Fourteen years ago we bought a pig.
OUR FIRST Teacup PIG:
Laura had always loved pigs and our home was completely decorated in what could only be described as an “Early Pig Motif”. In 1985, when potbellied pigs were first introduced into the U.S. as pets, she jumped on this event like a hungry duck on a June bug. The nagging started and the war cry: “I want a pig!!” became a constant theme at our house. Finally, in a desperate bid for peace and quiet, I found an ad in the local paper where a breeder was selling pot bellied piglets for $80 each. I agreed to take Laura to “look” at the pigs. I should have known better. As soon as we walked across the property and up to the pen area where the piglets were busy scooting around I came to the awful realization that I was leaving there $80 poorer and one pig richer. There were eight or 10 little black pot bellied pigs bouncing around like so many hooved ping pong balls and a 100 pound sow lying in the straw watching the proceedings with detached interest.
I truly wish I could say that there was some sort of special moment of bonding that took place during this visit, but the truth of the matter is that the piglet we ended up with was the first female that the breeder could catch as 10 little black rockets zoomed by at warp speed. We left with this little bundle of energy snuggled into Laura’s arms, an $80 dent in my checkbook, and me shaking my head in disbelief at what I had gotten myself into.
THE FIRST YEAR:
Of course we knew absolutely nothing about pigs, but, hey, we had had dogs and cats for years.. what was the difference? A pet is a pet. Owning a potbellied pig couldn’t be any different from owning a funny-looking dog. We decided to name this little bundle of energy Paddy Murphy-a good Irish name. It didnt take very long before we realized that this was a very different and very unique little animal. We probably made every possible mistake that a new pet pig owner can make. I am convinced that Paddy Murphy survived in spite of us, certainly not because of us. It didnt take her very long to eat and snurddle her way into our hearts. We were totally and completely hooked. Once you look deeply into a pigs eyes and see the inner beauty and the depth of their souls, there is no turning back.
We began trying to find out more about these unique little creatures, which back in 1987 was not very much. Some breeders were selling “registered” potbellies for thousands of dollars. We felt pretty lucky that we had gotten off with $80. Paddy was an indoor/outdoor pig. She had free access to a huge back yard via a pig door cut in the laundry room door. She slept in the bed, played outside, rooted up the garden and, generally, enjoyed life as an only pig. She got along ok with the dogs, but there was certainly no love lost between them. Paddy always seemed too aloof to be bothered playing with them other than to try to steal their food at feeding time. Life settled in to a comfortable routine.
OUR FIRST RESCUE:
After two years of relative peace and quiet, a friend asked us if we would consider taking in a piglet that had been bought from a breeder, abandoned on the highway and caught with a fishing net while running down the road. We agreed figuring that two pigs would be no more trouble than one pig and now, at least, Paddy Murphy would have a companion of her own species to play and bond with. Enter a little male we named Damien Gilhooley, but who soon got the nickname Stinky-Pig because he was such a terror. This was a pivotal point in the history of Mini-Pigs, Inc. To this day, we do not know how the word was instantly spread throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia that we would rescue miniature pigs, but the phone immediately started ringing off the hook with people and shelters wanting us to take in potbellied pigs.
THE ADDICTION PROCESS IS COMPLETE:
At the time we owned 1.25 acres of property that was a combination of woods and large yard. We had a really nice vegetable garden every year, but soon realized those potbellied pigs and gardens are inherently incompatible. I finally gave up and plowed it under (not that there was much left to plow) and sowed grass seed. Within two more years little portable sheds dotted the landscape and we numbered 12 rescued pigs of various sizes and dispositions. The dogs were totally neurotic and a blade of grass didnt stand a chance with 48 little hooves stomping around all day. Our veterinarian had reached the point where she was afraid to answer the phone for fear it would be one of us on the other end with another rescued pig that needed neutering, spaying or to be put back together again after some traumatic injury. It was obviously decision time.
