Leroy’s Journey to a Happy Forever After

A sad beginning, a wonderful ending…the story of rescue, rehabilitation, and adoption of a handsome pig named Leroy, as told by his new human mom, Susan.

My son David’s 10-year milestone birthday was July 1st this summer. He started wondering what pet he would get to commemorate it months beforehand, because his brother Danny had gotten his cat Serena for his 10th birthday. We had planned on getting Danny a turtle, but ended up adopting our beautiful tortoiseshell huntress—that’s another story. Pigs have long been David’s very favorite animal. He’s done his school reports on pigs, read adult books like “Esther the Wonder Pig”, tells everyone they are the 4th smartest animal, and gave up eating pork 2 years ago. His New Year’s resolution was to convince more people to give up eating pork.

I began looking into adopting or sponsoring a pig. My internet search uncovered Hog Haven Farm (HHF) and I submitted an adoption application. I also stumbled on a breeder’s website that said they sometimes did rehoming/rescue and listed an available pig named “Leya” (no picture). I’m guessing the prior owners had named him “Leia” after Princess Leia, because they told the breeder he was a pregnant female when they surrendered him to her in March (their young boar was mounting him all the time). When I called the breeder, she told me Leia was: “2-3 years old, small—about 40 pounds but should be closer to 50lb since the other pigs keep taking his food, scared and shy, and would really be happiest as the only pig.”

Even though he was younger than I wanted (pigs can live to be 15-20 years!) I decided to visit the breeder. What an experience—animals everywhere: goats, llamas, horses, chickens, turkeys, cats, dogs, and so many pigs. Big pregnant pigs, rutting pigs, young pigs, all going back and forth between pens. She tried to coax Leya to us with an apple, but other pigs butted him out of the way and demanded attention. He ended up finally laying down in a corner out of the way where I could pet him and see how thin he was. The breeder seemed nonchalant and un-invested in Leya—I could purchase him for only $75 (compared to a piglet which cost $600!). She recommended that I contact Erin at HHF, since I was interested in an older pig (they can live to be 20 years!). I told her I had an application in.

After we left, I couldn’t stop thinking about Leya. Meanwhile, my adoption application was approved to Hog Haven Farm, so I visited the next weekend with a friend. What an amazing place–over 120 happy pigs on 40 acres, some adoptable and some lifelong sanctuary pigs. Of the pigs Erin thought would be a good fit for us, my favorite was Chauncey—8 years old, super sweet, with a precious face. He had a sunburn that day, but would poke his head out of his shelter for treats and pets. Erin knew I’d visited Leya and was concerned about his condition and environment. The fact that he hadn’t “blown his coat” suggested he was highly malnourished. I made a plan to buy him from the breeder and bring him to HHF so he could be evaluated. Erin said she could provide him a lifetime home with the expert care that we suspected he would need.

I wanted to make rescuing Leia part of David’s birthday and really wanted my boys to see the contrast between the two environments—the breeder’s (where pigs are a commodity and treated as such) and HHF (where pigs are obviously cherished). David’s birthday was a couple of weeks away, but Erin and I were both concerned about leaving Leia there for that long, so I decided to make it a two-part event. First, we would rescue Leia as soon as possible and get him to Hog Haven, and then later for David’s birthday, we would return to Hog Haven to see how he was doing and consider sponsoring or adopting a pig. In anticipation, I bought a large crate, a harness, and a ramp off of Craigslist, then we headed to the breeder’s early on Wednesday, June 24th.

Leia was even skinnier and dirtier than my last visit, and the boys saw how skittish he was with the other pigs, who continually bullied him. The breeder explained how he was at the bottom of the “pig totem pole” and was constantly being picked on. She said that she’d been feeding him extra to try to make up for it. She quickly got the harness on him and got him loaded into the car (finally gave up on using the ramp and just picked him up). I had already paid for him and there was no paperwork to sign. She gave me her standard “new pig parent booklet” and some de-wormer to put in his food. Finally, we were off to Hog Haven Farm, which was a little over an hour away. During the ride, we tried out different names—I suggested “Leo” as being close to “Leia,” but David tried “Leroy” and our guest seemed to respond to it right away.

