The litter of pigs “rescued” from a Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta island earlier this week may not be headed to a Farm Sanctuary pig refuge after all.
A sergeant with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office weighed in Thursday on the custody fight between the New York-based animal rights group and Roger Stevenson, the man who says he owns the six pigs “rescued” Tuesday from a tiny island in the Delta.
The pigs are currently being examined at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
“The Sheriff’s Office has contacted UC Davis and requested they return the hogs to their owner, Mr. Stevenson,” San Joaquin sheriff’s Sgt. Carey Pehl said Thursday.
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Farm Sanctuary representatives could not be reached for comment Thursday.
UC Davis took custody of the pigs Tuesday after Farm Sanctuary removed them from a 14.7-acre island near Stockton. The group said they rescued the pigs out of concern for their health. Stevenson, who lives in Arnold, says he is the pigs’ rightful owner, and was housing them on the island to fatten them up while at the same time helping clear the island of vegetation for its owner. He told The Bee on Wednesday he wants his hogs back.
Kim Hale a spokeswoman for the university, said it would comply with a valid law enforcement order.
“We will return the pigs to whoever law enforcement tells us to,” Hale said.
Four pigs were placed on the island four years ago. In the years since, local boaters have taken to feeding the animals, the progeny of the original group. Winter weather made feedings more difficult, and some visitors expressed concern about the pigs’ health.
Fearing for the heath of the pigs, local activist Sabine Strunk sought Farm Sanctuary’s help. Farm Sanctuary said the island’s owner gave them permission to take the pigs.
Pehl said he spoke with the veterinary officials and was assured the condition of the pigs did not warrant animal welfare action against Stevenson.
The sheriff’s boat patrol came in contact with the pigs regularly and would have taken action if they saw reason, Pehl said. “They have never contacted animal services regarding the health and welfare of those animals.”
While Farm Sanctuary argued Stevenson in essence abandoned the pigs – and their offspring – by leaving them on the island, Pehl disagreed. He said if Stevenson bought the original pigs, he owns the children.
“Mr. Stevenson owns the lineage of the hogs that are currently on the island,” Pehl said.
Stevenson told the Bee on Tuesday that if returning the pigs to the island wasn’t an option, he’d find a new home for them.
“UC Davis now knows who those animals belong to,” Pehl said. “That is where they need to be, back with their owner. That’s what needs to happen.”