A SANCTUARY IS BORN:
We made several decisions at this juncture. One was to begin to look for a suitable and larger piece of property for the animals. The other was to find a way to dedicate our lives and our resources to helping needy miniature pigs. Tragically, the unwanted pet potbellied pig has very few options. Many animal shelters are geared primarily to the dog and cat population and will not or can not deal with miniature pigs. Finding homes for unwanted potbellies is a difficult, if not impossible, challenge for an animal shelter. Many potbellied pigs left at or recovered by animal shelters are quickly killed. Many unwanted potbellied pigs are finding their way to local livestock auctions where they are sold for a dollar or less to be slaughtered and their meat used for animal feed. Still others are simply shot, poisoned or savagely attacked by dogs and allowed to die. We felt that while we could not save all the miniature pigs, that we could certainly do more than we were currently doing.
During this time we accidentally stumbled across an organization and two people who would forever change our lives. We found Dale Riffle and Jim Brewer who operate PIGS, A Sanctuary in West Virginia. PIGS was the first miniature pig sanctuary in the country and Jim and Dale won the hearts of the animal welfare and animal rights community with their operation and their intense dedication to the animal rights cause. These two amazing and wonderful men took us under their tutelage and have mentored us for several years as we learned how (and how not) to run a sanctuary. In the process we have learned more about pigs than we ever thought possible. Our association with Jim and Dale and our involvement with PIGS has also brought about a number of other significant changes in our lives. We have become committed to working for the rights of all animals-not just miniature pigs and we have adopted a total vegetarian lifestyle. We are very proud of our association with PIGS, A Sanctuary and sincerely hope to forge even stronger bonds with them as we grow and mature as a sanctuary. There are not words enough to thank Jim and Dale for their assistance, guidance, mentoring and support over the past years.
WE MAKE THE SANCTUARY OFFICIAL:
In May 1998 we incorporated our “hobby run wild” as Mini-Pigs, Inc. Shortly thereafter we found a relatively remote piece of property in Culpeper County, Virginia which was zoned properly and had the essential ingredients for a fledgling sanctuary. We relocated to the current property in October 1998 and soon, thereafter, we were granted 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status as a sanctuary by the Internal Revenue Service.
We barely had time to build pastures, install barns, clean up the property and move the animals 50 miles before winter set in. Since October, our population of rescued animals has grown to in excess of 40 pigs and two pygmy goats. Additional pastures have been added, along with more barns to house the new rescues. We have also been directly responsible for placing or assisting with the placement of over a hundred pet pigs who could no longer remain in their original homes. We are slowly beginning the transition from a dream to a thriving and growing sanctuary. We are limited in our growth only by a lack of funds as we also transition from a self-supported operation to sanctuary operated and funded by caring people and organizations. As funding continues to increase through contributions, the possibilities and capabilities of the sanctuary are limitless.
We never, in our wildest dreams, believed that buying a pet pig from a backyard breeder 14 years ago would have culminated in the formation of the first and only miniature pig sanctuary in Virginia. There have been many joys and sorrows along the way. We have made many mistakes and many good friends. Our lives have been changed forever by these unique and wonderful little animals. We would not go back and undo any of it, even if we could. You can not rescue animals without being deeply changed. The changes have been good ones and they have made us absolutely certain that this sanctuary was meant to be. To be able to save the life of a desperate and abused animal and then be privileged enough to be able to share your life with that animal is a joy beyond words.
THE END OF THE BEGINNING:
To bring this story full circle, Paddy Murphy is still alive and, at 16 years, is the Queen of the Sanctuary. She has full run of the property and greets each and every visitor with a sniff, a snort and a grunt. She has taken all of this in good stride and with an air of dignified indifference of which only a pig is capable. We think that she somehow senses what is happening in a way that only animals are capable of. We like to think that, in spite of her indifference and aloof attitude, she approves of the sanctuary and graciously shares her home and us with the rescued pigs that have found there way here to spend the rest of their days in peace, security and contentment ..free and safe to just be pigs.
This is the beginning, not the end, of the story. The end has yet to be written. We will write it with the help of many others who care enough to help us help the animals. The pages of this site will continue to educate people about the plight of miniature pigs and many other animals who are abused and exploited. It will also chronicle the growth of the sanctuary, share some rescue stories with visitors, and, hopefully, motivate many of you to get involved in whatever way you can to help. We are here for the pigs. It is really just that simple. Wont you join us?