When we arrived at Hog Haven, my son Danny and Erin’s husband Andrew unloaded Leroy from the car to his pen. His happiness and gratitude were totally evident, as he explored his surroundings. He kept coming back to the boys and the goodies they were offering him. Erin was immediately concerned with how underweight Leroy was and noticed that he had a “rickety walk” in his hind legs, characteristic of severely malnourished pigs. Whereas the breeder initially told me he was 40 pounds and 2 – 3 years old, Erin predicted that he was closer to 80 pounds and several years older, based on the length of his tusks and wear on his teeth. She feared he would have ongoing health problems, be susceptible to infections, and have a shortened life based on his poor appearance, scoring him as a “1” on the body conditioning scale for pigs. In the neighboring pen was my buddy Chauncey and his roommate Norman. Chauncey came right out to see what was going on, “hot panted” me a greeting, and hopped into his pool. I visited with him while Leroy acclimated to his new digs.

When Erin was able to give Leroy a more thorough exam the next day, she discovered abrasions and hematomas, his hoof was injured, and he had lice. I texted this information to the breeder, and her response was very matter of fact about it all, saying “pigs heal quickly” and she would wait until the weekend to disinfect her facility. Lice are very contagious (to other pigs, but not other animals, thank goodness), and her matter of fact response and lack of concern was upsetting. Leroy had to be moved to the quarantine pen, where he could see the other pigs but couldn’t infect them.

Here he had a cute shelter, pool, and was conveniently close to Erin’s and Andrew’s house. By that weekend, Leroy wasn’t feeling well. Erin suspected that his system was reacting to eating pellets and grazing on grass, and that he was dehydrated. She took him to the vet, where they ran tests and kept him overnight for monitoring. As she’d predicted, his weight was 81 pounds and he scored a 1, the worst possible on the body conditioning scale–his ribs and hip bones could be felt with ease, though the amount of hair covering his body helped obscure these signs of malnourishment. It was scary to think how likely it is that he would have died if I had brought him home after picking him up from the breeder.

Leroy continued to be on my mind and in my heart, and as he improved at Hog Haven Farm, I started to hope that perhaps we could safely bring him home, particularly if we stayed in close contact with Erin and Andrew. Leroy surprised us all by blowing his coat, an encouraging sign that his condition was really improving–Erin feared he wouldn’t lose his coat at all this year. He looked pretty scraggly when I next visited him, but was as communicative as ever and really wanted scratches. Every visit he jumps up at some point to cool off in his pool. Then he comes back smelling like a wet dog!

Meanwhile, poor Chauncey had to go back to the vet. He skin and eye issues had cleared up but he was losing weight and not feeling well. We were so sad to learn his bloodwork showed a rare autoimmune condition—and one to which one of Chauncey’s peers, Stuart, had sadly just succumbed. Prior to learning this, I started questioning whether Chauncey was the right pig for us to adopt. It felt like he was withdrawing from me more and more each visit. As it turns out, the poor boy was feeling so badly—I know he really wanted to be with his human mama and favorite person, Erin. She is amazing in her expertise and devotion to all her pigs. She concocted delicious, nutritious meals with extra iron and supplements to help him keep weight on and battle the disorder, and Chauncey became an official house pig, at Erin’s side whenever possible.

Visiting with Chauncey early on

Leroy, on the other hand, continued to greet us every visit, as if he knew we were the ones who brought him to Hog Haven. I was surprised and thrilled when Erin said she thought we could adopt Leroy. I had to persuade David, however, because he selflessly loves Leroy so much–he struggled with believing Leroy should stay at Hog Haven for his own sake. With Leroy’s improved health and the possibility of adopting him, David kept worrying that Leroy had been through too much and would enjoy his life at Hog Haven more than what we could provide him. Forty acres to roam and other pig friends is a pretty awesome way to live, after all. It took Erin telling him that she thought Leroy would have as good a life with us, given all the love and attention we could shower on him, for David to let himself give in to his deep wish that we could bring Leroy home. This felt right, and I knew if Leroy had health problems or was unhappy, Erin would welcome him.

