Orange County

Headed for the slaughterhouse, chased by dogs, 500-pound pig gets new leash on life

Toby the pig gets a second chance at life

On June 19, 2018 Animal Control officers responded to a call about a 500-pound pig, now named Toby, that had collapsed on the side of I-40. He was later bought at a shelter auction and now lives at Blind Spot Animal Sanctuary in Rougemont, NC.
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On June 19, 2018 Animal Control officers responded to a call about a 500-pound pig, now named Toby, that had collapsed on the side of I-40. He was later bought at a shelter auction and now lives at Blind Spot Animal Sanctuary in Rougemont, NC.

When officers found Toby, he had collapsed on the side of Interstate 40.

Now, the pig has a chance at a calmer life, in the company of over 30 other pigs, a goat named Winston and a flock of peacocks.

On June 19, Animal Control officers received a call from Highway Patrol. A driver had reported a dog chasing a pig down the highway.

“It’s not something we’re used to dealing with on a daily basis,” said Tenille Fox, Orange County Animal Services spokeswoman.

Troopers closed off part of the road while Animal Control found the pig, who had veered off the interstate in Hillsborough, near the Orange County weigh station. By the time they arrived, the dog chasing the pig had disappeared.

It was one of the hottest days in June. Toby had likely suffered heat exhaustion from the chase, said Bob Marotto, director of Orange County Animal Services.

Toby had was covered in dog bites, some cutting right to the bone, and parts of his ears had been torn off. The shelter was particularly concerned about a limp he had developed.

‘Our larger friends’

Alesja and Alex Daehnrich, both originally from Germany, got involved in animal rescue when they moved to the U.S. The couple has been taking in homeless livestock for five years. They had seen plenty of dog and cat rescues, but few organizations for farm animals.

“We wanted to make a difference and help our larger friends,” Alesja Daehnrich said.

Most of the animals at Blind Spot Animal Sanctuary in Rougemont come from North Carolina shelters for dogs and cats, where owners drop off livestock after realizing they can’t properly care for them.

The sanctuary isn’t just for pigs: Peacocks, cats, dogs, a goat and a horse are among its many residents.

No one claimed Toby, and Animal Services had no leads on his owner because they had found him on the highway.

The Daehnrichs bought him for $1 at a state-mandated auction for unwanted livestock. They were the only bidders.

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Alesja Daehnrich pets Toby the pig outside the barn at Blind Spot Animal Sanctuary where she and her husband Alex rescue farm animals on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

The pig’s leg was infected, and the Daehnrichs, who named him Toby, were able to get him care from a large animal veterinarian, something the animal shelter could not provide.

Animal Services held the auction July 5, looking for the “highest qualified bidder,” someone who would not buy Toby for his meat.

“We were interested in finding someone who can assume responsibility and appropriate care for the animal,” Marotto said.

Toby was shy when he first got to the sanctuary, but he’s established himself as the alpha pig since then.

“He’s the boss,” Alesja Daehnrich said. “Size wins.”

Toby is already 500 pounds, but at around a year old, he’s still growing. Alesja Daehnrich expects him to reach about 800 pounds.

He is the second farm pig at the sanctuary. The couple adopted their first farm pig, Baby, months ago, when she fell off a truck as a piglet. The other pigs are pot-bellied pigs, which are smaller and can be kept as pets.

Since Toby is a large farm pig, he will stay at the sanctuary forever.

He spends his days roaming around the sanctuary, eating grass and bathing in mud to keep cool. He has his own stall, where he can listen to classical music during the day. While Toby is larger than any of the other pigs on the property, that doesn’t mean he is more aggressive.

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Alesja Daehnrich feeds Toby the pig bagels inside the barn at Blind Spot Animal Sanctuary, a farm animal rescue she runs with her husband Alex, on Thursday, July 12, 2018. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

“He is a very gentle soul,” Alex Daehnrich said. “He is a cuddler.”

Toby loves having his belly rubbed and lying beside his rescuers.

“He is one of the best pigs we have, quite honestly,” Alex Daehnrich said.

Rewarding work

Alesja and Alex Daehnrich both have day jobs that help cover most of the sanctuary’s costs, including veterinary care and spay and neuter surgeries for the animals.

“We don’t have the same support dog and cat rescues do,” Alesja Daehnrich said. “There are no grants for farm sanctuaries.”

But Alex Daehnrich finds the work more rewarding than a vacation or a day off.

“Seeing that those animals are not euthanized and that they don’t end up on somebody’s plate, it’s reward enough,” he said.

The Daehnrichs were surprised by how much misinformation there is about pigs, especially miniature or “micro” pigs.

Breeders entice buyers with photos of tiny piglets in teacups or rain boots. What buyers don’t know is that these pigs are babies, likely taken away from their parents too early. Just like any other pot-bellied pig, they’ll grow up to be 120 to 180 pounds.

The couple tries to educate visitors to the sanctuary. They offer tours every weekend, and want to make the responsibility of owning an exotic or farm animal clear to those eager to adopt.

“Pigs definitely do not make good apartment pets,” Alesja Daehnrich said. They need four to six hours outside every day, and need to be around other pigs to socialize.

“These animals are incredibly intelligent, so they truly need this special relationship with each other,” she said. An adult pig has the intelligence of a 5-year-old child and has complex emotions.

Although time in the shelter can be stressful for any animal, it’s especially bad for pigs, Alex Daehnrich said. Pigs are prey animals, and in shelters they’re kept close to dogs, a natural predator.

Marotto has worked with Blind Spot Animal Sanctuary before, as the rescue has taken several residents of Orange County Animal Services.

“It’s a longstanding and an incredibly valuable relationship in situations of this kind,” Marotto said. “It’s rather difficult to re-home a pig, all things considered.”

Christy Kuesel: @christykuesel
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