Woman Falls In Love With One Pig — Then Opens Her Home To Hundreds More
“He taught me to love and respect them and to open my home to them and give my life to them.”
Leslie Giles had rescued many shelter dogs, but she never expected to rescue pigs. In fact, the first pig that came into Giles’ life wasn’t a rescue at all — he was a pet bought from a pig breeder.
“I’d always wanted a pet pig, and in 2004 we bought Winston Peanut,” Giles told The Dodo.
The breeder told Giles and her husband that Winston Peanut was a “teacup pig,” and warned them not to overfeed him so he wouldn’t grow too much.
“Luckily we ignored that [advice],” Giles said.
Giles fed Winston steamed vegetables and mashed potatoes and baby porridge and everything else he needed and wanted, and Winston quickly grew to become several hundred pounds.
But Giles adored Winston, and didn’t mind what size he was.
“I had formed bonds with many dogs in my life, but the bond I formed with Winston was stronger and deeper,” Giles said. “I learned what every grunt meant and his antics were adorable. Winston Peanut was my first pig and the love of my life.”
Then something funny happened. People started dumping their unwanted pigs on Giles’ property in South Africa, perhaps because they knew she had Winston.
By 2012, Giles was taking care of 20 abandoned pigs, and she decided to start a proper pig sanctuary called Pigs ’n’ Paws, which was — and still is — the only pig refuge in South Africa, according to Giles.
With the opening of the sanctuary came more pigs. And more. And more.
“People would bring them to us or we would go fetch them,” Giles said. “We have done a lot of rescues — pigs left behind on properties when people leave.”
While the rescued pigs came from many different circumstances, many were unwanted teacup pigs who had grown larger than expected, like Winston Peanut.
In reality, teacup pigs are just baby potbellied pigs, which can grow to be 600 pounds. Yet pig breeders will often mislead buyers into thinking they’ll always remain small, sometimes by starving them. They encourage owners to underfeed them as well, which can cause severe malnourishment.
“It has been taken a while to really catch hold, but it [teacup pigs] is quite a big thing here now,” Giles said. “Obviously, with social media and access to the world, people are realizing faster that it is a myth. There are no real statistics, but abandoned pigs are now appearing in local SPCAs and other animal welfares across the country at an alarming rate.”
But in South Africa, rescuing pigs isn’t a big priority for most people, especially as there are many human welfare issues, Giles explained.
“In a country where the poor outnumber even the middle class, pigs do not generally get much good publicity except as food,” Giles said. She added that when South Africans do choose to help animals, it’s usually dogs or cats.
“South Africa is still very much into dog and cat rescue, which is where the bulk of donations end up,” Giles said. “Pig rescue is still a very new idea here. There are one or two farm sanctuaries which also take in a few pigs, but not one exclusively dedicated to pigs as we are.”
Pigs ’n’ Paws now has 271 pigs, as well as 26 rescue dogs. To feed and care for their current residents, Giles works full-time at a local casino.
“I don’t get to spend as much time with the pigs as I would like,” Giles said. “I employ two workers and between the three of us we make sure someone is here 24/7, and that everyone is fed, watered, and that camps and sleeping quarters are maintained and cleaned.”
“The pigs sleep a lot — besides eating, it is what they do best,” Giles added. “After they’ve eaten in the evenings, they have their social couple of hours and wander through each other's camps, occasionally playing tag or running around having a mad half hour.”
The sanctuary isn’t able to take in anymore pigs for the moment, and has already had to turn many animals away. While Giles adopts some pigs out, she uses an intensive vetting process to make sure the pigs won’t end up as food or abandoned again, and only five or six applications are approved each year.
But as more people become aware of how smart and good-natured pigs can be, Giles hopes she’ll soon see more funding and support — which will mean being able to rescue even more pigs.
“Pigs eat up life in big chunks,” Giles said. “They taste what they eat, unlike dogs who gulp everything down. They throw themselves into mud wallows with gay abandon and roll and blow bubbles with pure enjoyment.”
“[Winston] taught me about pigs,” Giles said of her very first pig, who still presides over the sanctuary today. “He taught me to love and respect them and to open my home to them and give my life to them.”