On Monday, August 13th, 2013, a fire soon dubbed the Taylor Bridge Fire was started at approximately noon in Kittitas County, WA.
With tinder-dry conditions and thousands of acres of grass, foliage, trees, and houses, the fire quickly exploded, endangering the inhabitants of Cle Elum, Wash., and traveling toward Ellensburg.
As hours grew into days, the fire devoured everything in its path, growing with wind gusts even as firefighters attacked the blaze from the ground and from the air. Terrified onlookers watched as homes and propane tanks exploded into flames, their cars, trucks, and trailers packed with their most prized possessions: their nonhuman family members. When the flames finally subsided, the casualty count was high: damage was estimated at $8.3 million and climbing, with 51 houses or cabins listed as total losses, six houses or cabins with partial damage, and 26 additional properties with other structural losses. Barns, fences, and pastureland were lost in the blaze… and while no human deaths were attributed to the 23,500-acre blaze, countless animals lost either their lives or their homes.
No one will soon forget the wildfire that ravaged the land between Cle Elum and Ellensburg. Hundreds were evacuated from the surrounding area and thousands waited to see if the firefighters from across the state could vanquish this foe. But out of the ashes of this tragedy arose the goodness and kindness of the small communities of Cle Elum and Ellensburg who were galvanized to help one another, human and nonhuman alike.
Pot bellied pigs, victims of the fire…
One of the destroyed properties was a farm where many pigs resided. While it is unknown at this time how many pigs were at the property and how many pigs succumbed to the fire, we do know that several were unable to be saved. When the flames, fueled by driving winds, had swept over hillsides and onto local farms and ranches, many families desperately tried to save their animals. Some of them cut fences or turned their animals loose. While local families couldn’t evacuate all of their animals, at least they had the chance to run for their lives. And given this chance to live, run they did – away from the flames and into the arms of tireless, selfless Good Samaritans.
Emergency animal shelter operations were set up at the Kittitas County Fairgrounds, where loose, hurt, or evacuated animals were brought in to a barn where they could receive care and veterinary attention, if needed. These animals may have lost their homes, but this emergency facility ensured that they didn’t lose hope. For these frightened pigs, finding such a safe haven amidst the charred remains of their home truly must have been a blessing.
A special veterinarian stepped up to help the displaced pigs
Some of the rescued pigs from the destroyed farm were not socialized and all of them were unaltered. Some of the sows came in with new litters, and at least one of the sows farrowed at the fairgrounds. Local veterinarian Erin Zamzow, DVM, was volunteering at the fairgrounds to help victims of the fire. Dr. Zamzow became involved with this case when she heard about the pigs’ precarious situation. She knew that she had to help – and she’s glad that she did.
“I initially had 12 juvenile pigs and 4 adult boars signed over to me by the owner,” she stated.
“A few days later, I received two more pigs: runt piglets from a large litter. One of them wasn’t doing very well at all. There were now a total of 18 pigs signed over to me, and it became my responsibility to care for them and rehome them.”
The pigs in Dr. Zamzow’s custody were primarily pot-bellied pigs, but there were also crossbred pigs from the farm, including some Berkshire pigs. While Dr. Zamzow’s experience with pigs has been limited, she is intrigued by their intelligence and their amazing capacity to learn.
“Before, I personally have only met pot-bellied pigs that belonged to friends or clients,” she stated.
“I generally don’t treat or work with pot-bellied pigs. I’m learning about them quickly, as I adopted one of the babies who was brought in. He had lost his mother in the fire when he was only a few days old.”
This little piglet, given the playful moniker of Johnny Cash, has quickly become a part of Dr. Zamzow’s family.
“My own pig is very attached to us,” she explained.
“He’s only 11 days old right now and I have had him for a week. He loves to be scratched and to snuggle with us and he follows me around. He is sleeping at my feet right now. The other pigs seem to have a varied degree of friendliness and acceptance of humans, but are not easy to handle at this point. It appears that they have not been socialized to humans much and will not come up to a human. They still try to escape if they are approached.”
