A Day in the Life of a Sanctuary Director
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
By Richard Hoyle, Director The Pig Preserve
Volunteers and visitors to the sanctuary often get a view of the sanctuary and sanctuary life that is a bit “skewed” and maybe a bit unrealistic. Generally, when we have a volunteer day and scheduled visitors, we are at full staff and we have a series of planned events or projects ready to be tackled. For visitors, we always have a guided tour ready…often tailored to the wishes and specific desires of each group of visitors. The staff is always on our best behavior and we hope and pray that the animals will also be on their best behavior. Sometimes they comply and are delightful and charming creatures…and on other days they make us wish that we rescued something like tortoises or earthworms instead of surly and unruly pigs.
But, in an effort to educate and possibly entertain you a bit, I thought maybe a description of a more typical view of sanctuary life might prove interesting.
First of all, realize that running a sanctuary like The Pig Preserve is a 7-day a week, 365-day a year operation. The pigs refuse to recognize weekends and major holidays like Christmas, New Years, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, etc… They also refuse to recognize when anyone on the staff feels bad, has the flu or is severely sleep deprived because we were up all night with an emergency or out all night on a critical rescue run. Not only do the pigs expect to be watered, fed and cared for on these days, but they typically expect us to be happy and cheerful caregivers regardless of the circumstances.
I am convinced, after many years of experience, that pigs possess some heretofore undiscovered animal “sense” or “trait” that allows them to get deathly sick or seriously injured only on major holidays, during bad snow or ice storms and on the very rare instance where our local vet is out of town for a few days. This acute porcine sense invariably drives us berserk trying to deal with the emergency; and frequently results in a frantic, middle of the night high speed run with the truck and trailer to the University of Tennessee Vet School where the less than cheerful overnight staff is usually a bit shy of delighted to be rousted out of their beds in the wee hours to deal with a very sick or injured pig and a couple of harried and flustered and short tempered caregivers.
But a more typical day at the sanctuary starts, for me, well before dawn as I dig out from under the pile of dogs and cats (and occasional piglet) sharing our bed and stagger to a hot shower to try and get the old joints lubricated enough so I can function. The early morning hours are spent checking Facebook, going through sanctuary and personal emails for pig issues and questions and doing other administrative stuff. Since Afton joined the staff as Farm Manager, this pre-dawn work load has been reduced dramatically. This is generally when I will make calls to any of several sanctuaries and rescues in Europe we deal with on a regular basis since they are approximately 5-6 hours ahead of us in time zones. It is also a great time for me to do research on “pig issues”. We spend a surprising amount of time studying and researching a wide range of topics on pigs…frequently medical topics, behavioral issues, new drugs, treatment protocols and the like. Early mornings are the best time for me to tackle administrative tasks since, by the time the day is finally done, my brain will resemble day-old mush and my language skills will be reduced to cursing and incoherent mumbling.
Around dawn I start readying special diet containers and medications for those pigs who will need pills, shots or a special additive in their feed that day. On any given day we have several pigs who are in need of medical attention or who are on daily doses of medicines or dietary supplements. Our medical cabinet and drug locker usually resemble a small hospital emergency room with the variety and amount of veterinary stuff we keep on hand. We buy disposable supplies (needles, syringes, wound care products, etc…) in bulk through our vet. The wide variety of drugs we keep on hand are invariably in LARGE bottles since we are regularly dosing animals who weigh 1000 pounds or more.
As the staff…all two of them…arrive, we head out to handle morning “sick call”, which consists of checking on and medicating all the “…sick, lame and lazy…blind, crippled and crazy…” as my old Navy Corpsman used to say when I was in the Marines.
Following “sick call”, assuming no sick or injured pig has deteriorated overnight and become an emergency, we do watering chores. All water bowls and drinking troughs are emptied, cleaned and refilled at least twice a day. If need be, mud holes have water added from one of the hoses or hauled out to remote barns on a tank on the back of one of the tractors. During extremely cold periods or during times of extreme heat or drought, this process will be repeated at least twice more during the day. One of us will head down to open and pour into some 40+ buckets the 12-15 fifty-pound bags of feed that will constitute the evening feeding for the pigs. The buckets are color coded and separated by social groups and even individual pigs who get special diets.
