Operation: Indy Pig Rescue

From Hog Haven Farm’s Executive Director and primary caretaker, Erin Brinkley-Burgardt, regarding the animal cruelty/hoarding case in Indiana

Erin documenting conditions on the ground in Indiana, early June 2019

About 3 weeks ago, I was tagged in a Facebook post about 60+ pigs in dire need of rescue in Indiana. I reached out to a few individuals to get more information, and learn how I could best help these pigs. 

When I saw the news stories posted about these pigs, I decided I could not turn away, and merely share the links asking for help. I wanted to be involved on a deeper level—I have personally worked on hoarding/neglect/cruelty cases before, and I know first hand how much these animals need a lifeline and support. 

Communications began between myself and a few other rescuers, and over the course of a week, plans and arrangements to save these pigs were falling into place. I decided to fly to Indiana to see the situation first hand, assess the exact number of pigs in need, and document conditions with my photography skills. 

Conditions on the ground were absolutely heartbreaking, and much worse than I fathomed. The areas the pigs lived in were deplorable—some of the large pigs (400lbs+) were in mud to their chests. There were areas of the pens I could not safely walk, as the depth of mud was greater than the height of my knees. The smell was powerful…laden with feces and urine, the mud had an overpowering, sickening smell—and in several areas, I had to cover my face to breathe. The flies were everywhere, and the sound in the still air was filled with their buzzing. Not one pen had grass for the pigs to graze, and many pens lacked dry ground or shelter as a relief from the mud and elements. Many pigs had no access to water, and none of the pigs had access to fresh water. All of these pigs (67 by my count) are intact, and we aren’t certain on how many pregnancies there may be among the 32 females.

Though this experience was a literal hell on earth, I tried desperately to stay strong for these pigs. I diligently went to each pen, a total of 18, to document the pigs, their conditions, and to make contact. Most were scared of me, and refused my touch. Some were curious after a few minutes, and would cautiously approach, smelling my hands. 

Only one pig willingly approached me as I entered his pen. He was a little crusty from the mud, and the only pig with water in his pen. The word “water” should be used very loosely, as the container resembled that of a cesspool, and nothing I would allow an animal to consume. The look in this pig’s eyes was of genuine curiosity; he wanted to trust, but he wasn’t sure how.  

In my heart, I made a promise to these pigs. We will get you safe; you will know the basic comfort of a soft bed to sleep upon, fresh grass in your belly, and the cool relief of fresh, clean water. You will know love and compassion, and be saved from hell. We will not let you down. 

I made the decision to bring a couple of these pigs back with me, when they are able to travel across state lines, to give them the very best life imaginable. There will be happy tears when I see happily swinging tails of pigs enjoying freedom, at last, and the life they so desperately deserve.

While on site, two pigs seemed in dire need of medical attention: one lived in a horse trailer, without any ventilation or fresh water, and with visible respiratory distress. The other had a visible prolapse to be addressed. Working with a few other volunteers, we purchased crates to transport them to Purdue University Vet Teaching Hospital, where they could be immediately helped. Driving two hours north was the most stressful drive of my life, but both girls were able to receive much needed medical attention, and now, days later, are recovering well and have bright futures ahead.

Working with multiple other rescues, with the common goal of saving lives, has been a very humbling, incredible experience. Though this mission has been overwhelming, exhausting, stressful, and troubling, to say the very least, there are good humans who only want to reach a common goal. I am beyond grateful for teamwork on the Indy Pig Rescue, to simply save 67+ lives, and raise awareness about the power of compassion in rescue. To my friends, new and old, at Gracie’s Acres, Cotton Branch Farm Sanctuary, Kansas City Pig Rescue Network, Kanda Farm Sanctuary, Trail’s End Wildlife Refuge, and A Critter’s Chance: thank you for working by my side, through thick and thin, to save these sentient beings. 

Tomorrow starts a new chapter for these pigs, and life will only get better from here on out. 

If you would like to assist with this rescue operation, funds are needed to provide vet care for all 67 pigs. Basic care, including dewormer (for internal and external parasites), disease testing, and pregnancy screening will begin the week of June 10, 2019. After initial vet care, these pigs will be neutered and spayed, and prepped to safely head to forever homes. All donations are being handled by Kanda Farm Sanctuary, a 501C3 nonprofit in Indiana, and are tax-deductible.

To sponsor basic vet care: bit.ly/indysponsor

To volunteer as a caretaker: bit.ly/caretakervolunteers

For more general information: www.indypigrescue.org

The Plight of Mini Pigs

On April 18, 2019, executive director Erin Brinkley-Burgardt presented to Colorado legislators the plight of pet pigs. Learn more about Hog Haven Farm began, why there is an overwhelming need for rescue, and how you can help.

Founded in August 2014, Hog Haven Farm was conceived from my childhood love of pigs, and from an incredible bond I formed with my first pet pig, Pipsqueak. After bringing Pippy home in 2013, and becoming active in Facebook communities for pet pigs, my husband Andrew and I became aware of the national plight of pet pigs, and decided to take action. Thinking our rescue goals would take 5 years to take off, we were blown away when Hog Haven Farm grew within 6 months. In the last 3 years, we have moved twice to accommodate the growing demand of rescue, and are now located on 40 beautiful acres east of Denver. We rescue pigs from situations of abandonment, abuse, neglect, and from slaughter. 

Hog Haven Farm is currently home to 98 pigs, 7 equine, 1 dog and 4 cats. Of these 98, 80 are potbellied and 18 are standard or mixed breeds. In the 4.5 years we’ve operated, we have rescued nearly 190 pigs, with our intake doubling in 2017 when we were able to expand. Since founding, we have been able to adopt more than 80 potbellies to forever homes, and network other pigs in need to find sanctuary or permanent homes. 

