and how they’ll never ever, ever, ever have to be scared and lonely again.
As I sit here at Lanza's Cafe in Carrboro sipping on a yummy oat milk latte reflecting on this past year, my head is just spinning with gratitude. Seriously, what an amazing year for our little sanctuary in the woods!
First, let's start with our star players - the animals. Can you believe we rescued five new pigs this year? That may not seem like a large number in the world of animal rescue, but it's a lot for a little sanctuary like ours, and it's definitely a big deal for the pigs whose lives are forever changed. What a proud feeling knowing they will be safe and loved for the rest of their lives!
Let's all raise a toast to our 2021 newcomers Roxy, Janice, Abigail, Randie Lou, and Penny Lane!! Here's a short recap of their stories.
Roxy came to us from a nice family in Raleigh who found themselves unable to care for their little dollbaby. She's been a total joy to care for, and she's settled right in with the herd little nobody's business. We love how she jumps up and down in excitement at feeding time!
Janice came to us from Clayton, where she was in a confined area with dogs who had started attacking her. When she arrived, those little ears were all ripped and bloody, but now they've completely healed and are just as perky as ever. We discovered by accident that she sits for treats! We love Miss Janice!
Abigail came to us last spring from an extremely neglectful situation outside of Charlotte. She was literally lying in a pile of trash behind a trailer when we pulled up. You would think she would hate humans for treating her so badly, but she's a trusting soul. We've learned so much about compassion and forgiveness from her. We are committed to treating her like a queen for the rest of her sweet life.
Randie Lou and Penny Lane
Randie Lou and Penny Lane are our latest rescues. They are truly a rags-to-riches story in the making, and we couldn't love them more. Their past may be scarred with Randie's obesity problem, the dog attacks that left Penny with only one ear and a permanent limp, and their filthy living conditions in a urine-soaked mud hole, but that's not stopping these two beauties from living life to the fullest these days. Now they have a warm house, woods to roam, and plenty of healthy food and fresh water for the rest of their lives!
For the first time in two years, we are happy to annouce that we didn't lose any pigs this year. What a relief! Reporting a death is one of the saddest parts of this animal rescue business, and we are so grateful that we didn't have to deliver that sad news this year. We're praying that we can say the same thing this time next year.
Now let's talk about our second favorite subject (behind the animals, of course) - you! We couldn't do what we do without our wonderful supporters, and we are forever grateful. You are helping us give these beautiful souls a life of luxury - a life that they truly deserve - on THEIR terms. And for that, you should be proud. You ARE making a difference, trust me!
We've had several successful Facebook fundraisers this year, raising approximately $6703. We have more pig and rooster residents than ever before in our 6.5 years in the rescue business, so it only makes sense that we have more expenses than ever. I just can't stress how much we depend on these fundraisers. We literally could not continue to rescue and care for our sanctuary residents without your support. Every penny of donations goes directly to the animals, and that is the honest truth. And because we are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations are always tax deductible!
We also partnered with Cuddly this year to raise funds for the animals. We'd like to give a huge shout-out to Sydney for helping us organize and promote those fundraisers to spread the word about our mission and financial needs. We've been totally humbled by the support we've received from all over the country from total strangers. We truly believe that people are innately compassionate and want to help, and that makes us happy.
Now for a huge shout-out to all our amazing volunteers and visitors! UNC Vegans for Peace - we're looking directly at you when we say THANK YOU! We have so many "repeat offenders" to the sanctuary from that wonderful group, and we are thrilled. We truly believe that "pig therapy" is a real thing, and we always encourage folks to come out and experience it for themselves. Spending time with the animals has a way of cleansing the soul and filling our hearts with joy. Our lives are forever changed by their innocence and beauty, and if you haven't experienced it for yourself, let's set up a visit!
Here's just a couple of photos of some of the wonderful families who took time to come out and visit the animals this year. We have so many photos, it's hard to choose!
Now let me recap all the great improvements we've made this year. I just get giddy when I think about all the awesome things we've accomplished! Bear with us - the list is LONG!
New drainage system
We used to have quite an annoying drainage issue in the pig area. We're already on low ground, but what makes matters even worse is that water runoff from neighboring properties make a beeline for the pig barn. Sometimes the water was so deep that the pigs had trouble moving through it. Thanks to your donations, we were able to hire a landscaping company to dig out trenches and add piping to direct the water around the barn and into a neighboring creek. Now, instead of a mess of mud and runoff, we have a nice stream of running water for the pigs to wade in and explore.
