STANWOOD — A few miles east of the Stanwood city limits there is a 34-acre plot of land, half pasture and half forest, where a woman named Judy Woods lives with 190 pigs.
Woods, 60, has been sheltering homeless hogs for more than two decades. They are fugitives of farm life, abandoned pets and rejects of livestock auctions. Instead of being sold or slaughtered, each pig lives out its natural life in peace. That’s why Woods calls her ranch Pigs Peace Sanctuary.
“You’re going to see every form of pig here,” she said. “From little ones to big ones, babies up to senior citizens.”
There are pint-sized piglets and hulking hogs, ranging in age from 1 month to 24 years old. Woods knows each one by name, and they’re all microchipped in case something happens to her (“Winston won’t start getting called Benji,” she said).
The pigs have come from all over. Bailey, born blind, was found wandering in a horse pasture in the Kitsap Peninsula. Police officers discovered Honey in the back of a truck during a DUI arrest in Gillette, Wyoming, (she was paralyzed from the waist down, suspected to have been beaten with 2-by-4s). A pack of malnourished hogs were transferred from a failing sanctuary in Montana. More than 90 little black pigs came from California.
Woods, a former registered nurse, traces her devotion to pigs back to her elementary school library. That’s where she discovered “Charlotte’s Web.”
“I think I checked it out 20 times,” she said. “I wanted to be Fern, and I wanted to rescue the pig.”
The chance to play Fern came during the pet mini-pig craze of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Woods rescued a medium-sized potbellied pig that had gotten too big for its owner. Soon after, she asked a veterinarian about bigger pigs — the 600-pound-and-up variation. The vet warned her that she would fall in love with them if she got one. He was right.
In 1994, Woods sold her home and emptied her retirement savings to settle on six acres in Arlington, where Pigs Peace was based for eight years before relocating to the current property. Nowadays the sanctuary, a tax-exempt nonprofit, pays the bills with donations, legacies, grants and sales from Vegan Haven, a grocery store in Seattle’s University district that Woods bought in 2006.
As the sole employee of Pigs Peace, Woods feeds the animals and administers medical treatments. Volunteers help her scoop manure, which is the bulk of the labor. One volunteer comes four times a week. Another has commuted from Renton once a month for the past nine years. Sometimes there are work parties.
A tour of the sanctuary quickly reveals how much personality the pigs have. They know their names, they make eye contact and they like to be petted and played with. A few of them, those with histories of abuse or abandonment, are standoffish or aggressive, but Woods says socialization from other pigs can change that. A belligerent hog named Mr. Belvedere, for example, was snubbed by the rest of the herd until he started playing nice.
Woods is quick to debunk the stereotypes surrounding pigs. For one, she says they’re not actually dirty. While there’s an awful lot of manure out in the fields, they keep their barns meticulously tidy.
“I have never cleaned the barn, and I never will,” Woods said. “Pigs will never soil where they eat, sleep or drink. If I had a horse in there, there’d be poop in there. If I had goats, I’d have to clean it every day.”
And the mud they always seem to be covered in? That’s sunscreen. Their sweat glands don’t work very well, so they roll in mud to cool down in the summer. For that reason, the lighter pigs go in the mud more often than the dark ones, Woods says.
Other common misconceptions are that pigs are unintelligent and selfish, despite research that has found them to be both smart and social. Dr. Melanie Joy, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, explored these fallacies in her book “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows.”
“There are a lot of myths we have about pigs,” Joy said. “We employ psychological acrobatics when it comes to the way we think about farmed animals, so that we can distance ourselves psychologically and emotionally from them. We tend to see pigs as abstractions lacking in any individuality or personality.”
Joy said the animals at Pigs Peace can help change that by being “representatives for others of their species.”
Recognizing this, Woods leads free tours of the sanctuary Sunday afternoons. Kent Nagase drove to the sanctuary from Bellevue with his three daughters last summer. They donated 25 pounds of carrots and 11 pounds of apples.
“Ethically, for us to want to go see animals, we want to feel like we’re participating in something that’s better for the animals, rather than somewhere like a zoo,” Nagase said.
Visitors often leave the sanctuary won over by the pigs and eager to help out beyond donating. Woods welcomes them to scoop manure in the fields or volunteer at Vegan Haven. Above all, though, she asks them to keep pigs off their plates.
“The most important thing you can do is not eat them,” she said, noting that the sanctuary’s 195 pigs pale in comparison to the 112 million pigs that were slaughtered in America last year.
That said, a pig-free diet is by no means a prerequisite to visiting Pigs Peace. Nagase and his daughters Jade and Emi are vegetarians, while his daughter Alexis is not. Two other sanctuary visitors, Seattleites Rachel Stamm and Shelly Appleton, were also divided on the issue.
“I like animals and I’m a vegetarian, and I’m very interested in the rescue community,” Stamm said.
Added Appleton, who eats meat: “I thought this would be fun to check out. It’s sad that people take on pets that they can’t reasonably handle. It’s not their fault that people make stupid decisions. It’s nice that Judy is here to save them.”
Dietary decisions aside, Woods just hopes that people will leave the sanctuary knowing more about pigs than when they arrived.
“Pigs are misunderstood on our planet,” she said. “They’re intelligent, they’re sensitive, they’re social. They want to have a life like you and I have a life — their own life.”
To learn more about Pigs Peace Sanctuary or schedule a tour, go to pigspeace.org or visit the Facebook page. The sanctuary is already over capacity and is not accepting any more pigs.