Friday August 24th, adoption day, finally came—exactly two months after we rescued Leroy from the breeder. Even though it was another early start and he still grumped that we were crazy for adopting a pig, Danny wanted to come with us, which made David and I so happy. It seemed to take forever to get everything together (crate, ramp, blankets, harnesses, snacks for humans and pigs, water, etc.) and get to Hog Haven Farm. When we arrived, we spent some time visiting Burgie (sweetest earless rescue found wandering in Grand Junction) and the piglets, Primrose, Ruth, and Florence. The usual crew that always surrounded us wanting treats was there, joined by Magneto, who took a shine to Danny. I keep telling him that if Leroy needs a friend we’ll adopt Magneto for him. Finally, we drove to Leroy’s quarantine pen to load him for the drive home.

Danny, Susan and David on adoption day. Leroy was thrilled to head to his new, forever home!

Leroy has now lived at his forever home for one month. From the updates we receive on a regular basis from Susan, it’s very obvious how very loved this special pig is–and his body condition has drastically improved to a 3 on the scoring chart (perfection!). At Hog Haven Farm, we are firm believers that pigs pick their humans–and Leroy clearly made his choice to spend the rest of his natural life with not only the kind family who saved him, but the kind family who loves him unconditionally, ensuring he’ll always have the care, attention, and special snacks.

The Hog Haven Farm Piggy Family

One of our frequently asked questions is how we determine what pigs are adoptable, versus what pigs will be sanctuary residents. It’s a great question, and we have given a lot of thought to how best explain our process.

There are a variety of factors that influence our decisions–not just regarding adoptable vs. permanent, but on how to best socialize a new pig, how to integrate a new pig with existing pigs, what pen a new pig should ultimately be placed in, and so forth. The first step in our process is to familiarize ourselves with a pig’s personality traits and behavior. Is the pig dominant, or timid? How does the pig interact with other pigs through the fencing? How does the pig interact with humans, both the regular caretakers he sees daily, and the random visitors who stop by?

One of the families calling Hog Haven Farm their home: Batman (middle) is the biological dad of Neils Boar (left) and Valerie (right)

2017 Rescue Updates

In 2017, Hog Haven Farm brought in a total of 40 rescued pigs, and 19 piglets were born at the sanctuary to 3 different pigs. Here’s an end-of-year status update on these pigs!

Of the 40 rescued pigs, 8 found their forever homes: Alvin, Boots, Charlie, Kevin the KuneKune, Kevin the potbelly, Moo, Otto, and Pepper! In addition to these 8, another 15 pigs found their forever homes in 2017. Of the 19 piglets born at Hog Haven Farm in 2017, 6 found their forever homes; Mama’s babies Junior and Patty, and Delilah’s babies Stewie, Lemmy, Chester and Roscoe were all adopted. A total of 23 pigs found their forever homes in 2017!

Charlie with his new family; September 2017

If you’ve been following Hog Haven Farm throughout the year, you may recall a few of the sadder rescue stories. In March, we brought in a malnourished pig named Phil; while his former family didn’t intentionally cause him harm, and he was loved and happy, Phil was on an improper diet for his age and was significantly underweight. Check out the before and after photos of Phil, from March until now!

Phil upon arrival in March 2017

Phil’s current shape, taken in November 2017

In April, we rescued 6 siblings from a terrible hoarding situation: Delilah, Zara, and their brothers Brindle, Hagar, Leo and Paxton. Delilah was pregnant at time of rescue, and delivered 9 babies in late July; sadly, one didn’t make it, but the other 8 were very healthy! All four boys were neutered late summer, and the girls will spayed early 2018. We’ve been working hard to socialize this group, and slowly seeing some results.

Delilah with her piglets

Zara was injured at time of rescue, with an odd, jagged scar running from her forehead to her tail, with open sores along her back. While her back is covered heavily in scar tissue, she has grown hair and healed very well. Her skin is still pretty dry, but compared to April, she’s a whole new pig! She also got a trip to the human house for a few days over Christmas, where she really warmed up to pets from Erin.

Zara getting some love from Erin!

We are closing 2017 with 84 pigs (8 of whom are boarding with us). Many of our piggies are still looking for their forever homes! If you think you’re ready to be a pig parent, please visit this link.


