Man opens sanctuary for abused farm animals: 'You can't be depressed here'

Five rescue dogs love running around and visiting the other residents, like two donkeys, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, or Shrek and Fiona the pigs — or Shrek the goat.

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There’s even an odd couple: two bonded pigs named Casper, a 1,000-pound Yorkshire pig, and Elvis, a svelte 200-pound potbellied pig.
Cashmere, Petey, Naya and Hubert are four of the five rescue dogs who love roaming around Little Bear Sanctuary to visit other species.Christoper Vane / Little Bear Sanctuary
While Vane insists he doesn’t have a favorite animal, he does have a “fondness” for a 300-pound pig named Willy, the sanctuary’s first rescue.

“He’s quite the character,” he said. “He greets everybody and he loves his belly rubs.”

A 300-pound pig named Willy was the first animal rescued by Little Bear Sanctuary when it opened in 2017.Christoper Vane / Little Bear Sanctuary
Many people buy pigs as pets but then surrender them when they get “too big.” Before that happened to Willy, his owner taught him to sit like a dog for treats. When other pigs joined Little Bear Sanctuary, Willy taught them to sit, too.

“Two weeks later they were all sitting for their treat,” he recalled. “I’ve heard that pigs teach each other stuff, but to see that in real life was pretty amazing. It just kind of cements their intelligence.”

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Vane wishes more people knew how intelligent pigs are, and that they are meant to be big. Unscrupulous breeders purposely malnourish pigs and market them as “miniature” — selling them before they’ve reached maturity and their full weight. A few of Vane’s rescued pigs remained small from chronic malnourishment before rescue and suffered bone defects as a result.

“We actually had to stop taking people's pet pigs because I think it's become a crisis,” he said, noting the sanctuary receives calls every day from people wanting to surrender their pets .