DANBURY — Two years ago, Lexie Lovelace bought her first pet pig.
Now she has 37.
Lovelace started nonprofit Pearl’s Preserve, a pig sanctuary, to give rescued pigs a second chance after life in shelters, slaughterhouses or hoarding situations.
“A lot of pigs come into the shelters and as strays they go to auction. It’s state law,” Lovelace said.
The pigs on Lovelace’s 11-acre sanctuary — which she founded last February with her boyfriend, Thomas Walker — are all designated as pets, not livestock, she said.
Some were bound for slaughterhouses and others faced neglect in homes, Lovelace said.
One of their pigs, ZuZu, jumped off a slaughterhouse truck and nearly died during a subsequent hernia surgery. Another pig, Parsnip, was kept in a doghouse for five years making the pig partially flat on one side. Parsnip’s untrimmed hooves were up to eight inches long.
“Every pig out here came from a pretty bad situation. Some of them have PTSD,” Walker, 31, said. “We try to give them the best life they can.”
In the past year, they have saved 45 pigs through the nonprofit, many of which have been adopted out.
Depending on their backgrounds, some of the pigs at the Danbury-based sanctuary are eligible for adoption, following an extensive application process and a home check to ensure that the pigs are placed with a good match, she said.
Adoption fees for the pigs — which come spayed or neutered and vaccinated — are $100 for one and $150 for two.
“Pigs make great pets. They’re very smart. You have to gain their trust,” said Lovelace, who turns 29 this month. “They live 20 years, so their longevity is amazing.”
Finding Minnie Pearl
Lovelace and Walker adopted their first pet pig, Minnie Pearl, a few years ago after their dog died.
Lovelace spent the last $100 in her bank account to pay for the female pig, which the breeder told her would max out at about 50 to 80 pounds, she said. Today, Minnie Pearl is almost 300 pounds.
Lovelace said part of her motivation in starting the pig sanctuary was to dispel the public “mini pig myth.”
Even pigs advertised as tiny can weigh as much as 100 to 200 pounds when they reach full adult size, she said.
“There’s a huge mini-pig problem. People think they stay five to 10 pounds, but that’s not the case,” she said. “A year later, when the pigs are 50 to 80 pounds, they dump them at the shelter.”
The definition of a miniature pig is less than 300 pounds, Walker said, which is much bigger than many people expect them to be, creating a revolving door of pigs at the shelters.
Since they adopted two pigs from a shelter two weeks ago, the shelter has already accrued two more, Lovelace said.
“There’s just so many pigs that deserve a good home,” she said.
From dogs to pigs
When the couple met six years ago, Walker was running a shelter for pit bull rescues, but he closed it down.
After they got Minnie Pearl and later adopted rescue pig, Petunia, they decided to shift gears and start the pig sanctuary.
Chris Lawson, director of Stokes County Animal Control, said the county is aware of the sanctuary.
He said the couple does not need a permit to keep pigs on their property, although a permit would be needed for some other species, like dogs.
When neighbors have raised questions, county workers have inspected the property, and found no issues, which means the sanctuary can continue its work. Otherwise, the county does not inspect the property regularly.
The couple bought the property near Hanging Rock State Park, which is currently equipped to accommodate 50 pigs but could be expanded if they clear out more of the 11 acres, Lovelace said. Getting the pigs also prompted the couple to become fully vegan.
“You meet these pigs and live with them day in and day out and it opens your eyes to animal agriculture in general,” Lovelace said. “Pigs are very smart. Studies show they have the mental competence of a small child.”
Lovelace said in the New Year, she would like to work with legislators to change how pet pigs are classified from livestock to pets, and also to enact requirements for spaying and neutering to control their population.
She also hopes to bring more community awareness to the problem and encourages people to consider sponsoring one of their pigs for $20 per month, which helps pay for food and building materials for the huts.
The pigs are kept in a series of little pens, cordoned off into 11 fenced-off sections made up of families of pigs that are compatible with each other.
“Each of the pigs has their own personality,” Lovelace said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but all our pigs are well cared for and loved.”
Some of the larger pigs — like 2,000-pounders Zelda and Groot — eat up to eight cups of food per meal, Walker said.
The nonprofit also accepts fruits and vegetables donations to complement the pigs’ special vegan diet.
They also hold fundraisers throughout the year like “Yoga with the Pigs.”
“Feeding them takes an hour in the morning and an hour at night, so it’s a lot of hard work and probably thousands of dollars every month,” he said.
Lovelace works from home as a customer service representative and cares of the pigs before and after work. Walker, who said he is recovering from a back injury, spends all day taking care of the pigs.
While the work is grueling — they begin feeding around 6 a.m. and usually finish all the chores around midnight — it’s worth it, he said.
“Sometimes it’ll be 3 or 4 in the morning and they’ll be whining for food, but then you come out and interact with them and they’re just awesome,” Walker said. “It’s been incredibly rewarding.”