Saturday was my birthday, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate than to go to Pigs Peace Sanctuary in Stanwood, WA. I had never been to Pigs Peace and had been wanting to go for quite some time. So about a month ago, I made the appointment to go on Saturday with my mom and Eric. It took us exactly an hour to get there and was an easy drive–just a straight shot up I-5.
I’m interested in sanctuaries for a number of reasons; in particular for their role in rescuing and rehabilitating abused and neglected animals. I like to see sanctuaries because our plan, eventually, is to start one ourselves. But more immediately, I’m interested in sanctuaries because my dissertation research is focused on them. My dissertation is about understanding both the life-courses of dairy cows in a small-scale family farm setting, as well as those living in sanctuary. Farmed animals are commodified in even the most alternative, ‘humane’ farm settings. The dairy cow, in particular, labors to produce milk until her productivity wanes and she is sent to slaughter, a process by which her body is commodified and commodified again, in life and in death. And so, sanctuaries are important both for educating the public about the realities of farmed animal life and for caring for individual animals. But I’m interested also in exploring how the sanctuary operates as an alternative to the farm and how cows’ lives may differ considerably in a setting where their worth is not dictated by their productive capacity. And so, while Pigs Peace is a sanctuary for pigs (and not cows), the sanctuary model is one that I’m committed to exploring. Plus, visiting sanctuaries is generally wonderful and lots of fun!
We arrived at Pigs Peace at 5pm with our 100 lbs of carrots in the back of the car (thanks, MacPhersons!). The sanctuary itself is picturesque, particularly in the late afternoon light, with a white farm house with wrap around porch, and a red barn. Everything was immaculate and well-kept when we visited; I was completely impressed by how clean the grounds were and how everything seemed to have, and be in, its place. Judy runs Pigs Peace on her own, with help from volunteers and donors and was a warm and friendly host as she showed us around the sanctuary. And the pigs… Oh, the pigs! They were free to roam around the sanctuary as they wanted to, with no pens or gates isolating them from one another.
The sanctuary is all run on donations and Judy cares for about 190 pigs there (both potbellied pigs and commercial hogs). She said it was unique for both types of pigs to be allowed to live together, and that pigs need the community of other pigs. They are very social creatures and will mourn when they lose one of their friends. For other facts about pigs from Pigs Peace, click here. And for information about the experience of pigs in factory farms, click here or check out the very interesting book, An American Trilogy-Death, Slavery and Dominion on the Cape Fear River, by Steven Wise.
Judy has set up several different areas for the pigs–one is the “Special Needs” area where she has a blind pig living, along with a few others. There is also the “TLC” area, where pigs with spinal injuries, etc are living and she is working on helping them to rehabilitate and/or live out their days as peacefully as possible.
Ziggy was one of the greeters for the sanctuary, a very sweet pig born with only three legs who loved to have her belly scratched: Judy told us the stories of a number of the pigs at the sanctuary and they were filled with both heartbreak and hope. Betsy came from one of the worst cases of neglect and abuse that Judy had ever seen. Betsy was found lying in mud and feces surrounded by the dead bodies of all of the other pigs living with her. She was so weak that the only way she could avoid drowning in the mud was to rest her head on the corpse of another pig and when they rescued her, they found body parts of other animals in the mud. It was so amazing to see her at the sanctuary, hopefully working on forgetting what she had to endure before she came to Pigs Peace.
After Judy showed us around the sanctuary, she let us help feed treats to the pigs. This was quite a production, with two of the visitors running out with a cart filled with carrots and apples. Judy rang a large bell and the pigs came running. We all threw carrots and apples as fast and as far as we could:
This was totally magical, with the bell ringing, carrots flying through the air, and the pigs (big and small) running and munching down on carrots and apples. Pure bliss.
Thanks to Judy and the pigs for inspiration, and for providing hope and peace for animals in a world where animals are often treated in the worst ways imaginable.