Bucket List: Tour Ironwood Pig Sanctuary
The Ironwood Pig Sanctuary is in Marana, somewhere down a four-mile dirt road, far from the maddening crowd but only about 30 minutes from Oracle Junction, which is kind of in the middle of almost nowhere where main thoroughfares 77 and 79 meet.
Not knowing what to expect except made aware to wear comfortable shoes and a hat and bring sunscreen my friend Anne and I made a reservation and arrived promptly at 10 a.m. along with dozens of other people and their children.
Donna, our tour guide, knows the names of all 544 pot-bellied pigs. She calls them “my babies.” Pigs come to Ironwood from any number of scenarios—none of them good—strays, abused, attacked, neglected, overwhelmed owners, rescue venues go out of business, zoning problems, over bred.
The Sanctuary currently sits on 17 sprawling acres with the ability to expand. Pigs are spread out into areas that meet their needs. For example, special needs, hospice, seniors, recovering from surgery, youngsters, middle age, arthritic, pigs that may have arrived from big hauls like Peoria.
Unless babies or seniors needing to keep weight on, pigs are generally fed once a day. The Sanctuary goes through four tons of pig feed every three weeks; they also eat alfalfa hay. Their color-coded dishes are identifiable by name as some pigs get certain medications hidden in fig newtons and peanut butter or may get diluted juices to keep them hydrated and medicated. Feeding 544 pigs can take all day!
Pigs have fun names like Pig Newton, Latoya, Dexter, Tofu, Pickles, Wilbur, Pop Tart, Hot Sauce, Pumba, Napoleon, Johnny Rocket, Lollipop. Many, but not all of the pigs, have sponsors or multiple sponsors for $30 a month. People on our tour wanted to visit the pigs they sponsored.
Pigs are territorial. Putting a new pig or two into an established area is akin to a gang member invading a new corner. There will be fights and the natural hierarchy will reign. Pigs also bond and fall in love (fortunately, they are altered here before this happens). Pigs cuddle up to each other. During cooler weather as many as five or six will squeeze into little huts to keep warm. And then there’s Churchill — a 600-pound hog who hogs an enclosure all to himself.
Pigs can live to be 13 to 17, though a few have lived longer. The 17 year old Sanctuary is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization that has done an amazing job at taking care of the pigs and making them feel loved and safe.
Some pigs like to be petted. Visitors may pet the pigs on their back and sides and you can tell if the pig finds it pleasurable because the coarse hair on their backs (like a mohawk) will stand straight up. Then they will fall to the ground, roll over and want their tummies rubbed. It doesn’t get any cuter than that!
Written by Karyn Zoldan, who is always looking for interesting animal stories and experiences.