Pigs in Peril Find Forever Homes at Snooters Sanctuary

By Cori Ferguson 2/11/10 | www.samaritanmag.com

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Yorkshire pigs Forest and Earl, age 7, saved from a backyard breeder, who sells for BBQs
Whether abandoned by overwhelmed pet owners, saved from slaughterhouses or discarded due to disability, an unusual collection of animals have lucked out in finding forever homes at the Snooters Farm Animal Sanctuary, located northeast of Newmarket, Ontario.

Pigs, both pot-bellied and full-sized, make up the bulk of the more than 25 inhabitants at Snooters, although the Morris’ also count two horses, four laying hens, four dogs, two cats, pea fowl and a parrot among their growing menagerie. Many of their pigs have been rescued “without permission,” says the sanctuary’s co-owner Susan Morris, who will only reveal that “they came from a variety of places – factory farms, backyard breeders, auctions.”

Susan and her husband, Brian Morris, both Toronto paramedics for 27 years, launched Snooters in 2001 when they relocated from the suburbs to the hobby farm that now houses the sanctuary.  The proud owners of Valentine, a pot-bellied pig that was a gift for Susan’s 40th birthday, were disturbed by information uncovered while researching how to best care for her so they took it upon themselves to provide a safe, secure home for other pigs facing certain death to instead live out their natural life spans.

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Susan and Belle, a potbellied pig, won at a
“What I found out was these very intelligent, sensitive creatures are bought and  abandoned at an alarming rate,” Susan writes in introduction to the farm on www.snootersforeverhome.com. “People buy the little bundles of joy shaped like a pig and when they grow to their normal size of 150 plus lbs, they are discarded like yesterday’s garbage.”

Expanding on the topic during an interview with Samaritanmag, Susan points out “[Pigs] are not good pets for the house. They like to root, and they are very intelligent so they get bored very easily. They’ve got hooves that need to be cared for, and they don’t make a good pet unless you’re willing to put up with a lot from them, and that’s why people get rid of them. You know, they get them when they are little tiny piglets, and then [are surprised when] they grow up to be full-sized pigs.

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Ah, the life of a pig at Snooters
“And these breeders that will guarantee that their ‘versions’ won’t get any bigger than 40 or 50 pounds,” she says in reference to the extremely trendy tea-cup pigs that are all the rage with celebrities, “that is crap.”

It’s when the pigs outgrow their owners’ expectations, or otherwise find themselves on track for an early demise, that the Morris’ come in. “A lot of them end up at auctions unfortunately, and a lot of times people [who want to save them] end up bidding against people who will buy them for food, which makes it difficult,” Susan says.

The oldest pig residing at Snooters is their original pot-bellied Valentine, who has now reached the ripe old age of 12. “Pigs are normally slaughtered at 250 pounds, which is about six months of age,” notes Susan, who is vegan. “The average age span of a pig is 15 years, but the factory farm pigs — because they have been genetically modified with antibiotics and hormones, and they lack sunlight and good air quality — tend to live only to 10 years, if that.”

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Gracie was rescued from a factory farm
Another of the Morris’ pigs, Flossy, a three-year old Yorkshire,  was purchased from a factory farm for BBQ/kg prices three days before she was due to be shipped to a slaughterhouse.

And then there’s Gracie, a five-year old Yorkshire pig that was rescued from a factory farm and brought to Snooters. “She was born small and not thriving so her fate was to be ‘thumped’ – held by the back legs and head slammed against the concrete floor — this is their way to euthanize — that or beaten with a hammer,” Susan says. “Her rescuer took her out in her bag to safety.”

And although they’ve recently added four chickens to their brood, the couple hasn’t taken in any new pigs recently, as space is at a premium and finances are tight, but Susan says she easily gets 12 emails a month from people trying to place a pig. They also get numerous contacts from those looking to adopt pigs as well, but, unlike animal shelters or rescues, the residents at Snooters aren’t available for adoption. “I would never trust anyone to take care of them the way we would,” Susan says.

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Flossy avoided the slaughterhouse
“We get calls from all over the country — Manitoba, Montreal, Nova Scotia  — from people seeking to adopt, but mainly it’s East Coast requests,” she says. To help fill them, Susan says, “We network a lot. [Pigs] are at the Humane Society quite often unfortunately; we put the word out and people adopt them. If somebody is looking for one sometimes they contact us and I just put their name in a file and we’ve got people to contact.”

Snooters operates as a non-profit rather than a charity so the Morris’ rely on their salaries and the kindness of supporters and strangers willing to forgo tax receipts to keep their sanctuary alive. They launched a Snooters website in September 2009 where, along with providing information about events, links and photos of the animal residents, they sell merchandise ranging from Snooters-branded clothing and note cards to stuffed animals, figurines, books and movies. One-hundred percent of the proceeds are used to care for the animals at the sanctuary.

The Snooters website also features a PayPal option for those wishing to make direct financial donations online, and the Morris’ willingly accept donations of supplies – feed, building materials, blankets, Canadian Tire money, and gift cards for home improvement stores are among the donations welcomed. “A really nice couple came up recently and brought us Home Depot Cards. It was so nice,” Susan says.

Although it is sometimes difficult to manage financially, Susan says, “I get embarrassed when people compliment us and tell us we are doing such a good thing; I do it for the animals, and I like to see the animals happy. All of the animals give back unconditional love – they all do it in their own ways.  Pigs are so affectionate. They love to be petted and are [very] loving – they just express it in a different way.”

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* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.