TORRINGTON — Audrey Curtis works 12-hour days, seven days a week on her little farm, as it has been so designated, on lower Newfield Road in Torrington.
There aren’t many varieties of animals on her property, just some chickens free ranging around the yard and most notably, lots of “piggies,” i.e. pot bellied pigs and a few farm pigs. These are her surrogate children if you will, animals she has saved from less than ideal conditions and even from the slaughterhouse.
There are 25 pigs in all, lounging about in pens, the floors of which are covered with sawdust and a small pool of water for the pigs to do what pigs do, wallow around a bit, then eat and rest under the shade of tall trees.
Curtis, 52, has been rescuing pigs, bringing them to her property and then finding suitable homes for them for the past three years. She has found the mission therapeutic and a way to, as she terms it, “give back to the community,” after being caught up in illegal drugs and a stint in prison following a major drug bust 10 years ago in Torrington.
She admits to being an addict, a sober and clean one, for 12 years, but knows that each sunrise brings a fresh challenge to stay straight and focused on good intentions.
“It’s not easy, and I have to remain strong,” Curtis said, as she sat chatting in her backyard along with good friend, Paul Church, who assists with what is called “Pits&Piggies,” a non-profit Curtis formed, with Church keeping the books and serving as treasurer. The “Pits” comes from her grandfather, Paps, and his former passion of saving pit bull terriers.
“I have a couple of pit bulls, but we aren’t rescuing them anymore. The name is a nod to Paps,” she said. “We just concentrate on pigs, mostly potbellies these days.”
Curtis’ sanctuary’s Facebook page has 1,560 followers and she often posts updates on rescues and adoptions.
The pigs she saves, Curtis said, have somewhat saved her life and given her existence a new meaning. “I did my time in prison and it wasn’t easy. But I deserved what happened to me. I’m not making any excuses. Once I got out of jail, I stayed in the house pretty much for three years. I was afraid of going out. I had friends bring me things. One day I decided I had to get on with my life and start anew.”
Curtis and her helpers travel many miles when they get a call to rescue, or sometimes merely relieve an overwhelmed owner who got into more than he or she bargained for when they purchased a potbelly for a pet. She has a network of other rescuers around the Northeast and down into the northern Southeast. She has traveled as far a North Carolina on her mission.
“It’s hard manual labor,” she said of caring for her brood, adding that her 10- and 3-year-old granddaughters love helping care for the pigs. “There is feeding and keeping the pens clean and having the pigs get their shots and checkups from vets, several of which we work with in the area. And it costs money. We do some fundraisers during the year and we always accept donations. Some of the local businesses have been very helpful to us, like Agway, Lowe’s and Stop & Shop.”
Of her new calling, Curtis explained with a bit of a smile, “I’m not much of a people person but I have a passion for animals. I believe what we are doing is important. I get inmates who call to see how the pigs are doing and it lifts their spirits to find out about the animals and keep track of them.
“We also have worked with 4-Hs and had a youngster from the Connecticut Junior Republic who came and worked with the animals,” she said. “We worked on a float with a theater group in Thomaston that took first place in a parade. We’d like to have more kids work here on a volunteer basis. So, we believe we are performing a community service and that is important for me in my effort to give back after not being thought of very highly in this city.”
Pot belly pigs have become popular as pets during the last few decades or so, because they are deemed highly intelligent animals and loyal. “They are considered the fourth smartest animal,” explained Curtis, “and they can be trained to live in a house.”
According to the website www.Pets4You, Pot Belly Pigs appear in a variety of patterns in black and white, with a large snout, sharp tusks and durable hooves. Upright, triangle-shaped ears and a flat tail easily distinguish the Pot Bellied Pig from its distant pig relatives within the breed. Pot Bellied Pigs are well-known for their ravenous appetites. They are quick learners — some have even been trained to use the doggy-door or litter box — and they are surprisingly clean.
Many enjoy being taken on walks using a harness and leash. Pot Bellied pigs live an average lifespan of 15 to 25 years, growing from a mere half pound at birth to an average of 100 to 125 pounds or larger by the time they reach maturity at age 5.
Like any pet, they demand constant attention, love and observation. Curtis is up at 6 a.m. each morning to begin her chores, which can include mucking out the stalls after the pigs, haying, daily feeding and spreading sawdust for them. Over the years, Curtis has saved several pigs and found the animals proper homes, doing background checks on people that want to adopt. “Sometimes, you get a feeling if the person is the right one to adopt a pig,” she said.
Curtis is trying to figure out a way to continue her rescue operation and sanctuary after the city ruled her property a farm and designated the chickens and pigs as livestock. The land her house and pens sit on is a bit short of what is normally required of a farm designation.
“I’m trying to figure it out,” she said with a look of consternation on her face. “I want to work with the city and find a solution to keeping the pigs here. I’d like to buy or rent a piece of the property next door (city owned) and I’ll even take my pigs off property to a farm that has available room if that doesn’t work out. Of course, it’s easier if the sanctuary remains here. But I don’t want to lose my pigs. It has become too important to me and for the pigs that we rescue.”
To donate to Pits&Piggies, use PayPal at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Venmo at AudreyCurtis@ audreycurtis442.