The wonderful world of piglets

Hog Haven Farm does not encourage breeding, and do our best to avoid litters of piglets born on our watch. However, pigs (and animals in general) are driven by instinct, and last May, our sweet troublemaker Dug figured out how to escape his pen. We spent a stressful day fixing fences, installing electric wire in two new areas, and keeping unaltered pigs contained to their respective pens. 
Since Dug was loose, and in contact with intact females, we discussed options with our vet to avoid pregnancy, and purchased emergency contraceptive for several females. With a high demand for rescues, avoiding new litters of piglets is advisable, so we don’t contribute to the problem of so many unwanted pigs. 

Dug, our resident Hampshire/potbelly mix

One of our females ended up pregnant, even after emergency contraceptive. We didn’t realize her pregnancy until about 2 weeks before her due date (which we were able to calculate from our expenses to fix fencing). Of all the pigs to become pregnant, it was our Hampshire, Journey; this means adopting out her babies is not an option, because she is 400lbs at 2yrs, and Dug, a Hampshire/potbelly, is over 300lbs at about the same age.

Journey, proud mama to 6 healthy piglets

We welcomed a litter of 6 healthy piglets on 8/31, the same day (ironically) that Dug was neutered. Journey gave birth to two girls, Infinity and Maple, and four boys, Bowie, Prince, Beetlejuice, and Timon. These piglets are 3/4 Hampshire, 1/4 potbelly from our best guess, and were so vibrant within hours of birth. They began exploring outside almost immediately, and within a week, were playing in the mud and eating solid food with their mom. 

Journey sniffing noses with her baby Infinity

These piglets are so incredibly sweet and curious–more so than any of the piglets born at Hog Haven Farm from pregnant rescues. When strangers approach the pen, these piglets are immediately at the fence to sniff and nibble fingers. They love to play and run around, chew on clothing, and climb all over whomever will sit in the pen with them.
Journey started weaning the piglets at 5 weeks. They are 6 weeks old today, and we let Journey out during the day, but back in with the piglets at night. They still nurse periodically, but have been eating pellets for weeks, so they are fine to be without mama now; she is happy to be out and about during the day with her friends.

Curious piglets at play!

We would like to have Journey spayed by the year’s end; the cost of her spay has been estimated at a minimum of $800, given her size. Including Journey and her piglets, we currently have 5 unaltered males and 13 intact females left. Nearly 30 spay and neuter procedures have been done this year alone, and our new policy is to not accept unaltered pigs (unless it’s an emergency). On average, neuters cost $130-150, and spays start at $250, but average cost is $400. Spays are a more intensive procedure, and cost varies by size of the pig.
If you’d like to help support our neuter and spay program, please consider a  one-time or recurring donation. You can also call our vet and have a credit put on our account, under Andrew and Erin Burgardt. Not only do these procedures eliminate unwanted pregnancies, they help avoid behavioral issues (escaping/damaging pens, aggression) and promote healthy females. Intact females can suffer from uterine tumors later in life, and much shorter life spans than if they are spayed.
Ideally, neutering and spaying at an early age is best, but quite a few of our females came to us intact and older. Two need to lose weight before they can be considered for surgery, but we are trying our best to take care of these procedures as funding allows.

Is pig adoption right for you?

Everything you need to know before bringing home a new family member

Undoubtedly, piglets are one of the cutest, cuddliest creatures on this earth. The wagging little tails, cute snouts, and fast movements (we call it the zoomies) make them a desirable pet. But, unfortunately, there is an epidemic in the United States with unwanted pet pigs. Researching pig parenting prior to adopting a pig is crucial.

Pigs are smart–the fourth smartest mammal, in fact. This can be good and bad! Intelligence means that pigs can be easy to train as house pigs–they will learn to use a litter box, pee pads, doggy door, or have other ways to let you know when they need to potty (like ringing a bell at your back door). They are clean animals, and do not like to defecate anywhere near their food or bedding. But they can learn undesirable behaviors, too–like opening your cabinets and refrigerator, knocking over the kitchen trash, and pulling your bedding down to make their own sleep spot.

Having a pig as a pet is rewarding, but they come with their own quirks. Understanding their behavior is important; they are not like dogs, as many people like to assume. Pigs really are more like perpetual human toddlers; they have temper tantrums, attitudes, and will repeatedly push your buttons as they test boundaries.

