Central Texas Pig Rescue Is a Haven for Abandoned Pigs
Gone to hog heaven
The residents of Central Texas Pig Rescue seem right at home on the sanctuary's new 26-acre property in Bastrop, dubbed "The Enchanted Forest." And they're happy to give interviews.
Maxwell, a friendly fellow with crinkled, smiley eyes and sleek black hair, is the first pig to welcome me to CTPR. I admire his handsome tusks as he lies down, allowing me the privilege of rubbing his belly. Pixie, a big beautiful girl with black-and-pink coloring, is at ease for our interview in her shady wooded nook where she's pulled up a few roots to munch on. Silvery, furry "Mama" Josie is a wonderful conversationalist who gets her points across in continuous soft grunts. Agnes, with her lovely black-and-white coat, jauntily trots over, ears a-flapping, to inquire about snacks (a girl after my own heart). They are a few of the 203 pigs that are in CTPR's care. They've come nationwide from difficult backgrounds – abandonment and abuse to name a few – but have found a new lease on life.
Dan Illescas founded CTPR in 2016 as a way to support pigs and pig parents. The nonprofit has since grown into a sanctuary to improve the lives of pigs and break down misconceptions about them. Pigs are regarded as livestock by federal law, meaning they don't have the same protections against abuse that dogs and cats have, even when kept as pets. CTPR upgraded from its 3-acre location to the new 26-acre property in 2021 to better serve its residents, Illescas said. But their exact location in Bastrop is private to ensure the safety of residents and prevent animals getting dropped off at their gate. "The numbers tell the tale," he said. "95 to 97% of all pet pigs never stay in their original home." He said locals constantly reach out, hoping to drop off their pigs.
While the rescue hopes to welcome more pigs to the sanctuary in the future, it's not currently feasible, said Tracey Stabile, a director of CTPR. "Do we hope to take in more pigs? Yes. Specifically the most urgent cases, situations where pigs don't have any other options," she said. "But right now we don't have the resources to take in more pigs: Human resources are something that we're lacking [and] funds are something that we're lacking."
CTPR does lead a rehoming support group to "safely shepherd unwanted pigs from one home to another," Illescas noted. But as for the current CTPR residents? They're here to stay, Illescas said. "We don't really adopt them out since we've learned how emotionally connected pigs get to their family, it's traumatic for them to go to a new home," he said. "Pigs are extremely complex and much like people." He compares their intellectual and emotional capacity to that of a 2- or 3-year-old human.
Behavioral complaints are much of the reason why people try to give up their pig, Stabile noted. Those issues are largely because of the pig's environment, she said. Out here, pigs get to live on their own terms. "Seeing the pigs thriving here, it feels like they're living their best life," Stabile said. "They need a stimulating environment, and we've been able to see their personalities blossom in different ways here and new behaviors we're really excited to see." Those behaviors include cooling off in mud spas, creating their own pathways through the brush, and making nests underneath yaupon groves.
The land was practically untouched before CTPR moved in, but now consists of thoughtfully designed pig neighborhoods. Illescas has worked in construction for over 20 years, which has come quite in handy when building a sanctuary from scratch. Now that the pig residents are settled into their new home, the team can focus on projects that improve the lives of CTPR volunteers, such as installing a well, getting solar panels up and running, and looking at the possibility of putting wind turbines on the property. "We need more power, that's the biggest thing," Stabile said. "We survived the winter without any heat and we aren't connected to the electric grid." As a nonprofit, CTRP has relied on donations to fund its projects; it has no paid staff and is fully run by volunteers. A tiny home will be delivered at the end of this month for their live-in animal caretaker(s) to reside.
Even if you have all the right intentions, Illescas encourages most people not to adopt a pig. "I ultimately tell people just come visit pigs, hang out with pigs, go to sanctuaries, and involve yourself in sanctuaries." That's the best way for people to "see pigs differently," and cultivate meaningful connections.
Stabile said that once both pig and human residents' needs are met, the organization can focus more on advocacy to change legislation around pigs. The No. 1 thing you can do to help pigs is to stop eating them, Stabile said. "There are a lot of people who come here and then tell us that they've stopped eating pig products when they leave." Illescas gestured to the pigs. "We let these people speak for themselves."