Rooterville farm animal sanctuary an Eden for all kinds

Jesse Hollett
Posted 4/19/17

MELROSE – Like every good idea, Rooterville Sanctuary started with 33 fully-grown hogs.

Cause and effect took over from there.

As founder Elaine West describes, “It just happened; God has …

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Rooterville farm animal sanctuary an Eden for all kinds


MELROSE – Like every good idea, Rooterville Sanctuary started with 33 fully-grown hogs.

Cause and effect took over from there.

As founder Elaine West describes, “It just happened; God has a sense of humor.”

In 2004, West had already been rescuing unwanted pigs, neutering them and finding them homes. After a few big rescues, she quickly realized the hog halfway house model she had setup was no longer adequate.

She decided she had to do something.

More than 13 years later, Rooterville has grown to house more than 300 animals on a 30-acre farm near Melrose. But today, Rooterville is not just a sanctuary for unwanted and forgotten hogs. It also provides a safe haven for cows, chickens, turkeys, dogs, cats, goats and bees.

On any given day, the hogs roam free on the property chewing on peanut hay and rolling around in mud holes to cool down.

Each has the dignity of a name, and the burden of a story. On hot days, you’ll find Temple and Lulu laying on each other in the shade.

Lulu, a 400-plus pound farm pig was discovered roaming the streets of Tampa by wildlife authorities. At the time, she was only a farm piglet, a fraction of the size she would grow to be. When she arrived at Rooterville, the other hogs shunned and bullied her.

Temple, the Australian cattle dog adopted by the sanctuary, shielded Lulu from the abuse, which has made them inseparable ever since.

Rooterville workers focus on ensuring the animals’ time at the sanctuary is different from their pasts. It’s part of the reason why nearly every worker is either a vegetarian or vegan.

“My main reason was the welfare of the animals, how they’ve been treated on factory farms, where over 95 percent of the meat in grocery stores come from,” West said. “When I saw that I knew that was something I could not morally and ethically support, so I stopped.”

West has lived meat-free for 22 years, and uses the sanctuary to help educate others about living vegetarian or vegan as well.

Some animals from Rooterville come from factory farms, so the workers see firsthand the after effects it can have on the animals.

Stella, the 400-pound farm pig, likely was a breeding sow in a factory farm. She lived her first five years in a cage.

In 2006, Stella fell off the back of a truck on the way to a slaughterhouse and collapsed in a family’s driveway on the brink of death. When she was brought to the sanctuary, workers realized she would live with partial paralysis for the rest of her life from her mistreatment.

While she has since died, Rooterville uses Stella’s story to advocate against the horrors of factory farms. Her memory lives on in a memorial butterfly garden in the center of the farm.

A reoccurring theme in the pigs they take in, however, is entirely innocuous. Pet owners believe they are purchasing what is known as a ‘teacup pig,’ or, a pig that will remain the same size throughout their life.

Unfortunately, the buyers are duped into buying farm pigs. Teacup pigs are a myth, and many of the pigs purchased under this pretense can grow to 500 pounds. Owners looking to hand the hogs off to animal control organizations often find there just aren’t services available to handle these animals.

“There’s just such a need for it,” said Chloe Dercks, a farm intern living at the sanctuary for the next two months. “There’s all these animals that don’t have homes and there’s just not enough sanctuaries in the country in order to house all of them – especially pigs. For some reason a lot of farm animal sanctuaries just don’t want to take in pigs.”

Pigs are expensive to care for, especially when it comes to medical care. Pigs are prone to foot infections, for instance, that can erode the bones in their feet.

Dercks is currently traveling around the country from sanctuary to sanctuary studying how they operate. She said she wants to open her own sanctuary one day and visiting other sanctuaries gives her a more in depth look at how they operate. She just came back from sanctuaries in Jamestown, Tennessee and Grass Valley, California.

Florida has a few animal sanctuaries. There is Another Chance Ranch in St. Augustine, as well as CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm in Keystone Heights and Kindred Spirits Sanctuary in Ocala.

All depend on donations to continue caring for the animals that no one else will.

Rooterville is looking at moving to a new location as they are currently near overcapacity and are eyeing acreage near the Orlando area. When they find it, they’ll begin a massive donation drive to help fund the move.

This will be the sanctuary’s third move since it incorporated in 2004.

“We have to find the right property first and that’s proving to be a process,” West said. “It’s going to take some time, if and when we find property then we’ve got to build it out and design it. It can all be moved gradually.”

Until then, the sanctuary has no-cost tours for those interested in learning about their animals. West said a new location will not only help them adopt more pigs, but will help drive more donations and more people through the gate to meet the pigs they support.

West said now, more than ever, it’s important people realize the plight of homeless pigs.

“I feel guilty when I can’t take pigs in,” she said, “because a dog and a cat, at least maybe they’ll have the dignity to get a humane euthanasia at a shelter, a pig is probably going to end up in somebody’s freezer, so, yeah, when I can’t take in somebody’s pig – it hurts.”


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