Some call it "Arizona's pig problem" and say it's getting worse.
According to the Arizona Department of Agriculture, many people who are deciding to get pigs as pets aren't doing the necessary research to figure out exactly what it requires to properly care for a pig. The result: people giving their pigs away or letting loose with nowhere to go.
And that means more work for one of our nation's largest pig rescues, located in Marana.
The snorting, the snoozing, the snouts -- pretty typical among the "residents" at the Ironwood Pig Sanctuary. They're happier than -- well, we'd normally finish that line by saying "a pig in mud" -- but for many of the pigs here, this is no swine soiree. In fact, this is their last shot at a hopeful future.
For the last 20 years, Mary Schanz and her husband have been head of hogs at Ironwood.
"They have feelings," explains Schanz. "They feel fear and feel pain. I have empathy for them because so many are mistreated."
Schanz describes it as a 24/7 job and it's getting harder each year.
"I do," she said. "I think we have a huge pig problem... The population of pigs has exploded in Arizona... We get emails every day. Every day."
According to Schanz, she and her husband started with just two pigs in 2001. But by 2010, that number soared to more than 500. And in 2021, the population at Ironwood is now over 600 with the numbers fluctuating as pigs come and go. This is the most pigs Schanz has ever had at the sanctuary at one time. She says over-breeding is a huge part of the problem.
"You see them all over Craigslist. You see them everywhere. And because they're so prolific and breed so rapidly, before you know it you have 20 pigs or 100 pigs."
This is why Schanz devotes much of her time to educating owners about spaying and neutering.
Each pig at Ironwood has a story (and a name to go with it.) Schanz says many of the pigs come in malnourished and underfed. She says that's because some breeders misinform new owners and tell them to feed their pigs less so they stay small.
If you're considering getting a pig, Schanz says to try to adopt instead of purchasing from a breeder. (Ironwood does not breed pigs but they do adopt them out to qualified owners.)
Pigs also need plenty of space to roam around. They do better with other pigs. Lonely pigs may become aggressive or destructive and may try to assert their dominance over other people in your home or animals.
Properly fed pigs will grow to a wide range of sizes, many times, over 100 pounds. You need to be prepared for your pig to grow large. Schanz also warns that veterinarian visits can be rather expensive.
With all that said, Schanz says in the right environment, they can make wonderful additions to your family --as long as you know what you're getting into!
For Schanz, saving these pigs has become her life mission, even if that wasn't her initial intention.
"There is really no safety net for these pigs... Their lives depend on us, really."
For more information on the Ironwood Pig Sanctuary and to donate, head to their website.