New quarantine space
When Abigail came to us in the spring, we soon realized that she would have to be permanently separated from the other pigs for a long time, possibly for the rest of her life. Her severly arthritic feet would never allow her to acclimate to the herd and get in and out of the barn using the ramps. So when she moved in to the only quarantine space that we had, we knew we needed to build another one. And when we got the call about Randie Lou and Penny Lane, we knew we had to act fast.
And here it is!! Thank you so much to Randy Mapes for dedicating himself to the project and making the new space super luxurious for Randie Lou and Penny Lane!
Electricity in the barn
We now have electricity in the barn! Before, we had to run several extension cords from the house, which I'm sure was a fire hazard with all the heat lamps, fans, and lights. Now we have electrical outlets in each stall for the heat lamps, and we were even able to put a refrigerator in the barn to store home-cooked pig food, produce, and sodas for volunteers!
New water line
Using your donations, we were able to install a new water line from the well directly to the barn! Before, we were stringing hoses together and running them from the house. Trust me, those hoses split open, get stopped up with mud, and freeze at the drop of a hat. With the new water line, we now have water at our finger tips and can fill up those water bowls and swimming pools without having to deal with all those annoying water hoses!
Our new feeding station is a game changer! No more bending over to fill up bowls, standing in the mud, getting rained on, and dragging food back and forth from the barn. Our feeding station has made feeding time so much more efficient! We went from having a single wooden platform on the ground with no cover to....drum roll, please....this! Woot!!
New gravel road
OK this one is huge. We now have a gravel road that allows us to drive all the way down to the barn from the main road! This is a game changer for loading straw and feed (we used to have to haul all that stuff from our personal driveway on a wheelbarrow). Visitors now have plenty of parking space, and even our vet's big truck can make it down safely!
A new outhouse
OK I know this one might seem a little weird, but we are thrilled! Now visitors and volunteers have a private spot to "do their business" when visiting the animals. It's just a little something we've been wanting for a long time, and thanks to Randy Mapes, we have the most awesome outhouse you could even imagine!
A new water platform
After much frustration with Petey the farm pig constantly knocking over the water bowls (he's a toddler, after all), Randy Mapes came to the rescue and built us a platform to secure the water tubs in place. And it comes with its own platform for folks to stand on and visit with the animals without getting feet muddy.
And finally, let me give a shout-out to some folks and organizations who have played a key role in our success this year!
Julia Green - you are a fantastic writing coach, and with your help, I feel like I am so better equipped to write my children's book about the animals. You've taught me so much over the months, and I can't wait to see where this book leads me!
Dr. Shannon Swink - thank you for being such an awesome and caring veterinarian for the animals. I can always trust your advice, and you're always so compassionate. Thank you!
Piedmont Feed Store - thank you for all the hundreds of times you've helped me load feed and supplies in my car! Your store is such a gem in White Cross!
Randy Mapes - Randy has been a game changer for us! There's absolutely nothing he can't do! Randy is responsible for a lot of our new improvements this year, including the water platform, the outhouse, and our new quarantine space. He was also instrumental in our rescue of Randie Lou (named after Randy) and Penny Lane (named after Randy's wife). We thank you from the bottom of our hooves, Randy!
Sylvia Leaver - Sylvia is an amazing artist, and lucky for us, she loves painting pictures of our pigs! We will be featuring Sylvia's artwork in our upcoming children's book, and we are truly honored!
James Davis - Thanks to my personal trainer James for keeping me motivated to stay strong and healthy, just like a farm girl should be!
Christ United Methodist Church - our "second" sanctuary! What a wonderful, supportive group of folks who aren't scared to add a pig or two to their weekly prayer list. Thank you!
Margaret's Cantina - thank you for all the food donations to the animals! You can't blame the pigs for loving all that homemade Tex-Mex food!
Sara Gress - our wonderful neighbor and "on call" caretaker. You've been a lifesaver when we needed help, and we appreciate you so much!
Lanza's Cafe in Carrboro - if you ever try to write a children's book and need some inspiration, this is the place to be! Thank you Christina, Catherine, and all the wonderful staff for making me yummy lattes, serving me awesome food, and letting me camp out and write!
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!
October is my favorite time of year. The weather gets cooler, the leaves change colors, and the spiders! They spin the most amazing webs here at the sanctuary, espeically the ones that hang from tree to tree. So amazing those creatures. I especially love the barn spiders. Can you say Charlotte's Web?!?
