This year's VegFest London will feature 90+ vegan food, product, health, wellness, community group and animal rescue vendors. One of those animal rescue vendors you'll have the chance to connect with on November 14 is Ralphy's Retreat, a sanctuary for pot-bellied pigs & farm animals. We had a chance to interview Kara Burrow of Ralphy's Retreat and learn more about this amazing place.
What is the mission of Ralphy's Retreat?
Ralphy's Retreat is a registered not-for-profit corporation. Our mission is:
- to provide sanctuary to unwanted, abused and abandoned pot-bellied pigs and farm animals;
- to educate about pot-bellied pigs
- to promote a plant-based/cruelty-free lifestyle
- to provide animal assisted therapeutic services to children and adults.
How did Ralphy's Retreat begin and what was the motivation behind it?
We have been a sanctuary since 2004, but focused specifically on horses and donkeys. We moved to our current location in 2010 with the idea of downsizing, as rescue is extremely hard on everyone involved and we needed a break. We moved with 2 pigs and about 18 horses and ponies. In 2012, we got a call about a pig in need and went to visit her. Annie was in a terrible state of neglect and we didn't hesitate to bring her home. At this time we really became aware of the horrors faced by many pet pigs.
In 2013, Ralphy showed up in the back of his owner's vehicle. He was perfect and I couldn't say no when they asked me to give him a home! Up until then, the horses had done all the therapeutic work but suddenly everyone wanted to spend time with Ralphy. He was an amazing pig and he sadly died at the age of 18 months. He gave so much to the people who visited us and we felt we had to do something to honor his life, so we reinvented ourselves! We got a new name "Ralphy's Retreat" and made it our mission to help pigs in need. Today we are home to 30 beautiful piggies!
Can you share a highlight with us, that you've experienced since starting Ralphy's Retreat?
I feel very blessed to be sharing my life with pigs and there are so many highlights! One of the greatest pleasures is seeing the joy on people's faces as they experience pigs for the first time; and the a-ha moments "OMG, this is my bacon". I will never tire of seeing a tail of an abused/rescued piggy wag for the first time.
One piggy who has touched my life in a big way is Susie. Susie came to us in April 2015, unable to use her legs, lift her head or even eat on her own. We had limited information on her background and what we had wasn't good. Susie told us her own story: she was terrified of people and would scream if anyone came near her. Quality of life is a huge consideration for us and with the help of our vet, we made the decision to give her time to see if she would re-gain use of her body. Susie is only 2 years old and has her whole life ahead of her, so we wanted to give her the best chance. I spent weeks sitting with her and talking with her, I even sang to her (not the greatest of sounds!). Eventually, Susie let me close enough to hand feed her and massage her body. I will never forget the first day she let me touch her without screaming - it was a true honor to have her trust. Today, with the help of our vet and chiropractor, Susie has regained the use of her back legs and is able to use one of her front legs. She can also walk on her knees. Recently, Susie hit another milestone when she started eating on her own. Susie is a true inspiration to me and I am honored to have been able to help her learn that humans aren't all bad.
What does compassion mean to you?
Compassion for me is living a life that shows respect toward all living beings, from spiders to pigs to humans.
If someone's reading this and is interested in supporting Ralphy's Retreat, how can they get involved?
There are many ways to help us! You can Volunteer or join one of our monthly Work Days. You can sponsor a piggy, give a monetary donation or purchase some items from our wish list. We also sell Ralphy's merchandise, calendars, and this year we have a cookbook coming out in conjunction with FrogHollow Farm.
What are you most looking forward to about this year's VegFest?
We love meeting like-minded people and introducing them to the pigs or sharing stories with other pig-lovers!
Be sure to stop by and say hi to Kara at the Ralphy's Retreat booth at VegFest London on November 14.
In the meantime, for more information or to connect with Ralphy's: