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Pig sanctuary growing

November 24, 2000

Pig sanctuary growing



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - What started out as a problem for one homeowner in suburban Annapolis about a decade ago has turned into one of the country's largest animal-care farms, those familiar with the farm said.

And Jefferson County's well-known pig sanctuary is growing.

The 54-acre farm is now home to 194 pot-bellied pigs, 110 domestic pigs and an assortment of goats, horses, cats, dogs, turkeys, sheep, cows, donkeys and chickens that bring the total of abused and neglected animals at "PIGS, a sanctuary" to more than 500 animals.

Although pigs are the focus of the farm's work, it has become a "Humane Society for farm animals," said co-director Jim Brewer, 47, who said he has loved pigs since he was a little boy in southeast Ohio, growing up in farm country.

With a $300,000 annual budget supported by donations, a board of directors from around the country, and a growing staff to take care of the animals, the nonprofit farm has become a busy place.

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The original impetus started 10 years ago in a subdivision in Churchton, Md., near Annapolis. Brewer was given "Rufus," a Vietnamese potbellied pig. The pigs were marketed by breeders and promoters as good pets that grew to about 40-50 pounds. The fad of turning potbellied pigs into pets began in the mid-1980s, Brewer said.

Before long, Brewer, a legal secretary in Washington, D.C., had a 100-pound pig and what he called a "nightmare" on his hands. As he did more research, he learned the animals did not belong in homes. A growing number of people were finding that out the hard way, he said.

"These are not city pets, they are farm animals," Brewer said of the pigs than can grow up to 200 pounds. "A pig is a pig is a pig, regardless of size. Pigs need to be raised with other pigs."

The operation has grown from the one pig in Churchton to a small farm in Charles Town, W.Va., to the dilapidated old dairy farm that is being rehabilitated by the group. It's become a life's work for Brewer and Executive Director Dale Riffle.

The goal is not just to save farm animals who have been abandoned, neglected or abused. Part of the work is to spread the message that animals should be allowed to live and not be eaten.

"It's like running a farm, only you're not slaughtering the pigs," Brewer said. "Part of our message is vegetarianism."

There are about 10-15 other groups like theirs in the country, Brewer told a visiting reporter as a peacock strutted near the driveway.

"But we are very careful who we deal with," he said.

Some groups get started, don't realize the amount of time and effort the work takes, and leave more abandoned animals. The group will adopt out animals, but only if the owner will take more than one and has room for them to be outside.

The organization has its own newsletter. In a recent edition, Riffle noted the expansion of staff, the hope to hire a part-time veterinarian, the use of an accounting firm and the many improvements to the buildings to house the animals. A pasture on the farm is even dedicated to burying animals that die, rather than having them cremated or turned into pet food

The caretakers on the farm watch their animals' diets carefully, eyeball them for medical problems every day and plan to keep working on their goal, no matter what others think.

"A lot of our friends thought we were crazy," he said. "And you do give up your life. We're trying to fund-raise for an animal most people put on their plate. But this is our life."

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