CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Less than a week after a pig wandering the back roads of Carter County made national news, one wildlife sanctuary took it upon itself to give her a new life.
Known to the residents of Judge Ben Allen Road as Petunia, the 300-pound sow spent her last days in Tennessee as she had any other — sleeping and eating. Little did she know, only hours later she would join over 100 other pigs at Harley June Farm and Sanctuary.
How It Started
Petunia was a nuisance animal — one that trespassed and caused property damage throughout the areas she was known to frequent. After several calls from residents to local authorities scattered over months, the Carter County Sheriff’s Office put out a call for her owner. Petunia needed to be dealt with, and if her owner wouldn’t, someone else would. There was only one problem: moving a pig that big is a bit difficult.
“We have no way to transport a 300-pound pig; we have nowhere to put a 300-pound pig…safely,” Shannon Posada, director of the county’s animal shelter, said. “Unless we ask for a foster, and we’re happy to ask for a foster, but still, we have no way of transportation for that large of an animal.”
The shelter hoped a local farmer would pick Petunia up, but there were no guarantees that she would end up in a permanent home once the foster had her. In the meantime, she was still at large and enjoying a hearty diet of grasses and neighborhood property.
So, how do you get her out? Simple: an interstate effort from multiple people to capture and transport a 300-pound animal.
Operation: All The Way Home
Enter Amy Mullins, owner and operator of Harley June Farm and Sanctuary. She was first made aware of Petunia’s predicament after CBS Mornings picked up her story and local Angel Campbell alerted her to the case.
As it turns out, abandoned pigs are more common than you might think. The myth of the “mini” pig, is just that, a myth. Mullins specializes in rescuing the animals that are on their own after owners stop taking care of them due to their increased size.
“When the post was put up about “Petunia” Ellie Mae, there were several comments alluding to an owner,” Mullins said. “But most of the comments were ugly, suggesting harm and disrespectful! I knew she was on borrowed time… I’ve seen the worst happen in more than one of these cases before or while rescue attempts were being made.”
Before her situation changed, Mullins reached out to Cambell and assembled a team of wranglers.
With the logistics down, Mullins and company needed to figure out the nuts and bolts of Petunia’s pickup.
Pigs are notoriously stubborn creatures without the added independence of free-range wandering, so crews needed a way to figure out just how to get her from Point A to Point B without major injuries or damage. The solution is straightforward: let her walk in herself.
Using boards to her left and right and a blocker behind, helpers were able to guide Petunia into a livestock trailer without a shoving match that they would have lost. In a video, you can hear her grunting in protest but going along with the crew’s directions albeit slowly.
“This was one of the easiest rescues I’ve ever done,” Mullins said. “Well organized and a great team of people! And it certainly helped that Ellie Mae was a willing participant! It’s never fun having to chase down a pig you’re trying to save.”
Part of that lumbering pace, it turns out, was because she was “Fat Blind,” a condition in pigs that occurs when forehead and cheek fat grows so large that it covers the eyes completely. In fact, Petunia’s heft almost led to a crash on the way home.
“Transport back to my sanctuary should have been an easy drive,” Mullins said. “However, my GPS took me back through very narrow, winding mountain roads. It was actually the most terrifying transport I’ve ever done!”
After a wrong turn, Mullins said she and Petunia found themselves in steep switchbacks deep in the Mountains of North Carolina. Navigating routes like those is stressful enough without an additional quarter-ton behind your truck, but the trailer and pig weight nearly sent them off the road.
“My trailer was actually pushing me at a speed to where I almost couldn’t control my truck,” Mullins said. “My traction system disengaged, I had the brake floored, my steering wheel was vibrating and you could smell the burning rubber of my tires. It took me about a half hour after pulling safely into my property to stop shaking.”
A pig being heavy isn’t altogether that surprising, but Petunia’s weight is a topic that Mullins plans to address at her new home in North Carolina.
How It’s Going
Nowadays Petunia goes by another name: Ellie Mae. She’s living high on the hog in North Carolina, at an undisclosed location for her and her new friends’ safety.
Healthy pigs can live past two decades, and since Mullins believes she’s either 2 or 3, she has a long life ahead of her.
In the short term, she’s living in a smaller pen as the herd gets used to her. Pigs have a pecking order much like chickens (yes, it’s a thing.), so throwing her straight in with new pigs could lead to fights and injuries. Plus, with her being temporarily blind, the stress of all the new sensations could prove to be too much for her.
“She seems to be settling in just fine,” Mullins said. “She is having many conversations with her new friends.”
That smaller space isn’t without its amenities: she has a pool, brand new straw pile bed, cooling fans and a chicken friend that likes to sleep on her back.
Ellie’s Carter County journey has come to an end, but her weight loss journey has just started. To get the medical care she needs like spaying, she’ll have to trim down quite a bit.