MY STORY | Pigs bring me the greatest joy – that’s why I’ve dedicated my life to them

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When Leslie Giles saw a picture of George Clooney holding a pig, she knew she wanted to have her own pigs. (PHOTO: Instagram / @pigsnpaws)
When Leslie Giles saw a picture of George Clooney holding a pig, she knew she wanted to have her own pigs. (PHOTO: Instagram / @pigsnpaws)

Running an animal welfare shelter is not for sissies and rescuers confront abuse, cruelty and neglect every day. 

But it’s not just dogs and cats that are taken in – pigs are becoming a growing concern. Many people adopt so-called “teacup pigs”, then find themselves unable to cope when the cute little porker grows into an enormous animal with specific and challenging needs. 

pigs, pets
There are currently more than 350 pigs on Leslie's property. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Many end up being taken into shelters, like Pigs ’n Paws in Cullinan, Gauteng. It’s a labour of love that’s punishingly expensive but for founder Leslie Giles (59), the rewards outweigh the sacrifices. 

READ MORE | WATCH | He’s short and stout but Ollie the oinker is no teacup piggie!

This is her story.

“I’ve wanted a pig ever since I saw a picture of George Clooney with his pet pig in the 1990s.

I got my first pig in 2004 from my then husband. We named him Winston. He’s still alive and the apple of my eye.

I’ve always had a soft spot for animals, and I found something about pigs simply enchanting. They’re the fourth smartest animals in the world and they’re so interesting. 

Getting Winston was a learning curve for me. I raised him like a puppy, but I’ve since learnt a lot. Pigs are completely different to dogs. They’re incredibly intelligent and each one has a unique personality. Sure, dogs have personalities too, but a pig’s personality is far more noticeable – it’s in your face.

pigs, animals
Leslie's ex-husband gifted her with her first pig in 2004. (PHOTO: Supplied)

They love it if you give them a good scratch. They’ll rub against your legs like a cat – they’re nuts for attention.

Pigs also have emotional intelligence and empathy. If one of the pigs in a herd dies, the others will mourn him. If a pig falls ill, the others will nurture him and lie down with him.

But pigs aren’t for everyone. There are certainly challenges to keeping them as pets. You need to do your homework before adopting one. The first problem is that people believe there’s such a thing as a teacup pig. These are baby pigs that breeders will tell you stay small and cute but it’s not true. A breeder will tell you anything to sell a pig.

Pigs get huge and then many people no longer want them as pets. That’s when they end up with us. We were never really planning to be a haven for pets – it happened by chance. My ex-husband and I have always had a passion for saving animals. In 2004, we joined a few animal welfare organisations in the Cullinan area as volunteers. We were confronted with the cruelty of some people who neglect and abuse animals.

Pigs n Paws spend about R25 000 a month taking care of all the pigs. (PHOTO: Instagram / @pigsnpaws)

We then decided we wanted to start our own welfare organisation. We started with dogs and by the end of 2004 there were about 35 rescue dogs on our property. We took them in and cared for them until we could find them new homes.

Someone heard I had a pig on the property and called me out of the blue to say they have pigs they want to surrender. I couldn’t refuse – I love pigs too much.

I realised there was a void because there weren’t any welfare organisations that focus on pigs. That’s how Pigs & Paws started.

Animal welfare organisations aren’t for sensitive souls. This job is for heartbroken people who try to save heartbroken animals in a broken system. 

I’ve seen the most horrifying things. I once found a pig that had been kept in a cage that was too small for it – it couldn’t even turn around. It sat in its own excrement and the food was left in that waste.

There are many abattoirs where the animals live in vile conditions. There are places that sever pigs’ tails and remove their front teeth – that’s because when they live in cramped spaces, they get frustrated and start biting each other’s ears and tails. I wish I could close those places down.

pigs, animals, pets
Leslie loves every minute she gets to spend with the pigs. (PHOTO: Supplied)

You won’t catch me eating bacon either. In fact, I’m a vegan. I also consider myself an activist. There’s a factory situated between Pretoria and Johannesburg that still gases their pigs. It’s inhumane and I’m trying to put a stop to it. We often have protests outside the factory.

We currently have 350 pigs on our property. It costs more than R25 000 a month to feed them all. Luckily, we have a contact in Pretoria who delivers a ton of vegetables four times a week.

We’re dependent on donations. We live from month to month and hope we have enough money to feed all the pigs and the 20 dogs here.

It’s not that easy to raise a pig. Pigs require lots of attention and patience. At age two, they can get to be a handful – we call it the terrible twos, just like children. They can destroy your garden and even get aggressive at times. So, before we allow someone to adopt one of our pigs, they must meet certain criteria.

Firstly, we get to know the person. We interview them to establish whether they want a pig for the right reasons. Is the person looking for a cute, small pig or are they prepared for it to grow into a large pig? 

We do home visits. Is there enough space for the pig? Will it be kept in a large-enough enclosure or is there sufficient space in the garden for it? By law, pigs may not be kept in residential areas, so the person should ideally live on a farm or smallholding. 

We also check if there’s a swimming pool and if so, whether it’s enclosed. We’ve heard of a few cases where pigs have wandered off at night, fallen into the pool and drowned. 

Pigs and dogs don’t really get along. One is prey, the other is predator. When you’re around the dog and the pig may look like friends, but as soon as you leave, the dog will often bite the pig. I’ve seen horrifying incidents where a pig’s entire face was mauled.

Though there are still many pigs living in disgusting conditions and being slaughtered, I draw some comfort from the fact that I’m making a difference saving a few of the unfortunate millions and giving them a safe, carefree life. It brings me joy.” 

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