To a lot of people, pigs are just a source of bacon. No thought is given past that.
It’s a little known fact that pigs are incredibly intelligent animals who have deep feelings, and are capable of logical thought which rivals that of most domestic dogs. All pigs have an individual character.
Unfortunately many people think that a pig would be a cute pet to have, and purchase one without doing any research. This leads to Pot Bellied Pigs (the most common pet pig in North America) being purchased, and then mis-treated and neglected as the pig grows from cute piglet into large hog.
Unscrupulous breeders will often market baby pigs as “micro pigs” and state that they will stay as small as a Jack Russell Terrier, maybe less than 10 kilograms. This is never the case, and the pigs grow up to be over 50kg and then become unwanted.
What happens to these pigs when they become unwanted? The answer is very sinister. Pigs get left in unoccupied homes, sent to unwilling humane societies, locked in bathrooms and suffer all manner of horrible neglect from owners who don’t know how to take care of them.
This is a shame for these intelligent and caring piggies as Lyall Watson (author of The Whole Hog) says “I know of no other animals that are more consistently curious, more willing to explore new experiences, more ready to meet the world with open mouthed enthusiasm. Pigs, I have discovered, are incurable optimists and get a big kick out of just being.”
Tucked away in one of the most southern parts of Canada, just outside Port Dover lies a small farm, on an otherwise normal rural road. The farm is known as Ralphy’s Retreat. Owned by a wonderful British couple.
Ralphy’s Retreat is a pig sanctuary. One of only a handful of pig sanctuaries. Run by Kara Burrows, she spends most of her life working to give the best life possible to these little porkers who would otherwise have no home.
Upon arrival, you walk along a gentle incline and are met by several large pink and dark grey piggies who grunt hellos. You’ll also be met by a very happy-go-lucky and jealous shepherd named Sasha. Sasha and the other piggies could easily identify grocery bags which I had brought filled with treats for everyone. Many pigs in pens flock to the edges where they grunt, oink, and squeal to greet us.
Kara opened the pen and motions for me to come in, at first she warns me about my feet in the pen. I assure her that a bit of pig poo is not the worst I’ve stepped in. Kara remembers each pigs name, and points them out to me. As I meet each individual pig, I quickly realise that each pig at the retreat has a story. From being used as a “greased pig” for parties, to being set free in city neighbourhoods, to “micro” pigs who are now over 50kg in weight. These beautiful and intelligent creatures all share the same common thread: they are unwanted.
Almost all of the pigs are remarkably friendly and want attention the same as dogs and cats. Including one pig called “Rocko” who will jump up and give you a high-five with his little cold snout upon request. Some even get adopted out to forever homes when people have the right facilities and desire to become piggy-parents. This kind of adoption helps ease the stress of the facility, and opens opportunities for other unwanted piggies across the province.
Like dogs, the pigs love attention. They will gather round and even attempt to escape their pens just to get their nose rubbed, belly scratched or a pat behind the ears. Some will even try to break IN to the barns if they are locked outside and can hear people inside. I was walking through and there was one pig who insisted she get more attention and was quite vocal about it. We even tried sprinkling some more food near her, but it didn’t seem to help.
These beautiful, gentle creatures are a pleasure to visit and will give you a great appreciation for them. Pigs are more than just barn yard animals used for food. They are beautiful intelligent creatures with their own hopes, dreams, and desires.
All of the pigs are kept in barns with regular access to outdoor communal spaces. They have blankets, small areas to get their own privacy, as well as lots of bowls of water and food. Kara explains that some of the pigs have “attitudes” and need to be kept separate. Especially the two boars Gordon and Cosmo. These pigs have their own private space away from the other pigs to ensure that there are no personality conflicts. Kara makes her own pig food for them, so she has complete control over what they eat.
Ralphy’s Retreat started off as part of something called Bella Misty Meadows Animal Sanctuary. Founded in 2004, the Sanctuary helped many animals in need find wonderful homes, and offered sanctuary to countless others. They accepted their first pot-belly pig in April 2010 and their journey into the wonderful world of pig rescues began. Although the sanctuary takes in all animals, their focus is on pot bellied pigs.
Operating Ralphy’s retreat is not without cost. They are always seeking people to “sponsor” an individual pig. If you do so, you will receive photographs, a certificate of appreciation as well as a calendar and regular updates of your pig. You will also receive their absolute gratitude as you are helping make the world a better place for each resident. If you travel to the area, you can book an appointment to visit with your pig, feed them cracked corn (their favourite) or even treat them to some bread or watermelon.
If you are interested in visiting you must book an appointment as the facility is not open to the public. School groups are welcome as it makes for a great fun and educational place to visit. The pigs love children.