And speaking of spiders, let's not forget about Halloween. Such a fun holiday! I love all the costumes and decorations. It seems like people were extra generous with their decorating this year, which makes me very happy. I'm like a little kid again!
Guess who else loves Halloween here at the sanctuary? You guessed it! The pigs! They just love it. For the last two or three weeks, they've been spending their days planning out their costumes and their nights telling ghost stories all snuggled up in the straw. If you stand outside, you can hear them snorting and oinking to the twists and turns of the stories. Bobby just loves a good scare, so he's been sneaking up on everyone and letting out a loud OINK, sending the pigs scrambliong out of the barn in a terrible fright, straw flying everywhere.
But not everyone is planning to celebrate Halloween this year. Pedro's been strutting around oinking a fuss about the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and how the pigs should celebrate it instead of Halloween. He says the pigs shouldn't focus on all that morbid and scary stuff but should instead plan a feast and celebration for the pigs we've lost over the years, just like they do in Mexico.
I started to wonder how Pedro even knew about Día de los Muertos. But I guess it makes sense, because he and his wife Petunia had moved around a lot in their early years together, and I'm sure they met lots of pigs along the way. And it makes sense that they probably met some Mexican pigs who oinked in Spanish and taught them about traditional Mexican holidays like Día de los Muertos.
I was in the barn the other day, and I happened to hear Pedro whispering to Phoenix the rooster about Día de los Muertos and how he wished the other pigs would show more interest. Phoenix admitted to Pedro that he had no idea what Día de los Muertos was, so Pedro gave the rooster a little lesson. I snuck a little closer to the stall, crouched out of site, and eavedropped on their conversation. If I remember correctly, this is how the conversation went...
"You can’t blame me for loving Día de los Muertos, Phoenix. When I lost my lovely Petunia a couple of years ago, I didn't think I would survive the hurt. But this holiday keeps me going, because it’s the one night of the year when I know my lovely Petunia will come back to visit me for an entire night. All I have to do is create my ofrenda with all her favorite things and beckon her back to Earth from Rainbow Bridge."
Well, Phoenix didn't know what an ofrenda was either, so Pedro had to explain that as well. "My ofrenda will be a magnificent altar of all of Petunia's favorite things. It'll have her pictures displayed in colorful frames, bowls of fresh water to quench her thirst after the long journey, yummy food for her sweet belly, and all the treats she used to love when she was here. I'll light tall candles and spread out all kinds of fragrant flower petals. I'll even burn incense to fill the air and keep it sacred just for her. Even the birds have agreed to sing the music for us. It will be absolutely perfect, Phoenix!"
I slowly stood up and peeked over the stall to get a better view. From my vantage point, I could see that Phoenix was completely hooked. His orange eyes were wide open, staring straight at the pig. Then he scooted his featherly body over a little closer to Pedro, who was starting to tear up as he talked about his beautiful Petunia.
Phoenix cocked his head to the side and said, "So it seems to me that Día de los Muertos is a time to celebrate and honor the ones we've lost, not a time to mourn over them. Is that right, Pedro?"
Pedro said, "That's exactly right, Phoenix. And the ofrendas are there for us to show how much we love them and give them a reason to come back and visit. You can think of an ofrenda as a way for those of us left behind to put our fond memories on display and make sure our loved ones aren't forgotten."
Pedro stood up and huffed an oink in excitement. "It'll be a whole night of music, fun, feasting, and celebration with my darling Petunia. She'll be all mine again for the entire night!"
Phoenix was very moved by all this talk about Día de los Muertos, and he could see just how determined Pedro was to make it a special night. He promised Pedro he would help him find items for his ofrenda, and with that, Pedro gave Phoenix a big smile and patted his scaly foot with his hoof.
It was such a beautiful moment that I decided I needed to sneak out of the barn before I also started tearing up and lost my cover. But I'm glad I stayed and listened, because now I know what the sneaking around and whispering is all about. And I also know why I'm starting to see the makings of a beautiful ofrenda in the corner of the woods with a clearing just big enough for two pigs to cuddle and dance the night away.
Boy what a week at the sanctuary. It started off busy as usual -- feeding, cleaning, scooping, watering -- just the normal activities. And then suddenly…
A speeding Dodge Ram truck had missed the curve in front of our property and flipped over in the front yard, taking down the utility pole, mail boxes, and trees. When I ran outside and saw the overturned truck, I thought for sure no one could still be alive in there, but thankfully I was wrong. There stood a scared teenager with a dazed look saying “I’m so sorry...I’m so sorry” over and over again. I was dazed as well, but I did manage to call 911.
