There is an island of misfit animals residing at 1112 Persimmon Lane in Shepherdstown, W.Va., but they have found their place among each other where they can run, meow and snort with glee as many of them live out the rest of their lives at PIGS Animal Sanctuary.
“It’s not like their very own home, but it’s the next best thing,” said Melissa Susko, executive director of the sanctuary since 2002.
“We do around 25 – 30 adoptions each year. The rest live out their lives with us,” Susko said.
The sanctuary, which was founded in 1992 and sits on a 60-acre piece of land owned solely by the organization, started out as a place that housed mostly potbellied pigs. People wanted small potbellied pigs as domesticated house pets, but they discovered that pigs will be pigs and that they no longer wanted them as pets—it is natural for them to become aggressive at the height of sexual maturity, it is normal for them to want to root, they become much larger than the deceiving image of a miniature potbellied pig and they like to run, play and live outside.
Because shelters will not accept pigs as they are considered livestock, many of them found their forever homes at the sanctuary. Susko said that the sanctuary receives at least 50 requests every month for additional pigs to join the farm.
One of the most rewarding things about the experience of living full-time on the PIGS sanctuary is getting to see the animals “living out their lives in peace and being able to give them that kind of life,” Susko said.
Today, nearly 600 animals are living at the sanctuary. Having more cats than anything at approximately 300, the maximum number of other animals that the sanctuary will house is 120 potbellied pigs, 50 farm pigs, no more than 25 dogs, 25 goats, 30 chickens and less than 10 horses and donkeys combined.
Susko said there haven’t always been that many cats hanging around the sanctuary, but the recent influx can be attributed to a shelter in New York City that was shut down last January. The sanctuary received additional funding to make room for the some 200 cats that would have been homeless otherwise. They came to the sanctuary in November, and Susko says that they have made themselves right at home with the others.
There are several different wings of the sanctuary dedicated to the cats with specialty locations existing for cats infected with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), or the feline equivalent to HIV, as well as a section dedicated to feral cats.
There are also dogs at the sanctuary that have been rescued from cases ranging from hoarding to animal fighting, but many if not all of them have been deemed unadoptable because of their conditions. A lot of the dogs are separated from one another, but they each have plenty of room to run and play, and the dogs are taken on several walks a day.
The animals living at the sanctuary were steps away from being homeless, killed or worse, but they have been given new leases on life through the existence of PIGS.
“It’s such a disposable country anymore,” said Susko. People have animals as pets, but something goes wrong and they will easily throw them away for something else, she added. “There’s no place for these guys.”
Although Susko said she loves the sanctuary, times are tough.
“We definitely need volunteers. The biggest challenge is the lack of manpower, and we need to repair from the harsh winter during the spring. We have seven paid employees,” Susko said.
The sanctuary is funded strictly through private donations, fundraising events like its annual open house and spreading the word through newsletters.
“The monthly fees before the addition of 200 cats were around $24,000; now, it’s probably at least $26, 000,” Susko said.
Susko says she has “so many stories that you could never imagine,” but her most unforgettable one involves a cream colored pit bull named Daisy who recently died.
Being seized from a dog fighting operation in Pamlico County, N.C. where she was held by tow chains in an area of the woods so heavy with overgrowth that the sunlight rarely reached her, Susko said Daisy was scared when she came to the sanctuary. She barely interacted with other dogs, and she was frightened when Susko would take her on walks.
One day, Susko says she was walking Daisy and Levi, the poster dog of the sanctuary, and she dropped Daisy’s leash on the ground for a moment. When she turned around, Susko said that Levi had grabbed Daisy’s leash in his mouth, and Daisy was actually walking with Levi leading her. They sat down in the grass, and Susko said the two of them just looked at her and smiled.
“It still brings tears to my eyes,” Susko said.
For more information on the sanctuary and how to help, visit https://www.pigs.org/