Sadly, only 2-5% of all pet pigs remain in one home during the course of their long lives, a 20-year average. One primary factor contributing to abandoned pigs relates to breeding practices. Because pig breeding is not regulated by the USDA or PACFA, false claims can be made to sell more piglets without consequence. Additionally, there are an estimated 500,000 pet pigs in the United States, so you can imagine why the retention rate of pet pigs is so alarming.

The terms “teacup, “micro-mini,” and others were coined by breeders to sell more piglets. No matter the breed, all piglets are typically less than a pound at birth, and the overwhelming cuteness of these babies draws a lot of attention. The myths about these tiny pigs include many alarming details; breeders will claim that teacup pigs reach a mere 25-40lbs at maturity. Additionally, many breeders suggest highly restrictive diets to keep these pigs small, or essentially advising their clients to starve the pig. Many breeders also welcome clients to meet the breeding parents, suggesting that the piglet will only grow as large as mom or dad. 

The truth behind these myths is widely available to anyone performing a simple Google search. “Teacup” and other such breeds are merely potbellied pigs, who grow anywhere from 70 to 250lbs. The term “mini pig” is also misleading, as it refers to any breed of pig 300lbs or less. Compared to standard breeds, 300lbs is quite small! Females come of breeding age at 4 months old, and often, the breeding parents at breeders are just babies themselves. Because pigs don’t complete their growth for 4-5 years, meeting breeding pairs who are younger than that do not give an accurate size reference. Additionally, not all pigs will be the same size as their parents; just like human children, there is no guarantee that they will fit in a certain growth percentage! 

Another contributing factor to unwanted pet pigs is zoning regulations and restrictions. In Colorado, some of the current cities with bans on pet pigs are Aurora, Loveland and Castle Rock. When people are caught illegally keeping a pig, the animal is either seized or the owner is given up to 30 days to remove it. Hog Haven Farm has received many calls from Aurora and Castle Rock, from both animal control and private owners, asking that we remove the pig. 

In addition to bans on pigs, other jurisdictions have unrealistic weight restrictions for pet pigs. While potbellies can be as small as 70lbs, the more common range, in our experience, is 100 to 180lbs at adulthood. It is our opinion that, if potbellies are permitted as pets, the weight restriction should be removed all together, or should be at the high end of the range—250lbs. 

Most jurisdictions that allow pigs as pets do not have licensing or neuter/spay policies in place. This contributes to backyard breeding, which is banned for other types of domesticated animals. Because of the lack of licensing and altering policies, about 50% of the incoming pigs at Hog Haven Farm are intact, and are rarely up to date on necessary vaccines, such as dewormer. 

While pigs do make wonderful companion animals, they often do not do well in homes with other pets—primarily dogs. Because pigs and dogs have different methods of communication, they can become a danger to one another. Inherently, pigs are prey and dogs are predators; due to no fault of either animal, the result of their inability to communicate can lead to traumatic, and often lethal, results for the pig. That being said, pigs do coexist well with other species, including cats, goats, and other “farmed” animals. 

One of the reasons I am so drawn to pigs is their sentience. Pigs are social animals with a herd mentality, and form strong bonds with their companions—they crave affection and attention. Ranked the fourth smartest mammal, pigs reach the intelligence of a 4year old human. Like elephants, pigs’ emotional intelligence is comparable to our own human experience—they understand joy, love, and happiness, but also deeply feel sadness, loss, grief, pain, and fear. When pigs lose their companions, they can, and often will, cry real tears and suffer from depression, just as we humans do.

Pigs use more than 20 sounds to communicate; when they are happy to see their companions, they hot pant to express affection. As intelligent animals, pigs are natural problem solvers—they are curious and food motivated, so learning to bust out of their pen or break into the refrigerator inside the house are mild inconveniences. More so than other domesticated animals, pigs appreciate human companionship, and love to cuddle or be around their people. As such, we advocate for a compassionate, plant-based diet. 

Operating a pig rescue has its limitations. Pigs are dominant creatures, and will physically fight one another when meeting for the first time, so there is a process to integrate new pigs. As many of our intakes have not been vaccinated, and parasites can affect our entire herd, we have a quarantine procedure that lasts anywhere from 30 to 60 days. Many of the inbound females are not spayed, and the procedure, while necessary, is quite expensive. Current demand averages eight surrender requests for every one pig we adopt out. In 2019, we have rescued 12 pigs and adopted 8, but have a current waitlist of 5. We have had to say ‘no’ to more than 40 unwanted pets as well. Our average annual adoption rate is only about 20%, and that further limits the number of new pigs we can rescue.

To combat the overwhelming plight of unwanted pigs, we have several ongoing objectives. The first objective is to work directly with animal control units across the Denver-metro, for training purposes or to place abandoned, abused and neglected pigs. We also work directly with many animal shelters that are not equipped to handle pigs; some of the shelters we work with are partnered with animal control units, and we have been able to save many pigs from hoarding and neglect cases because of this relationship.

Hog Haven Farm also strives to educate the general public about pigs as creatures and as pets, to break the myths breeders have created and allow people a chance to interact with our rescued pigs. We are very active on social media, with the goal of teaching people about these amazing creatures. We currently have 7 pigs trained as therapy pets, and will bring them to fundraising events, as well as to schools, assisted living and nursing homes.

Our last objective is where we need your help! We are seeking change for breeding regulations and zoning restrictions across Colorado and ultimately nationwide. Without your help, and without our ability to educate the general public, the epidemic of unwanted pet pigs will only worsen.   

You can become involved by sharing this truth, reaching out to your local lawmakers and demanding change, and by choosing to adopt your companions, rather than supporting breeders. Only through education can we demand change! To watch the full video of Erin’s presentation, please visit our Facebook page.

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!