Still think you want to bring home a pet pig? Here are a few important pointers for keeping one:

  1. Pigs need adequate space outside. As grazing animals, they like to munch on grass, dandelions, and other greens outside. They also having natural behaviors, like rooting, that are important to their psyche. While you don’t need a massive amount of land, having an outside area is critical. You can create a rooting area for a pig, so it won’t destroy your entire yard with it’s curious snout, but they do not do well cooped indoors all of the time.
  2. Pigs do not sweat. They need an area to cool off outside, like a kiddie pool or even a mud hole, and need access to fresh water 24/7.
  3. A pig is a routine-driven creature. They like to have their meals at the same time every day, and will let you know (loudly) if you deviate from their schedule. Like deviate by minutes. If you can’t stick to a routine, a pig is not a good pet for you.
  4. Pigs need companionship and attention. They love to have their tummies scratched, and to snuggle with you. They are not a good pet to keep if you work long hours and therefore can’t provide attention and companionship.
  5. Pigs can coexist with other animals, but are not a good combination with dogs. But there are so many cute dog and pig videos on Instagram!  We cringe every time we see these videos. While dogs and pigs can coexist, they do not understand each other. Instinctually, dogs are predators and pigs are prey. Normal pig behaviors, like squealing or running, may trigger the predator instinct in your loving family dog, and that’s it–the pig has no way to defend itself from the attack. Pigs and dogs must only interact under strict supervision, and never be left alone together.
  6. Pigs are dominant animals, and will try to be alpha in your household. If not properly trained, a dominant pig can be aggressive (especially to house guests and strangers), and become rude when they want something. You must learn dominance training to be alpha to your pet pig, otherwise, they will not be a fun family addition.
  7. There is no such thing as a teacup pig. Yes, mini pigs are real–they are also referred to as potbellied pigs, Juliana pigs, micro-mini pigs, etc. But these labels are not a breed of pig–they exist for breeders to sell more piglets. Mini pigs range in size from 70lbs at the extreme low end to 250lbs at the high end, but in our experience, many of these minis stay in the 100-170lb range. Do not get a pig if you cannot handle the extreme high end of sizeMuch like humans, you will not know, even from seeing the parents, how big the piglet is going to be at adulthood. They grow until they are 5 years old, although the skeletal structure stops growing around 3 years. Want to know the size before you commit? Please, please consider adopting an older pig. There are so many of them in need of a forever home, and you won’t have to worry about size if you choose one who is already done growing. Adults also have established behaviors, and are much easier to work with!
  8. Pigs are a lifetime commitment. They bond very closely with their people, and they grieve when they are separated. They will cry real tears when surrendered to a shelter, or sanctuary, or even a new home. Pigs live 15-25 years, so be prepared for the commitment.
  9. Do you rent your home? Wait until you’re a homeowner before committing to a pet pig. PLEASE. Many landlords will not accept pet pigs in rental properties, and it is totally unfair (and selfish of you) to bring home a pet you may not be able to keep. Renting is not stable–you may move once in ten years, every year, every couple of years….change is stressful to piggies, and if you have to move, there is no guarantee your pig can come with you. So please, if you rent, just don’t go there.
  10. Ensure your new piggy is spayed or neutered! Unspayed females have a heat cycle every 3 weeks, which leads to aggression and bad moods, and simply, not a fun pet to have around. Additionally, females can develop uterine tumors or cancer later in life, so making sure they are spayed leads to a longer, healthier life. Unneutered males will attempt to break out of fencing and enclosures, and will mount everything and anything they can.

Ready to adopt? Please fill out an adoption application to start the process. Since we are a rescue/sanctuary, we want what is best for the pig. It takes a bit of time to adopt through us, but if you’re ready and willing, it is worth the extra effort!

Summer Rescues at Hog Haven Farm

Summer time is usually a time for fun–backyard parties, time spent with family and friends, fireworks, and baseball keep everyone busy and active outside. At Hog Haven Farm, our summer season kicked off with new rescues and more pigs with special needs.

Hog Haven Farm happily welcomed new senior citizen residents Dottie and Stewart at the end of May. These two pigs are now our oldest residents, at 15 and 13 years old, and are also larger pigs. Dottie is most likely a Hampshire-Potbelly cross, and weighs in around 450-500lbs. Stewart is a larger potbelly, easily over 350lbs.

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