As you can imagine, this wreck started a whole chain of events that I would witness first-hand for the next two days. The fire truck, ambulance, highway patrol officers, and first responders arrived within 10 minutes. They immediately checked the kid for injuries (his name is Michael), and they called his dad. To our surprise, he was not hurt at all, well, at least not physically. You would have never known he had just crawled out of that smooshed pile of smoking metal all wrapped up in power lines and cable cords. He was one lucky boy.
The first responders immediately blocked off the road to traffic and made way for Duke Energy to deal with the utility pole and live power lines that were laying all over the road. It took a few hours, but they eventually had electricity back to our entire neighborhood. We were thrilled to get our power back because the pigs need a lot of water refills this time of year, and we have no water if there’s no electricity to the well pump.
Later that day, the towing company came to remove the truck. Fortunately they were able to maneuver around the surviving trees to minimize damage. Once they removed the car, all that was left was small pieces of the truck and a ton of broken glass. A neighbor came over to help with the clean up, and we ended up with a big pile of car parts, mailbox fragments, and chunks of wood and splinters from the utility pole.
Over the next couple of days, AT&T worked on the cable lines and our internet fiber cord, which was severed in the accident. By the middle of the second afternoon, we were back in business with the internet, and things were getting back to normal.
I’m writing this blog post to let everyone know about the accident, but the real reason goes deeper than that. Obviously emotions were flying high this week (from all those involved), but despite the damage and the interruptions in service and all the mental aftermath, I have learned a valuable lesson -- people are kind and have a desire to help. This was certainly my experience in all this mess.
I want to give a huge shout out to the hardworking Duke Energy and AT&T workers dealing with the extreme heat, the considerate towing guys who worked around my trees, the neighbors who came out to help, the policemen who stood in my yard and chatted about how lucky the kid was, the 911 operator who handled my stuttered request for help, the mailman who delivered my mail to the front door when there was no mailbox, and the Amazon driver who parked the Prime truck down the road and walked to my house to deliver a package -- ALL OF YOU. Thank you all for restoring my faith in humanity and making me realize that, despite what the news wants me to believe, people are generally kind, sympathetic, caring, and supportive.
I talked to Michael’s dad last night. He let me know that his son was still not showing any physical signs of pain from the wreck (thank God), but he was worried about his mental state. He said, “You just don’t go through something like that without it really affecting you, you know?” Yes, I know. Anyone who’s been in a bad accident knows that feeling of wondering what could have happened. We’ve pictured our parents getting “that call” and how they would react. We’ve thought about our funerals and who would come and speak. It’s all just terrifying, and it’ll make you feel incredibly grateful to be alive.
Michael’s dad and I talked for a little while longer, and it felt so reassuring to learn about his loving family. They are planning to come visit the animals soon, and this makes me so happy.
So take my advice. I don’t wish this experience on others, but if you do happen to be involved in something similar, notice the folks who come to help. Look directly into their eyes and take note of their genuineness. And I’m not just talking about your friends, family, and neighbors. I’m talking about complete strangers who are called to assist. Their days get disrupted, too. Say thank you, and tell them how much you appreciate their service. And then do yourself a favor -- bask in that warm feeling for as long as you can, thank your lucky stars for your life, and then pay it forward. I sure am.
My name is Anna, but lots of people call me Jenna by mistake. Jenna was my beautiful white dog who passed away unexpectedly soon after starting the sanctuary. I named the sanctuary after her as a tribute to her honor and kindness. Her name serves as a constant reminder for me to treat animals as equals, as my friends, all worthy of living a life that's free of fear and suffering - on THEIR terms.
I’ve always loved animals. As a child, I had dogs, cats, goldfish, gerbils, and hamsters. I related to all of them, especially my cats. I would dress them up in baby doll clothes and roll them around the cul de sac in front of my house in a stroller listening to Simon and Garfunkel. I taught them multiplication tables and long division on a small chalkboard on the back porch, carefully explaining each step as I derived the answer. I read them Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, role playing the characters and changing my voice and tone to match the level of suspense. My dad joked that we must have had the smartest cats on the block.
As a teenager, my interest in animals expanded into science. I enjoyed studying their behavior and habits, even documenting some of my pets’ oddities and reactions to their daily routines. My high school science teacher encouraged me to pursue my interest in science, and I knew that one day I would have a career as a veterinarian or animal researcher.
