Singer-turned-pig rescuer creates homes for animals ‘written off just to eat’ – The Irish Times

There are plenty of hungry mouths to feed at the My Lovely Pig Rescue Shelter in Co Kildare. The animals are fed twice a day at 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

The pigs seem to have an internal clock, or maybe it’s just the growl in their stomachs. As the clock gets closer to afternoon grub, the squeaks and grunts get louder. The pigs bang on the gates and scrape the ground with their hooves, sensing that dinner time is approaching. The birds also react in the same way, anticipating their own meal from the leftovers of the barley and grain mix used to feed the pigs. You can barely hear yourself pondering the cacophony Bat.

When the whole world went into lockdown in May 2020, acclaimed singer-songwriter and animal rights activist Cathy Davey and sisters Martina and Deborah Kelly founded the pig shelter at Coonagh House, near Enfield. Nearby is My Lovely Horse Rescue Farm, which they founded in 2011.

Davey noted the rising trend of abandoned pet pigs, sparked by Instagram, and the phenomenon of so-called teacup pigs being branded as miniature pigs, except they don’t stay miniature for long. With no tour in sight for them, it was the perfect time to start.

The shelter originally had 35 pigs, a manageable number, but recently it has grown to 131. The reason for this is the same as why so many shelters have been inundated with abandoned animals – the Covid-19 lockdown. Many people bought domestic pigs during the lockdown. They were sold figuratively and literally as a pig in a poke.

You can hold a newborn piglet in one hand, but even the smallest will grow to 120 kg. You need a lot of space. A pig’s rooting instinct makes it unsuitable for conventional gardens and impossible for lawns. A simple Google search would be enough to show that you can’t have a pig in your home like you can have a cat or dog, but some buyers don’t even bother to do element research.

The problem has accelerated in recent months as multi-generational pig families are appearing on their doorsteps. Last November, 15 Kunekune pigs were found abandoned in a forest in Co Cavan. This is one of the smallest breeds of pigs and is often kept as a pet. They were brought to the shelter by veterinary inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture. They had nowhere else to go. “There’s no such thing as a pigsty, it’s just us,” says Davey.

Igor, known as Big Daddy, had at least four piglets with a sow that disappeared and inbred those four piglets and produced 10 more piglets. When they were picked up in Cavan, they were threatened with starvation.

“Their owners probably started with a boar and a sow. Now we have a triple incestuous family,” Davey said. Poor Igor is not doing well so he has yet to be castrated like all boars are when they come to the sanctuary so he drives himself and the sows in heat crazy by banging his head on the fence.

Davey put her career on hold to take care of these animals and her affection for them is immediately apparent. She goes into their pens, talks to them, tickles them and rubs their bellies. They’re used to having humans around, but pigs get terrible PR. They are synonymous with dirt, although they are clean. Far from being ignorant, they are intelligent animals. Nor do sows eat their own piglets, although James Joyce would have you believe in his famous metaphor about Ireland and its young people.

“That’s the dichotomy. People know that pigs are really smart and really adorable while eating a bacon sandwich. We’re really good at that cognitive dissonance,” she explained. “At the same time, we don’t have them rescued so they can be eaten.” She leads by example by being vegan.

All animals have names, even the piglets that look identical. There is a whiteboard with feeding programs and a bespoke app to monitor their progress. There are 16 volunteers, many of whom have come from overseas to work with the rescue.

Owners often abandon pigs because they become too big, too stubborn, or worst of all, breed if not spayed in time.

In the barn is Lily, the pig equivalent of a teenage mother who gave birth to five surviving piglets when she was just eight months old. A sow can become sexually mature at five months and is usually pregnant for just over three months. Her black and white piglets are “beautiful and small and cuddly,” says Davey, but brothers and sisters, if they aren’t spayed, are very likely to mate and “before you know it you’ll have 15 piglets.”

Those who have recently sown are kept under infrared light. This includes Flora, an old sow (she’s seven) who has given birth. Unfortunately she is inbred and only two of her piglets survived. They get lamb milk as a supplement. There are other deformed animals at the shelter.

My Lovely Pig Rescue is the only one of its kind in the country. Unlike dogs, cats or horses, accommodation is very difficult. Pigs are raised for meat and adopting them without a pig herd number from the Department of Agriculture is problematic.

For most pigs, it’s the Hotel California of animal shelters. You can never leave. Most people see pigs as a food source rather than a human companion, says Davey.

“It’s much harder to give a pig a new home than a dog because humans evolved with dogs. There is more understanding of their behavior than pigs and you must have a herd number to be compliant with the Department of Agriculture. There is a lot to do when taking care of a pig unless you do a lot of research and are genuinely interested in species-specific behavior. They get very upset when people don’t understand their natural behavior and people aren’t used to them because they think about pigs when they eat them without paying attention to them.”

Many of the pigs are currently out in the fields. It’s early in the year to put them outdoors, Davey admits, but the alternative could mean overcrowding and luckily the weather has been mild lately. The shelter has overcapacity, but turning away animals is not an option.

“We’ve hit the wall now. I’m not really interested in giving up the ghost once we’re full. There’s a change in the air as people feel more empathy for animals they’ve dismissed as mere food animals. The more empathy there is, the better chance there is of understanding them, and that’s the only thing that will stem this increase in unwanted pigs.” Singer-turned-pig rescuer creates homes for animals ‘written off just to eat’ – The Irish Times

Dais Johnston

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