Next it is on to “chores de jour”, which is a long list of maintenance or repair projects that need to be accomplished to keep the place from falling apart and the equipment we use daily operational. On any given day we may find ourselves filling the role of electrician, plumber, carpenter, fence mender, farmer, tractor or truck mechanic, roofer, ditch digger…and the list goes on. Mom and pop sanctuaries seldom have the luxury of being able to call “experts” every time something breaks or needs fixing. We learn to do a great deal of it ourselves…becoming Jacks of All Trades in the process.
I once gave a talk in which I jokingly said that those of us who run grassroots sanctuaries had: “done so much with so little for so long that now we could immediately do anything with nothing”. Come to find out virtually every sanctuary director in the audience agreed with me completely.
We squeeze lunch in when we can and use the short break to discuss pigs and projects. Then it is back to chores and projects until feeding time. Feeding time varies with the seasons and the weather. If all goes well, we are at a full staff of three and the pigs cooperate, we can feed and physically check all of the pigs…including the special needs and special diet pigs…in an hour and a half. We try to finish feeding with at least an hour or two of daylight left in case, during feeding, we come up missing a pig or discover a medical issue that needs to be attended to before sundown. Any missing pigs are tracked down and accounted for. In most cases we find that the errant pig has simply fallen asleep in a comfortable spot and slept through supper. But in some instances, we find a pig stuck in a mud hole or a pig who has been injured during the day and who is unable to make It back up to the barn. It is often a chore taking several hours, tractors and heavy rescue gear to extricate and move the injured pig to safety. And it frequently involves some (or all) of us wading into the mud hole or pond with the injured pig to render care and assistance. This is a job best done in the daylight as darkness makes the task more difficult, more dangerous for us and the pig and stresses the pig more than it would if it is accomplished in daylight.
On a typical day, everyone is fed, watered, accounted for and physically checked and ready for bed by dark…or shortly thereafter. In winter, when the days are so very short, this work schedule gets compressed into six or seven hours as opposed to the summer months when we have the relative luxury of long warm evenings to get our day’s work done. Obviously, summer thunder storms and winter snows and ice storms make things move slower and add an additional “fun factor” to everything we do. After a few days of steady rain, trying to accomplish anything in the ever-deepening mud becomes almost comical as we slip and slide from job to job…walking out of our boots several times each day in the thick, gooey mud. The pigs, by the way, enjoy the mud and take a great deal of pleasure and amusement watching us flop around like so many clumsy flounders in the deep mud.
There are happy days when we get to introduce newly arriving pigs to their new “forever” homes. And there are sad days when we have to say goodbye to a pig either through a natural death or a euthanasia. We grieve alongside the departed pig’s herd mates and then, as gently as we can, we dig a grave and lay our dear friend to rest in our little graveyard at the back of the sanctuary. But, mostly, there are just “days” that tend to run together after a while to the point where each of us has to stop and think about what day of the week it is.
Back in 2001 I was asked to write an article for a professional newsletter on this subject. In one of my rare moments of inspiration I wrote a spoof based on the famous and hilarious comedy routine of the inestimable Jeff Foxworthy called “You May Be A Redneck”. I have reprinted it below for your education and, I hope, entertainment. While it is a tongue-in-cheek look at the seemingly crazy things sanctuary directors do, there is much more truth to it than most of us would care to admit.
YOU MAY BE A SANCTUARY DIRECTOR
1. If your personal wardrobe consists almost exclusively of blue jeans, overalls, boots, summer and winter work hats and a collection of sweat rags…you may be a sanctuary director.
2. If virtually all of your clothes have unidentifiable stains, ground in mud and grass that defy washing and a host of tears, snags and rips from teeth, hooves and tusks…you may be a sanctuary director.
3. If you have ever had to apply makeup or dramatically alter your work or social wardrobe selection to cover a pig bite, a tusk slash or a terminal case of red bug and chigger bites…you may be a sanctuary director.
4. If your fingernails look like you just got a manicure from the Freddie Kruger and the calluses on your hands offend people when you shake hands but make pigs sigh with delight when you rub them…you may be a sanctuary director.
5. If your refrigerator is stocked with Ivomec, Dectomax, Pleuroguard 4, three dozen containers of yogurt, Pedialyte (and you have no young children), an assortment of antibiotics and other medicines, but almost no edible human food…you may be a sanctuary director.
