Around the Pen: Nonprofit sanctuary recruiting volunteers to help pigs and piglets

By Annika Tomlin

Danielle Betterman was gifted her first pig, Beezers, 12 years ago.

She researched the ins and outs of raising a pig in the Valley. Wanting to impart her knowledge and her love of pigs, she opened Better Piggies Rescue in 2017.

“I started doing research and quickly started volunteering with other organizations around the Valley, like Ironwood Pig Sanctuary and Circle L Ranch (Animal Rescue and Sanctuary) out in Prescott, and then just saw the need for rescues and adoptions,” Betterman says.

“The number of pigs that are purchased as pets and then discarded is outstanding,” Betterman says. “It’s an issue that a lot of people don’t know about. It’s a very unique issue, but it has gotten out of control.”

Located at 36246 N. 24th Street, Phoenix, the nonprofit takes in around 25 surrendered pigs every two weeks. Last year alone the nonprofit rescued 200 pigs.

“We have 110 pigs on the property right now — all rescues,” Betterman says. “We also have three cows that are rescues as well.”

To help care for the 110 pigs, Better Piggies Rescue is restarting its volunteer program that was stopped in lieu of COVID-19.

“Before COVID we were doing Piggy Yoga and Get Fit with the Pigs and we would have these large crowds on our tours and our (volunteer) orientations, and then COVID hit and it was just, we had to stop,” Betterman explains.

“Just for the safety of myself and our rescue manager and also for the volunteers that would come on a daily basis and then the pigs, too.”

Unaware at the time if pigs could contract and spread COVID-19, the rescue named safety a No. 1 priority.

“Now that people are getting vaccinated and things are opening up and people that are not vaccinated are still wearing masks, we’re able to have our events again, so we are starting with our volunteer orientations,” Betterman says.

Volunteers of any age — minors require parent or guardian accompaniment — should attend the hourlong orientation for $25 to “learn about the sanctuary and get a tour,” according to Betterman. The orientation also includes an exclusive BPR volunteer shirt and car sticker.

The Saturday morning orientations are booked for July and are nearly full for August. However, orientations run through the end of the year. To sign up, visit betterpiggiesrescue.org. Waivers are required for the volunteers and are on the website.

“(During orientation) you learn the different pens and what kind of needs each pen has,” Betterman says.

“You get to learn 110 names that you won’t remember at all. Then you get to see what we need from our volunteers — where to go to clean up the poop or what wallows to refill and what pigs you can interact with.”

Volunteers complete a variety of tasks, including picking up pig waste.

“We have 110 pigs,” she says. “You are going to have a lot of poop. We want to make sure that the area is as clean as possible for these pigs, because some are still recovering from extreme trauma or they got spayed or neutered. It’s really important for all areas of the sanctuary to be clean of poop.”

Cleanliness also extends to the pools that are used during the summer to keep the pigs cool.

Outside of picking up poop and cleaning out the wallows, volunteers are asked to socialize with the pigs, according to Betterman.

“Because all of our pigs are rescue animals, they are coming from horrific situations, whether that be abandonment in the desert or just our on the street, abuse by people or other animal attacks,” Betterman says.

“They all come in with a very unique story, and they all come in very scared. It’s really important for us to bring home the fact that our volunteers are here to socialize with them and reteach them that people are good and that they don’t have to be afraid.”

Beezers and his best friend, Beyoncé, are among Betterman’s “forever pigs.”

“It is so hard because we do adoptions as well, but if a pig doesn’t get adopted out, they’ll just stay here forever,” Betterman says. “We don’t move them around to other sanctuaries if they feel comfortable here, and if they don’t get a forever home, then this is their forever home.

“Twelve is what we claim as our ‘forevers,’ but it’s a lot more than that because there are a couple of pigs that we won’t adopt out because of health issues. We don’t adopt out any of our farm hogs because they are seen as meat pigs, so we don’t want anybody to get ahold of them.”   

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