When I got to college in the late 80s, I quickly realized that being a scientist was far from what I wanted as a career. I didn’t like to see animals being used for testing, and the sight of blood was sickening. I am easily traumatized by suffering and sickness to this day, and these are obviously not good characteristics of a veterinarian or researcher. But I couldn’t deny that I had a deep connection with animals, and I wanted to help them.
Then I started learning about farm animals, especially pigs. When I learned about how they were mistreated in factories and bred for food, I knew I had to be part of a rescue mission. I visited sanctuaries, read books, and attended conferences to learn as much as I could about opening my own sanctuary. I discovered the Compassionate Living Festival led by Tom Regan, NC State professor and animal rights activist, and his wife Nancy. The speakers were always amazing - Dr. Michael Greger, Kim Stallwood, Ingrid Newkirk, and many others.
I yearned to be standing on that stage talking about all the animals I had rescued and how I had made such a difference. That crowd would surely give me a standing ovation!
I worked in Kanab, Utah at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for a few months to get my feet wet and help me understand the ins and outs of running a sanctuary. There I learned a lot about all the hard work required in the animal rescue business -- cleaning, feeding, watering, giving shots, keeping records -- all in the southern Utah heat. The stream of unwanted animals who came to live at the sanctuary was endless. It was one sad story after the next.
And the need for funding was overwhelming. That was a huge eye opener for me. How in the world would I start my sanctuary with no money?
Back in North Carolina, I continued researching sanctuaries, participating in local animal rights groups, and attending conferences. I started volunteering at local sanctuaries, including Pig Pals and Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge. I kept up with larger sanctuaries like Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY, even getting an opportunity to meet its founder and my hero Gene Baur on two occasions.
I learned a lot from the larger sanctuaries, but Pig Pals was the game changer for me. Founder Penny introduced me to her 40 or so rescued potbellied pigs on her modest farm outside of Raleigh. She had created her own pig town, complete with little buildings labeled things like “bank,” “saloon,” and “grocery store.” It was like a small Old Western movie set for pigs.
And the pigs were mesmerizing. I just couldn't believe how much like dogs they were. They wagged their tails. Some knew their names. They were playful, even mischievous. They constantly grunted and squealed conversations with each other. Their personalities were incredibly strong. They looked directly into my eyes, as if looking through my very soul.
Years later, I fell in love with one particular pig at Penny’s sanctuary. Her name was Abigail, and she was blind. She walked on her front elbows from walking on hooves that had never been trimmed. I would sit with her while she munched on the carrots and apples I had brought for her. She would fall over for a belly rub, and I gave her plenty of those. Just spending time with Abigail made me feel honored to be in her presence.
What a majestic animal Abigail was. I knew at this point that I wanted to spend time with pigs every single day of my life. And I also knew that I would have my own Abigail one day, and I do.
As I started forming a clearer vision of my sanctuary, local friend and activist Justin Van Kleeck pioneered and championed the “Microsanctuary Movement.” The premise behind the movement is that basically any person, even someone with few resources and funding, can rescue and provide a loving home to at least one farm animal. The idea that every animal sanctuary requires a huge plot of land with several employees and an on-site veterinarian is just not true and, quite frankly, not feasible for most people. The underlying idea of the Microsancturary Movement is that anyone, with a little planning and a mindset that we are not to harm animals in any way, can rescue even a couple of farm animals and make a difference.
I knew I could be part of the Microsanctuary Movement. I didn’t have to be overwhelmed with land and money woes. And with a smaller operation, I could spend time with the animals on an intimate level, not hand off my farm duties to volunteers and other farm workers while I was doing paperwork or attending fundraising events.
I was ready to get started, and if I only rescued one animal the first year, that was just fine.
Now fast forward to 2015 when I bought my 2.73-acre property outside of Chapel Hill, NC. It had no farm animal restrictions and was very private with lots of woods. I bought a shelter and hired a nice man to convert it into a barn with stalls, doors, and ramps. I hired some folks to install fencing.
And then I rescued my first pig in the fall of 2015 - Miss Mandy. She was a tiny, scared girl back then, but you should see her today! What a beautiful pig.
As of today, I’ve rescued a total of 15 pigs (14 potbellied pigs and one farm pig). Three have passed away due to illness, but the rest are healthy and thriving as a herd of friends.