6. If the medicine chest in your bathroom has one razor, one toothbrush but shelves full of Blue Kote, Catron IV spray, hemostats, suture kits, bag balm, jars of hoof treatment, grooming brushes full of stiff, black bristles and jars of “stuff” clearly marked “For Veterinary Use Only”…you may be a sanctuary director.
7. If you open your kitchen cabinets and find they are stocked with 15 cans of canned pumpkin, 12 boxes of bran, a dozen bottles of medical honey, several bottles of dextrose, two bottles of Phenylbutazone, a large bottle of SMZ and numerous half used jars of peanut butter…but almost no food fit for human consumption…you may be a sanctuary director.
8. If you can, at a moment’s notice, lay your hands on syringes and needles of virtually every size but can not find a pen to write a phone message down with…you may be a sanctuary director.
9. If you can instantly, and without using a calculator, estimate a pig’s weight accurately to within 10 pounds, convert the weight from pounds to kilograms in your head, and figure a drug dose based on the pig’s weight but can not seem to balance your checkbook every month…you may be a sanctuary director.
10. If you have ever personally taken any veterinary medicine approved for use on swine because it worked so well on one of the pigs who had a similar problem…you may be a sanctuary director.
11. If the reading material in your bathroom, coffee table and book shelves consists primarily of old editions of The Herd, Animal’s Agenda magazines from the past 5 years, and books such as “The Veterinary Drug Handbook”, the Veterinary Merck Manual, “The Diseases of Swine”, “Veterinary Management of the Miniature Pig”, and a wide variety of computer generated articles with fascinating titles such as: “Castration Techniques for
Cryptorchid Pigs”, Diagnosing Swine Endoparasite Populations by Direct Fecal Examination”, and “Home Remedies For Constipated and Impacted Pigs”…you may be a sanctuary director.
12. If your home computer has had all the game programs and other non-essential programs removed so there will be more storage space for pig articles, saved pig emails, veterinary websites, zoning documents, pig related court decisions, saved newsletter articles about pigs and photographs of pigs…you may be a sanctuary director.
13. If you can remember the names, backgrounds, arrival dates and in-depth medical information on each of your pigs…including the dates that each of your intact females come into heat each month…but cannot remember your wife’s birthday, your anniversary date or the names of your children…you may be a sanctuary director.
14. If you plan your social calendar around feeding times, expected farrowing dates of expectant sows, vet visits, feed deliveries or sales on fencing at the local farmer’s cooperative…you may be a sanctuary director.
15. If you know the first names, kid’s names, and other vital family information about all the guys at the local farmer’s co-op the feed store and the local Tractor Supply store, but can never remember exactly how many grandchildren you have…you may be a sanctuary director.
16. If you see more of your veterinarian than you do close relatives (including your spouse)…you may be a sanctuary director.
17. If you don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian at three in the morning because one of your pigs is sick but refuse to call your doctor or dial 911 when you experience severe chest pains or if you refuse to visit the emergency room when you have been bitten/tusked by a scared pig and you are bleeding profusely and obviously need stitches…you may be a sanctuary director.
18. If you have EVER put on more than one cologne or after-shave to hide the overpowering smell from the preputial diverticulum of an intact boar you helped neuter earlier that day…you may be a sanctuary director.
19. If you have ever used your kitchen table or counters (or any other part of the living/eating area of your house) to do surgery on or otherwise perform any aspect of veterinary care on a pig…you may be a sanctuary director.
20. If you have ever had a litter of piglets born and raised in your house…you may be a sanctuary director.
21. If you have ever gone to dinner with family or friends and brought up the subject of how to give enemas to a constipated pig, discussed your latest surgery to remove a uterine
tumor or enlightened your dinner companions with the details of removing maggots from an infected wound…and thought nothing of it…you may be a sanctuary director.
21. If you have brought pictures of any of the above-mentioned subjects with you to dinner to share with your dinner partners…you may, indeed, be a sanctuary director.
22. If your last few “vacations” consisted of attending a pig conference, a vegan festival or an animal rights conference; or if you, in any way, visited/worked at a pig sanctuary during your “vacation”…or if you have ever “gotten away for the weekend” where the sole mission was to rescue a pig…you may be a sanctuary director.
