Pig-A-Sus Homestead Sanctuary
Originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of Spoke+Blossom
This is the legacy of Thumper, a beloved potbelly pig. She climbed up and down ladders, rode in the passenger seat of the truck, and slept in her own tiny bed complete with a pillow right next to owners Sioux Robbins-Bartel and her husband, Rocky. Before you judge, hear out the rest of the story.
Back in 1990, Sioux was all about horses. Visiting an old horse dealer on East Orchard Mesa to purchase a cutting horse, she found Betty Boop — a potbelly pig destined to become sausage the very next day. After negotiating to save the pig, she brought it home, and Rocky said in his easy-going manner, “that’s an awfully short horse.” Three days later, Betty Boop had four piglets, one of which was Thumper, who stole Sioux’s heart.
When Thumper died tragically in 1995 after eating a spider plant, toxic to animals, Sioux and Rocky bought the 40 acres they were renting so Thumper could be buried under a large tree on land they actually owned.
“1996 is when we went whole hog,” says Rocky. “These 40 acres became the Pig-A-Sus Homestead Sanctuary.”
The sanctuary is currently home to 60 potbelly pigs but topped out once at 106. Hammey, Wilbur, Rambo, Sally, Petunia, Salty, Maddie, Ms. Oink and friends now live a comfortable outdoor country life with 17 feral cats they love.
“Look at you, you’re so beautiful,” Sioux tells the pigs as she traverses through them.
The sanctuary receives pigs from various circumstances and via various means. Owner deaths, divorce, neglect and dog attacks happen. Dishonest and greedy breeders lure people to buy the cute and cuddly piglets they tell them will grow to 35 pounds, when up to 150 is closer to the truth. Many pigs used by the University of Salt Lake City for medical research have been saved from being euthanized by Pig-A-Sus.
And yes, pigs fly. Daisy was a piglet saved by firemen in the Everglades of Florida and flown to the sanctuary 14 years ago. Cheyenne Animal Control has flown potbelly pigs to the sanctuary because it was unethical for them to euthanize.
“It was Daisy who jumped the fence and chased off the neighbor’s sheep and dogs when they got too close,” says Sioux. “We’ve had some funny times here!”
The most they ever received at one time was 50, trucked in from Phoenix 11 years ago. The pigs served as a cover for a home’s basement meth lab. Animal Planet did a three-part series on the 50 pigs’ journey from Phoenix to the Pig-A-Sus Homestead Sanctuary.
In another drug bust, Sioux and Rocky were called in to move a 400-pound potbelly pig who was actually laying on the drug stash, as authorities were too intimidated.
Potbelly pigs are extremely intelligent, fourth on the spectrum after humans, primates and dolphins. They are compassionate, social and gentle, often family pets or therapy animals. They can be indoor or outdoor pets, easily house broken or trained to use a litter box, are incapable of sweating and have absolutely no odor.
“There are so many good things about potbelly pigs. I just can’t stand to watch people put them down, because they’re part of their family,” says Sioux.
People of all ages and abilities enjoy the company of these lovable creatures.
For years, a nurse from Denver drove to the sanctuary once a month with her autistic son, because the law didn’t allow her to own one. The first animal he ever touched was a potbelly pig, and the first recognizable word or sound he made was imitating a pig noise.
“We have had some generous donations over the years, but 98 percent of the sanctuary cost is out of our pockets,” says Sioux. “The average cost is $500 per pig, or $35,000 a year, without any major emergencies. With a life expectancy of 20 years, it adds up. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Rocky and his work in the oil fields.”
The sanctuary is extremely grateful for every donation they’ve received, both large and small. One woman sends $10 per month, and one family had fencing delivered. Sioux and Rocky grow the entire 20 to 30 tons of corn to feed the pigs each year on another 400-acre parcel they own. Needless to say, taking a vacation is a foreign concept.
“We were a 501 nonprofit for years, but potbelly pigs all over the U.S. are in a classification of livestock, which eliminated us from getting grants,” says Sioux. “Being one of the oldest sanctuaries west of the Mississippi, sanctuaries across the United States believe if we work with legislators to get Colorado laws changed, other states will follow. That’s what we’re hoping to do.”
Sioux and Rocky want potbelly pigs to be classified as therapy, companion or household pet animals. As of today, they are allowed in Mesa County but not in any city limits, and they have not been able to get the support of any local city officials. It boggles Sioux’s mind that people in Fruita can have five chickens and a goat but not a potbelly pig.
Up until three years ago, the sanctuary held fundraisers and had visits from senior groups and Hilltop brain trauma patients multiple times a year. Insurance companies put an end to that when homeowner insurance stopped covering potbelly pigs. Hilltop was able to work with their insurance company for coverage specific to the day of the sanctuary visits.
Sioux and Rocky also fork out thousands oftheir personal finances to hire Denver Animal Law Services to go to court for people around the state in order for them to keep their potbelly pigs.
“We fought quite a battle over four months against the City of Parker, but we won,” says Sioux. “We also won a special case in Commerce City where the pig was allowed to live out its natural life of 17 years.”
Before any adoption placement by the sanctuary, Sioux does an intense background check and home inspection. A lifetime agreement is also made that the sanctuary can make quarterly, unannounced visits and follow up on vet records. The sanctuary offers free classes to anyone adopting to encourage a successful placement.
Sioux warns people with toddlers against adoption because of their little hands carrying food at pig eye level. She also discourages potbellied pigs being given as gifts, a novelty which can be literally outgrown. Sioux believes if the people and pig end up a poor match, it’s the fault of the humans, not the pigs.
“Several of our pigs are up for adoption, but the majority will live out their natural lives here because of their age and medical issues,” says Sioux. “We have a wait list of 17 pigs to come here. I’m 72, and with the long life of these pigs, I have to look at what’s good for the animals in the long haul and who’s going to take care of them.”
At the end of the sanctuary tour, Rocky led me to a shaded pen with their latest addition — two tortoises. Where did they come from?
“I have no idea,” said Rocky. “She is so kind hearted, she has a hard time saying no to any living creature.”
Contact Pig-A-Sus Homestead
A senior citizen haven for the older, abused, neglected and dumped potbelly pig.
506 S Road / Mack, CO 81525
970.985.5661 / firstname.lastname@example.org