I always welcome visitors and volunteers to the sanctuary. There’s always poop to scoop and bellies to rub, but you don’t have to work if you prefer to come for pig therapy. I call it therapy because just spending time with the animals is good for the soul. Just grab a stool and sit in a stall with the animals as they walk up and start a conversation with you. Larry will inevitably flop over for a belly rub first, and Petey the farm pig will sniff every inch of you looking for morsels of food.
And if you’re a child, I especially welcome YOU to the sanctuary. The pigs love children, probably because they sense your innocence, playfulness, and curiosity about life. I guarantee you will connect with the animals, so ask your parents to schedule some time with me!
Welcome to Jenna and Friends Animal Sanctuary, where pigs live on THEIR terms, surrounded by love and companionship.
Just two weeks ago, Abigail was rescued in the nick of time. When found, she was literally lying in a pile of cans and trash behind a trailer, apparently abandoned by the former tenants. She had no shelter, clean water, or food. Abigail is 11 years old and has been living in squalor her whole life. Now, as a result, she is suffering a myriad of health and behavioral problems.
For starters, Abigail suffers from malnutrition and rapid weight loss. You can tell that she was extremely overweight at one time, most likely from eating a poor diet and getting no exercise. Her loose belly skin drags the ground when she walks, and she has no choice but to step on it. She also suffers from fat blindness, which occurs when folds on the face cover the eyes and block vision. She has to be led to her food and water.
All four of Abigail’s feet are extremely arthritic, and she grunts in pain when she walks. Her hooves are gnarly and crooked from years of neglect and lack of hoof trims. Sometimes she even walks on her wrists and elbows to avoid putting pressure on her front feet. Watching her move around is truly heartbreaking.
Abigail is extremely terrified of humans, which makes it even more difficult for caretakers to treat her. She must have been severely abused over the years to mistrust humans so much. Most pigs will eventually learn to trust again, but in her case, it’s hard to tell if she will overcome her past trauma. What pain and suffering she must have endured to react this way to the people who are trying to help her.
Abigail will need lots of medical attention and care to help her regain her health and mobility. She will need pain medication indefinitely and special housing to accommodate her disabilities. She will most likely face one or more surgeries in the coming months to help with her ailments. Right now, she needs constant attention and care. Years of neglect aren’t fixed overnight.
As Abigail’s rescuer and primary caretaker, I am sad to think about Abigail’s former life. What happened? Were her former owners misinformed about the size of potbellied pigs? Were the children scared of her? Did it cost too much to feed her properly? Was she too much work? What in the world could she have possibly done to deserve such neglect?
These questions haunt me, but I suppose their answers don’t matter anymore. That life is behind her now, and now she's suffering for it.
Now it’s time to focus on Abigail’s future. I can’t guarantee that she will ever completely recover from her past, but I can guarantee her a warm bed of straw, two healthy meals every day, proper medical care, and a loving hand. For however long she lives, Abigail will be treated with kindness, every day.
My promise to Abigail is to spread her story as a tool to educate people about pigs and what it takes to care for them properly. She will serve as ambassador for all neglected animals to remind us of our duty as humans to care for our fellow non-human inhabitants of the earth.
Lucy earned her wings just after midnight this morning. Her little body said it’s time, and we helped her on her way. Rest in peace, beautiful girl!
Lucy came to us as a rescue about four years ago. She was dropped off at Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge in Pittsboro one evening, and since they were not yet set up for pigs, we welcomed her to our family here at Jenna and Friends where she quickly bonded with her herd.
Lucy was a pensive pig who often spent time alone wandering through the trees, exploring, digging, and just experiencing life to the fullest. She always had a child-like wonder in her eyes, and I truly believe she was thankful to be a part of the wondrous world around her.
She had a way of looking at you that sent a wave of peace through your soul like nothing else. Her gentle nudges and grunts reassured me that she was happy and grateful to be here with her family.
At night, Lucy snuggled right in with her buddies in the straw. I could tell when she was dreaming. What adventures she must have had in her sleep!
My life will forever be changed by Lucy’s kind soul. I truly feel honored to have been given the opportunity to care for her, feed her, caress her, and especially love her. I know her energy and spirit will live on with every gentle breeze, melodious bird song, puffy white cloud, falling leaf, raindrop, sunrise, and sunset.
Lucy radiated beauty, and beauty will radiate Lucy for the rest of time.
Lucy, you run free, sweet girl! And don’t forget to visit us from time to time.