There are plenty of big personalities at Sweet Acres Pig Sanctuary.
There’s Delilah, a “puppy dog” pig with a serious case of the zoomies. Cardi P, a talented climber with a nose for sniffing out treats. There’s sassy Wellington, an unabashed queen bee, and Dozer, a softie who loves hugs. With 11 pigs in all roaming the grounds, exploring the pens, and getting into a fair amount of mischief, Sweet Acres rarely sees a dull moment.
“They’re just wonderful.” said Kirsten Duggan, one-woman owner and operator of Sweet Acres. “They’re all one-of-a-kind.”
Located at 2798 Vivian Rd., minutes from downtown Newmarket, Sweet Acres offers visitors a hands-on and educational country experience. During the sanctuary’s one-hour tours, visitors can pet, hug, and feed the pigs, enjoy hot drinks and snacks, and play on Sweet Acres’ coin-operated kiddie rides. Duggan requests a minimum $20 donation per tour, with all funds going toward food and veterinary care for her pigs. The sanctuary is open to the public year-round, with visitors of all ages welcome.
For the pigs, Sweet Acres is a second chance at life. All 11 of Duggan’s pigs are rescues, with a number given up by owners unaware of animal bylaws prohibiting pigs in non-agricultural homes. Others came to Duggan horribly abused by their owners, or starved to maintain a “cute”, stunted size. Breeders discarding of old stock and families giving up pigs in anticipation of a baby are other common incidents Duggan sees at her sanctuary.
“There was a young couple who would bring their pig to visit my pigs,” said Duggan, recalling the upsetting story behind Cardi P’s abandonment. “One night they dropped her off, and never came back to pick her up. I tried to contact them, but they’d blocked me on all social media.”
In rare cases, like Wellington’s, the previous owners stay in touch, contributing funds toward the care of their former pet. But, sadly, these happier stories are far and few between.
Duggan has seen it all, good and bad. Though Sweet Acres has only been open for tours since the summer of 2019, her involvement with pigs goes back far longer.
Seven years ago, Duggan was in the process of finding herself a pet “teacup” pig of her own- short-snouted, adorable, and small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. But research online revealed some shocking truths about the miniscule breed: they didn’t exist.
“A lot of breeders sell regular pot-bellied pigs, but ask you to only feed them a tiny amount of food to keep them small. Many of them are basically starved to death to stay small.”
Duggan, an animal-lover, jumped at the chance to adopt a regular pot-bellied pig when a local farm began giving theirs away. Sadie was the first addition to the Sweet Acres’ family, arriving in 2015. In the years since, Duggan has rescued 11 pigs from dangerous and difficult situations, and has fostered many more. She credits Norfolk’s Ralphy’s Retreat, a pot-bellied pig sanctuary she works with often, with teaching her all she knows.
But, at the end of the day, Sweet Acres is a one-woman show. As Duggan cares for all her pigs out-of-pocket, costs of running the sanctuary can get high. She welcomes donations of blankets, straw, and uncarved pumpkins, and is especially grateful for any financial donations.
Those who choose to sponsor a pig- paying a monthly fee, of any amount, toward their care- will receive extra benefits with their visits. Duggan can be reached through the Sweet Acres Facebook page and she urges people to consider donating to Ralphy’s Retreat (https://www.ralphysretreat.ca/), which has seen fundraising fall dangerously low due to COVID-19.
“My pigs, they’re just like children. They need their love, need their hugs. Here, we give them that.”