Hog heaven

At Farm Sanctuary, pork bellies are for rubbing, not eating

THAT’S THE SPOT <br>Christine Rose and Mike Buckley of Chico take their turn rubbing Petunia’s belly at Farm Sanctuary’s annual July 4 “Pignic.” The event aims to educate people about how animals raised for food are treated.

Christine Rose and Mike Buckley of Chico take their turn rubbing Petunia’s belly at Farm Sanctuary’s annual July 4 “Pignic.” The event aims to educate people about how animals raised for food are treated.

Photo by Tom Angel

Welcome to the family: Farm Sanctuary is always looking for new members for its Adopt-a-Farm Animal Project. Sponsoring an animal provides for its care for one year. For example, it takes $96 to care for a duck or rabbit, $240 for a goat or sheep, $360 for a pig or $480 for a cow. Many people give sponsorships as gifts or donate smaller amounts.

Petunia the pig, in the midst of what may be the best belly rub of her long life, stretched all four stubby legs and collapsed completely and contentedly on the cool barn floor. Two humans leaned in for a harder scratch, eliciting a satisfied snort.

“I guess that’s just the normal curvature of the mouth, but it looks like a smile,” observed Jerry Mitchell, a visitor to Farm Sanctuary, near Orland.

It was probably the piggy equivalent of relaxing on the couch with a cool beer and the holiday ballgame. Appropriately, it was Independence Day, as Farm Sanctuary held its traditional “Pignic"—complete with meatless hot dogs.

Farm Sanctuary houses more than 600 animals, most of them rescued from factory farms, where they were abused or kept in close quarters in violation of animal-cruelty laws.

The 75,000-member nonprofit lobbies against what it considers cruel practices. A recent cause, Farm Sanctuary literature relates, is fighting the production of “white” veal, whereby calves are tightly enclosed and fed an iron-deficient diet so their meat will be lighter.

The July 4 event at the Orland facility, said Director Diane Miller, is the one that draws the most curious newcomers, as opposed to activists already in the know. “Hopefully, they’ll have a shift of consciousness,” Miller said.

TURKEY TALK <br>Farm Sanctuary has rescued several turkeys. Bred to optimize their white meat, the turkeys at factory farms grow so big that they topple and die around age 3.

Photo by Tom Angel

The day’s visitors, though, were already of one mind: Animals should be loved, not eaten. During a short hayride out to the barns, they volleyed views about vegetarianism—preaching to the choir, sure, but sincere about their commitment to respect their feathered and four-legged brethren.

“Whenever you mention vegetarianism, everyone just gets freaky,” said Christine Rose, a Chico resident who is starting a new activist group called the Center for Sustainability. She plans to educate more people about what goes into making their dinner. She said the media and powers that be “tell us to close our eyes to the suffering because they’re animals. They close their eyes to the fact that they’re sentient beings. … People wouldn’t dream of eating their dogs.”

Jerry and Eleanor Mitchell, who were looking for a July 4 day trip and read about Farm Sanctuary in the newspaper, drove up from Sacramento for the event.

They munched meatless dogs and looked at the display of celebrity photographs autographed with encouraging words by Alicia Silverstone, Alec Baldwin and Dolly Parton.

The tour included visits with a strutting rooster named Fabio, bunnies commiserating with ducks in Dogloos sheltered from the sun—and, of course, the pig belly rubs.

A little girl in a Mary-Kate and Ashley swimsuit tugged at her mother’s skirt: “Lookit! Lookit! Lookit! The rabbits and ducks are friends together!”

A huge turkey, seemingly excited by the attention, ambled up to the edge of the pen it shared with dozens of chickens rescued from an illegally operating egg farm. Its bright red gobble jiggled beneath its blue-tinged forehead.

“That’s a great Fourth of July turkey there," observed Jerry Mitchell.