Saturday was a day that I had looked forward to for over a year. Last spring we had just moved to Seattle when I read this inspiring post from my friend Gena. Reading about her trip to an animal sanctuary really resonated with me, and I acted on her encouragement to find one in my own area. My search led me to Pigs Peace Sanctuary – a safe haven of love for pigs and their friends.
I wasn’t able to get there within the visiting season last year, so I made sure to get my visit set up for this year. Located on 34 beautiful acres just north of Seattle (in Stanwood), Pigs Peace is a non-profit sanctuary dedicated to providing a safe haven for animals that have been abused, neglected, or abandoned, and to spreading a message of compassion and caring.
When we pulled up to the farm, we were greeted with rolling green grass, smells of fresh hay, and a vibrant woman named Judy, who emanates love and passion for her work – and her pigs. She conducts visits by appointment only so that she can lead small groups (ours was just six), allowing us to ask many questions and really feel connected to the stories.
She led us to the first shelter barn, where two giant pigs laid sleeping in the hay. Immediately the sanctuary name rang in my mind – peaceful indeed.
It is one thing to be an animal lover, but it is entirely different to actually be in their presence. I was amazed at the sheer size of these pigs – some of whom weighed up to 900 pounds. And yet they looked so gentle and peaceful, napping in the sunshine on a hot summer day.
The farm was decorated with colorful signs and pig art everywhere you looked. You can tell that it is a true labor of love. In the main barn, there were also big signs hanging with facts about pigs and the farming industry.
After meeting a few of the big pigs sleeping in the hay, Judy led our group out to the feeding pavilion – a large concrete slab located under a fenced lookout area. She told us we’d be feeding the pigs their dinner, and then pointed to 100 pounds of carrots.
We hauled the carrots over to the feeding area.
And as she rang a loud bell, we started hurling carrots through the air. As we tossed, suddenly pigs emerged from every direction.
The main pig area stretches deep into the woods, and has shelters, ponds, and plenty of room for the pigs to roam. Before reaching Pigs Peace, many of these pigs had never felt live grass or sunshine, but now they have acres to roam and explore. Over 150 pigs call this area home, and they all came running for their fill of carrots.
As we watched them eat, Judy could point out each and every one of them by name, and she shared some of their stories, as well as facts about pigs. Pigs are incredibly social animals, and over their long natural life spans, they make lasting friendships. Judy could easily identify which pigs liked to roam and sleep together, and it was fun to watch them hang out in groups as they grazed.
As the pigs happily snacked and we watched from above, I asked her a few of the many questions rolling through my head. Where did all these pigs come from? The larger pink and black pigs were mostly rescued from bad farming situations – some were even escapees from factory farms. Most of the smaller pot bellied pigs were either abused or abandoned pets. For whatever reason, having pigs as pets became trendy for a while, and sadly many pigs suffered as a result.
After dinner time was over, we were taken into some of the smaller shelters. Older pigs and pigs with special needs are kept in separate enclosures and smaller groups. The first pig we met was Elsie.
She was brought to Pigs Peace as an 8 week old piglet, after falling out of a pickup truck on a Washington highway. She arrived with pneumonia, a broken hip, and many other severe injuries. And yet on Saturday, none of that showed in her gentle demeanor and bright eyes.
She welcomed us into her space, and snorted when we scratched her ears. Many long months of rehabilitation and love on the farm have hopefully helped her to heal from her traumas.
We moved along into the special needs pen, where we met Ziggy – a gigantic pink teddy bear.
Gorgeous Ziggy was a three-legged piglet that was on display at a Canadian roadside zoo. The plan was to feed her to the lions once she grew up and “lost her cuteness.” She had no bedding and no indoor shelter during a Canadian winter. Thankfully, several people reported her conditions, and Judy arranged for her to be brought to Pigs Peace.
I could have sat and scratched her belly for hours. She was gigantic – easily bigger than me, but laying next to her felt like curling up with a big lap dog.
There were a few little potbellied piglets running around in the special needs area as well – keeping spirits high and keeping the old and more limited pigs still feeling young.
I’ve thought quite a bit about how I wanted to share this visit with you. While I feel very passionate about my vegetarian lifestyle, I rarely touch on the ethics that fuel my choices so deeply. It is important to me that this space be a place where all diets and lifestyles are welcomed.
With that said, I can’t help but want to share how strongly I feel about animal rights and food ethics. A big part of my decision to become vegetarian was health-based, but as my experience evolved, ethics became the driving force of my commitment.
In the days that led up to our visit, I found myself having to explain that we were going to a “pig sanctuary” several times. It was a reminder that our beliefs and our values are not only in the minority, they are often not even understood.
I have never liked groups that use scare tactics and graphic images of animal slaughter as a means to persuade people eat less meat. I would much rather show all the delicious food that is available to vegetarians, and hope to entice people to eat more plant-based meals by leading a healthy, happy example.
I know it is generally considered funny to joke that “everything is better with bacon.” But my visit to Pigs Peace really drove home that there are smart, social, and peaceful giants who would definitely disagree.
Visiting an animal sanctuary deepened my commitment to my lifestyle, and it motivated me to continue to do my own small part to help protect pigs like the ones we visited. I would highly encourage anyone who is considering moving toward a more plant-based diet to look for a sanctuary in your area. It is a powerful experience to look into the real faces of the food industry.
It is the love here that flourishes. The animals feel it the moment they arrive and everyday. I am so grateful to do this work. Look in the eyes of the animals and you will see it. Look in the hopeful faces of the children and other visitors and you will see it. Come visit us and you will know the peace. – Judy Woods, Pigs Peace Sanctuary