The pigs who have been adopted into homes, however, are making progress and becoming friendlier. “As I understand it, if they are properly cared for and socialized, they will warm up to humans and hopefully will become beloved pets,” Dr. Zamzow stated.
“Pot-bellied pigs are prone to food aggression and can be unpleasant if not properly trained and integrated into the family of people and other animals they are with.”
Do I have the right home for a pot-bellied pig?
Dr. Zamzow firmly believes that these pigs would thrive in a loving home.
“They would make good additions to a family because they are smart, they usually bond well with people, they can be house-trained, they can be trained to walk on a harness or a leash, and they can even do agility,” she explained.
“Pigs have unique personalities like a dog or a cat would and they can be very entertaining,” she continued.
“They are certainly not for everyone, though! If you have small children or you don’t have the time to work with them, I wouldn’t recommend getting them. They can really be awesome with kids if they are properly socialized, though. Most people who dedicate themselves to them say that their pigs are their favorite pet, as they have really great personalities and can be very sweet.”
What would I need to “pigify” my home?
In order to welcome a pot-bellied pig into one’s home, several steps need to be taken first.
“The zoning of a property must allow for pot-bellied pigs,” Dr. Zamzow explained.
“The owners must also have the time and resources to socialize their pig, have the ability to work with them on foot trimming and tusk trimming, provide the right diet, provide a rooting area, provide a safe, warm enclosure if they are to be outdoors, and provide house training if they are to be indoors.”
While owning a pot-bellied pig can be a great joy, it is a large commitment, as well. “They can live from 12 to 20 years and may have medical needs, as any other pet might,” Dr. Zamzow stated. “So it’s important to know what veterinarians in your area can treat pot-bellied pigs. I also recommend doing a lot of research on them as they are extremely smart, food-driven, and sensitive. If a family has small children, they need to keep the pig away from them until it is socialized and trained. Some pigs are more gentle than others, and they’re all different, just like all animals.”
While pot-bellied pigs are exceptionally intelligent, Dr. Zamzow cautions that this can be a double-edge sword.
“They can be trained, which is great fun, but they can also figure out how to get into a garden, a cupboard, or wherever they want to go, so proper enclosures are a must. Pigs love to root and they actually need to be able to root for their mental health, so a dirt patch or indoor ‘rooting box’ where they can dig for treats is helpful and keeps them from getting bored and destructive,” she explained.
Pigs are complex animals. Because of their intelligence and need for socialization, many of them end up in rescues once they begin to grow larger and begin to figure out how to get what they want or need. Pigs also have needs that some caregivers are not aware of.
“Pigs have more delicate digestive systems than people usually realize, so paying careful attention to the diet and not overfeeding is very important,” Dr. Zamzow explained.
“My family is very much looking forward to having our little Johnny Cash pig with us for years to come,” Dr. Zamzow enthused.
“We plan to do educational talks with him about the intelligence of pigs and the responsibility of owning a pot-bellied pig. Who knows…maybe we will create a few vegetarians!” Dr. Zamzow stressed the importance of responsible pet ownership with all animals. “It’s important to become educated about the overpopulation of these animals and it’s important to spay or neuter pigs just as one would with cats or dogs,” she stated.
I want to adopt a pot-bellied pig who lost its home in the fires! Now what?
If you are interested in meeting one of these pigs to potentially add them to your family, please contact our adoption coordinator, Heidi, at HeidiM@Pasadosafehaven.org.
And if you are not looking to add to the family at this time, please consider making a donation to Pasado’s to help offset the cost of caring for the animals we rescue and rehabilitate here at the sanctuary.
Dr. Zamzow, thank you for your commitment to helping animals – within the Ellensburg community and beyond. You truly do make a difference.
Thank you – from all of the animals at Pasado’s sanctuary and from those who are still waiting to find their safe haven.
NOTE: Pigs are very social and enjoy the company of other pigs. They need the companionship of their own species. Pigs require a large area to roam and root as well as large areas for mud baths! We do not suggest pigs as house or backyard pets.