23. If you read up on and can intelligently discuss tractors, farm implements, four wheel drive vehicles and you plan vehicle purchases based on how many cages and carriers they can hold, how pig accessible they are or how big a trailer they will adequately pull…you may be a sanctuary director.
24. If you know the ingredient list, protein level, fat content and amount of selenium, vitamins and trace elements in at least four major brands of pig feed, but have no idea what is in the food you ate for dinner last night…you may be a sanctuary director.
25. If you know the pH of the urine output of each of your pigs but have no idea of what your own blood pressure is…you may be a sanctuary director.
26. If you have ever picked up pig poop with your bare hands, broken it apart, smelled it and looked for parasites or other foreign matter in it without giving it a second thought…you may be a sanctuary director.
27. If you have done this in the presence of visitors, family member or close friends…you are most likely a sanctuary director.
28. If you can look at a pile of pigberries and tell which pig they came from…you may be a sanctuary director.
29. If you are proud of this fact and remark on it to visitors…you may be a sanctuary director.
30. If any major purchase or significant home improvement have ever had to be put “on hold” indefinitely so that you could either fund a medical procedure for a pig, or if funds intended for much-needed home maintenance have ever been postponed to buy or build a structure to house pigs…you may be a sanctuary director.
31. If you plan modifications to your home based on how “pig friendly” they will be…you may be a sanctuary director.
32. If there is “ramp” access to your home and nobody in your family is handicapped…you may be a sanctuary director.
33. If you have ever cancelled or backed out on an important social engagement to stay home with a sick pig…you may be a sanctuary director.
34. If you have ever spent the night (or nights) in a barn sleeping with a sick pig or an expectant pig…you may be a sanctuary director.
35. If you find you actually preferred spending the night in the barn with the pigs rather than in your own bed with your spouse or significant other…you may be a sanctuary director.
36. If you feel somehow honored that the pigs accepted you into their barn for the night and allowed you to sleep with them…then the chances are even better that you are a sanctuary director.
37. If you can tell the time of day to within 15 minutes based on which tree or bush each pig is sleeping under and which pigs are in the mudhole…you may be a sanctuary director.
38. If your computer files and photo albums are filled to overflowing with pictures of rescued pigs, surgical procedures on pigs and pictures of piglets being born, but you can not seem to find the photos of your children or grandchildren anywhere in your house…you may be a sanctuary director.
39. If your yard looks like a scene from a World War I battlefield in France…complete with shell holes, debris, trenches and little tiny landmines…and you don’t care because the pigs are happy…you may be a sanctuary director.
40. If one of your pigs bites the child of one of your visitors and you are more concerned about the pig getting a disease from the child than the welfare of the child…you may be a sanctuary director.
41. If you can’t understand why the parents aren’t more concerned about the pig than the child…you may be a sanctuary director.
42. If you have ever dragged yourself out of bed while sick with the flu and a winter storm is raging outside so that pigs who are already 20 pounds overweight can get breakfast…you are probably a sanctuary director.
In short, running a pig sanctuary, pig rescue, home for wayward pigs or whatever you choose to call it is not a factor of how many pigs you have or how big your place is. It is a mindset…possibly a form of an undiagnosed mental illness…that leads some of us to undertake the rescue and care of one of the most wonderful and unique creatures on this planet.
We undertake this craziness willingly and with full realization of what we are getting ourselves into. We surround ourselves with all the tragedy, hard work, long hours, routine and mundane tasks, scrounging for funds and, all to frequently, the ridicule that goes with being a pig sanctuary. We revel in the pure joy of rescuing a little pig that has been abused or sentenced to death. We get moved to tears when an abused little pig approaches us for the first time and rolls over tentatively for its first belly rub. We get giddy when a blind, grossly overweight pig begins to see again and can see to walk and enjoy life without living in darkness. We agonize when a pig is sick or injured and we desperately strive to make the right decision when it comes time to consider putting it down. We get unreasonably angry when we have to turn a desperate and needy pig away and we are not even sure who we are angry at: the owners who no longer want the pig, the rich philanthropic organizations who refuse to fund pig sanctuaries or our own inability to find room for “just one more” needy pig. We get frustrated when we cannot do more, knowing deep inside that we are already doing all we can with what we have to work with. But mostly we just work…and enjoy the company of the pigs we love so much. - Rich
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