Pigs, chickens flooded out of Guerneville’s When Pigs Fly Ranch find sanctuary at Charlie’s Acres in Sonoma
Little Brutus, a 2-year-old pig, nuzzled some hay and his blanket Thursday after being evacuated from When Pigs Fly Ranch in Guerneville.
“We were specifically instructed to keep his blanket with him,” Charlie’s Acre’s Animal Sanctuary Director Kaleigh Rhoads said.
Since Jan. 5, Brutus, along with a ragtag group of 10 other pigs and three chickens, have found shelter at Charlie’s Acres after flooding near the Russian River caused damage to the fence at When Pigs Fly Ranch, which like Charlie’s Acres, takes in unwanted farm animals, most often pigs.
During major natural disasters when properties must be evacuated for safety, many farms take their animals to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds shelter. The owners of When Pigs Fly Ranch, Marybeth and Glenn Hall, needed to keep their animals live in separate pens, however. That included two 500-plus-pound pigs, Pierre and Wesley, who require extra room.
“We were watching the river forecasts for 40 feet,” Glenn said. “We just couldn’t sleep. You get up in the middle of the night and check the predictions.”
Mild flooding of the Russian River — as experienced in the last couple weeks — may cause minor damage to the sanctuary’s fencing, Marybeth said, but major flooding, over a 40-foot river depth, could cause extensive destruction to their property and threaten the lives of their animals.
The Halls called Charlie’s Acres and within an hour they had all the animals loaded and headed south to its Sonoma Valley property.
“We’ve been dodging bullets for two weeks,” Marybeth said. “We got really lucky, if the storms hadn’t broken up between systems the damage could have been much worse.”
The Halls on Thursday afternoon visited Charlie’s Acres to check on their sheltering swines, including a trio of young pigs, Hansel, Pumba and Sherman.
Pumba was found as a 1-month-old piglet at an Oakland farmers market. And Hansel was picked while roaming by Sonoma Pollice, who took him to Charlie’s Acres, before he found a home at When Pigs Fly Ranch.
“I call them Lock, Shock and Barrel,” Glenn said, referring to the trio characters from the Tim Burton movie, “A Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Marybeth rubbed at their bellies and patted their behinds; Hansel nearly tipped over in ecstasy.
“I love pig butts and I cannot lie,” Marybeth joked.
But Charlie’s Acres is more than just shelter to the animals, Marybeth said. The Sonoma animal sanctuary has become the Guerneville rescue’s “vacation home” after three stints there due to evacuations caused by natural disasters since 2018.
In fire or flood, the Halls have learned where their pigs and chickens can safely ride out any situation.
“We’ve become very good friends with them,” Rhoads said. “We’re all connected and we all try to help each other out.”
Pierre and Wesley jaunted around a muddy pen still soaked from the weeks of downpour. They shoved their snouts into the mud and then into Marybeth’s hands when she entered the enclosure, making affectionate grunts in between bites.
Pierre was captured as a wild pig by a family in west Sonoma County. But he grew from a piglet into a “500-pound behemoth” and the family was forced to give him up. Wesley was raised as a 4-H pig, but at 9 months old and approaching the age for slaughter, his family turned him over to When Pigs Fly Ranch. Now a fully-grown 6-year-old, Wesley weighs 780 pounds and is the king of the pen.
“They’re getting used to it now. It’s their third time evacuating between two floods and a fire,” Glenn said. “These guys are old hands about this now.”
Charlie’s Acres took in When Pigs Fly Ranch’s residents during the Wallbridge Fire for three weeks, and again for a week during the latest spate of flooding along the Russian River.
“The fact that we’re able to come here, to Heaven...” Marybeth joked walking among the sunlit pens and grassy hillsides. “We are so eternally grateful to everybody at Charlie’s Acres.”
Charlie’s Acres has created a GoFundMe to help support sheltering evacuated animals in Sonoma County affected by flooding in the county.