When Leslie Giles bought her first pig from a pig breeder, she had no idea how much it would impact her life.

“I’d always wanted a pet pig, and in 2004 we bought Winston Peanut”, Giles said as she remembered the day they welcomed Winston Peanut into her life.

The breeder told Giles and her husband that Winston was a “teacup pig” – an unhealthy trend that encouraged many people to buy what is actually just a baby potbellied pig. Thankfully, Giles and her husband didn’t listen to the breeder’s advice that overfeeding him would result in him growing too much.

They fed Winston steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, baby porridge and anything/everything else that their piggie wanted. It wasn’t long before Winston grew to weigh several hundred pounds, but Giles loved him no matter what shape or size he was.

“I had formed bonds with many dogs in my life, but the bond I formed with Winston was stronger and deeper,” Giles said. “I learned what every grunt meant and his antics were adorable. Winston Peanut was my first pig and the love of my life.”

However, things soon started getting weird. Once word got out in her local area that Giles was housing a pig, people started dumping their unwanted pigs at her property.

By 2012, eight years after Giles and her husband first welcomed Winston Peanut into their lives, Giles was taking care of 20 abandoned pigs. It was then that she realised there was such a demand for rehousing unwanted pigs, and so she decided to start a legitimate pig sanctuary called Pigs ’n’ Paws, which was — and still is — the only pig refuge in South Africa, according to Giles.

Whether they had been bought under false understanding that they were “teacup pigs” and grown up to be 600 pounds or they just hadn’t been used for meat, more and more pigs arrived at Pigs ‘n’ Paws.

It’s a horrible reality that breeders will mislead buyers into thinking they have a “teacup pig” by encouraging underfeeding them in order to ensure they stay small. This is often done by starving them, which can cause severe malnourishment.

“People would bring them to us or we would go fetch them,” Giles said. “We have done a lot of rescues — pigs left behind on properties when people leave.”

“It has been taken a while to really catch hold, but it [teacup pigs] is quite a big thing here now,” Giles said. “Obviously, with social media and access to the world, people are realizing faster that it is a myth. There are no real statistics, but abandoned pigs are now appearing in local SPCAs and other animal welfares across the country at an alarming rate.”

Sadly, rescuing pigs isn’t a priority for most people in South Africa, and instead they’re more concerned with human welfare or saving cats and dogs.

“South Africa is still very much into dog and cat rescue, which is where the bulk of donations end up,” Giles said. “Pig rescue is still a very new idea here. There are one or two farm sanctuaries which also take in a few pigs, but not one exclusively dedicated to pigs as we are.”

Regardless of the statistics, Giles is still hoping to change pig rescue forever.

Pigs ’n’ Paws now has 271 pigs, as well as 26 rescue dogs, which Giles has to work full-time at a local casino to be able to afford.

I don’t get to spend as much time with the pigs as I would like,” Giles said. “I employ two workers and between the three of us we make sure someone is here 24/7, and that everyone is fed, watered, and that camps and sleeping quarters are maintained and cleaned.”

“The pigs sleep a lot — besides eating, it is what they do best,” Giles added. “After they’ve eaten in the evenings, they have their social couple of hours and wander through each other’s camps, occasionally playing tag or running around having a mad half hour.”

Unfortunately, the sanctuary isn’t able to take in anymore pigs at the moment, and has already had to turn away many of them. Giles is working hard to find new homes for her precious pigs, but only accepts five or six applications a year as she uses an extensive vetting process to ensure the pigs won’t end up abandoned or as food again.

Giles hopes to gain more support and funding by spreading the good word about how smart and playful pigs can be. “Pigs eat up life in big chunks,” she said. “They taste what they eat, unlike dogs who gulp everything down. They throw themselves into mud wallows with gay abandon and roll and blow bubbles with pure enjoyment.”

She thanks Winston for “teaching her to love and respect them and to open my home to them and give my life to them.”

If you’d like to make a donation to Pigs ‘n’ Paws, you can do so here.