Pigs Fleeing North Bay Fires Find Refuge in Half Moon Bay

Gertrude has survived two wildfires in the last two years, but in the hands of Charlie's Acres, she's expected to live a long and happy life. (Courtesy of Chris McCann)

When Anna Sweet of Sweet Farm got the call in the middle of the night, she said she’d be happy to take in emergency guests fleeing the fires in Sonoma County. And then realized she needed to get up and get busy.

"We were not set up yet for pigs at all," Sweet recalls. "We didn’t have a shelter for them. We weren’t quite sure our fences were going to work."

They did need to build new fencing. Not to embarrass these fine ladies, but Gertrude weighs about 600 pounds and Punky’s just a wee bit smaller than that.

Punky and her buddy Gertrude have found refuge from the North Bay Fires in Half Moon Bay at Sweet Ranch, a non-profit farm animal sanctuary.
Punky and her buddy, Gertrude, have found refuge from the North Bay Fires in Half Moon Bay at Sweet Ranch, a nonprofit farm animal sanctuary. (Courtesy of Chris McCann)

These porcine refugees came from Charlie’s Acres, escaping the Partrick Fire. Charlie’s Acres, like Sweet Farm, is a nonprofit farm animal sanctuary. They provide a "forever" home for all kinds of animals that would otherwise be headed for slaughter, including chickens, llamas and horses.

"Sheep and goats and a few, probably more, cows, and then definitely on the pig side, we’re ready," Sweet adds.

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Some animals are “liberated” -- or stolen, depending on your perspective -- from industrial farms. A lot of bulls and roosters are rescued in this fashion. Other animals are given up for adoption or abandoned, often when families are surprised to discover an animal they procured when small has grown quite large.

You can't ask just anyone to babysit two 600 lb pigs. Tracy Vogt (left) of Charlie's Acres in Sonoma County knew she could count on Anna Sweet and Nate Salpeter of Sweet Farm to help out in a pinch.
You can't ask just anyone to baby-sit two 600-lb pigs. Tracy Vogt (left) of Charlie's Acres in Sonoma County knew she could count on Anna Sweet and Nate Salpeter of Sweet Farm to help out in a pinch. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Gertrude was found wandering around during a wildfire: the 2016 Blue Cut Fire in San Bernardino County. Tracy Vogt of Charlie’s Acres explains, "Somebody had just left her there when they were evacuating. She had a burned back hoof. She had smoke inhalation issues, and hadn’t eaten or drank anything for three days."

Now Gertrude is a fire survivor twice over. For Vogt, the help from Sweet Farm is sweet in more ways than one. The fire was on her property when the animals were shuttled away in trucks and trailers. Her barn and fences burned, and it’s going to take some time to get the electricity up and running again.

"I feel very lucky. I feel very blessed that we were able to get the animals to a really nice spot. And it was really cool to see that the community stepped in and helped each other out," Vogt says.

Paco the llama is almost 10 years old and good friends with the steers and horse at Sweet Farm. The reasons why animals end up at a sanctuary are as varied as the animals themselves. Paco came from a horse farm where he was getting attacked by neighborhood dogs.
Paco the llama is almost 10 years old and good friends with the steers and horse at Sweet Farm. The reasons why animals end up at a sanctuary are as varied as the animals themselves. Paco came from a horse farm where he was getting attacked by neighborhood dogs. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

For Sweet, who like her husband, Nate Salpeter, has a day job in tech, this nonprofit work is what feeds the soul.

"I like coming home and turning everything off and focusing on the animals and the land. It’s a good balance," Sweet says. The couple gets help paying for this passion project from fans and members who come out for tours and classes. Their Facebook page boasts more than 86,000 followers.

Another sanctuary near Sweet Farm is housing Vogt’s chickens and ducks. Now that Vogt’s brood is safely settled, she and Sweet are turning their attention to anyone else who needs help with housing and supplies for farm animals in the wake of the North Bay wildfires. Vogt has set up a GoFundMe campaign to further that mission.

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