Wayward Ranch was founded to be a sanctuary for dogs with behavioral issues that would stop them from being candidates for adoption. However, we knew that when we founded the sanctuary in 2016 that it would be some time before we would have the property to fulfill this dream, and we decided to start rescuing dogs and cats, utilizing foster homes to house them until adoption. About eight months after we began, I was on Facebook and a post caught my eye from a NJ buy/sell/trade group. In the post there was a photo of three potbelly pigs that looked terrible. I had never handled pigs before, but I was pretty sure they were not supposed to look like these three did. I contacted the poster and discovered he was the new owner of a property where these pigs had been abandoned.
I knew I wanted to save these three pigs, I’ve always been curious about pigs, but we still did not have a rescue facility, so I called a quick board meeting. Dogs, cats, and small animals were one thing, all of us had experience with caring for those species, but none of us had experience caring for potbelly pigs. Where would they live? What care would they need? We decided that we would put out a post on Facebook, and should an experienced foster home step up, we would save these boys. I was shocked when we were flooded with offers to help. One of the offers came from the farm where I was boarding my personal horse, and considering I had known them for five years and the owner was a vet tech, we decided they would be the perfect foster farm for these pigs.
The next day Adam and I drove three hours to New Jersey. We met the new property owner and he explained that the three pigs he wanted us to take were very fearful and could even be aggressive if they felt cornered. Their paddock was very small, full of feces and very wet from recent rain, and all of a sudden Adam and I realized we had no idea how to catch these pigs. In our excitement to rescue them, we had not properly planned ahead, and all we had were the three large dog crates we had brought to transport the pigs in our car. It took over an hour, but between myself, Adam and the new properly owner we were able to chase, corner, and trap all three pigs in separate crates and then load them in the car.
The whole car ride from the farm to our vet I was absolutely giddy. There were pigs in the car, actual pigs! I have loved farm animals all of my life and I was so excited we as a rescue were branching out to help pigs. At every stop light I would reach my hand behind my seat and offer it to the pigs to sniff and would squeal in response to every noise they made. I was sure we would be friends in no time since I knew how to bond to fearful dogs, and how much harder could pigs be? We arrived at the vet and that is when my excitement came to an abrupt halt and I recognized how naive I had been. When we were catching the pigs there was so much mud that it was hard to tell, but in the bright light of the exam room, it became clear how terrible the condition of these poor animals was. They barely had hair and the rest of their bodies were one giant scab. Every time they moved, this scab opened and they would bleed. Our vet told us they most likely had sarcoptic mange, which is contagious to other animals and to people. Each pig weighed in at 30 lbs, about 40-50 lbs underweight. I realized we were in over our heads, but we had committed to these animals, and it was my job to educate myself to make sure we gave them the best care possible. We had an uphill battle ahead of us, but more than ever I was so glad we had saved them. Who knows what would have happened to them had we not come for them?
We brought the boys to their new foster farm and set them up in an empty stall. This was the cleanest space they had seen in a long time, and they were grateful for the food and water. As I watched them eat, drink and then pile together and fall asleep, I joked that they looked more like hyenas than pigs, and Adam and I decided to name them Ed, Shinzi, and Bonzai after the three hyenas from The Lion King. I was (and still am!) completely head over heels in love with these boys, and wanted to give them the best. I made pig research my full time job those first few weeks and luckily I found some great resources online (such as minipiginfo.com) and was able to learn a huge amount of information about the care pigs require. The boys skin slowly healed, and their personalities began to shine through. We bonded very closely to all three and I took so much pride in having earned their trust. A year went by and we rescued three more pigs, this time females, and together they formed a happy little family! Adam and I were there every few days once we brought in the girls to help with feeding, cleaning and enriching their area at the foster farm, and we would spend hours with them each time.
This farm was beautiful and large enough to house many farm animals and horses, and we began to make plans to rent-to-buy it from the owners and finally have a rescue facility of our own. Six months before we were supposed to begin renting the property, due to personal health reasons, Adam and I were unable to come to visit the pigs for about six weeks. We stayed in touch with the farm owner and staff throughout that time and they assured us all was well with the animals and not to worry. Imagine our shock when we returned, opened the door to their stall, and discovered six emaciated and screaming pigs living in filth, the floor covered by at least three inches of feces all around. As long as I live I will never forget the screams they made, and how clear it was that they had not been fed, watered, or cleaned once in the six weeks we had been gone. The pigs ran to me as I began to cry, although some were too weak to even walk. Bonzai especially had lost so much weight he appeared nearly dead, and he weighed in at 25 lbs, having lost 50 lbs in the six weeks. I was so confused, how could anyone have done this to innocent animals? I was furious, what had they done with the money we sent for pig food? I was lost, how could I ever trust anyone with our animals again?
The next few days were a blur, and I am so grateful to our vet who brought all of our pigs back to life after this incredible abuse and neglect. We brought the evidence of this abuse to the local authorities, but sadly after months of following up, I had to come to terms with the fact that nothing would be done to make these people answer for nearly killing our animals. Instead I had to focus on caring for them every day and finding a new place for them and our horses to live. The night after we first saw what the foster farm had done, I couldn’t sleep, kept awake by the guilt of realizing I had trusted the wrong people with our rescue’s beloved animals. I went online and began desperately searching for a farm we could afford, and one farm kept popping up in my searches. It was a beautiful, 60 acre horse farm that with some hard work fundraising, we could afford to rent, and that night I decided it is where our rescue would someday call home.
Here we are almost a full year after this horrible experience with the foster farm. We are thriving on our new property, and most importantly so are our pigs and other animals. We now have nine pigs, including Ed, Shinzi and Bonzai, and they have a large, beautiful and clean space here to enjoy. They have all of the food, water and love they could ever want. We have decided to keep Ed, Shinzi and Bonzai as permanent sanctuary residents so they can help us to socialize new pigs that come through our rescue, and to help us to educate our community the way they helped to educate us about the plight of pigs in our country right now. These three little pigs have taught me so much about how to care for farm animals, what I want our rescue to stand for, and who I am. They are the reason we found our new home, and they are a daily lesson for me in resilience, as they have come back from abuse and neglect not once, but twice. I look forward to many years of loving them, spoiling them, and watching them thrive. They will never want for anything again, and now will just be able to enjoy their lives. I am so thankful to have met these three little pigs who changed our rescue and changed my life.