For years, the inhabitants of “Pig Island” had the run of nearly 15 acres in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. They swam. They snacked on apples and hamburgers from area boaters. They were an oddity adored by many.
One week after the six pigs were “rescued” by an animal welfare group called Farm Sanctuary, they were fighting for space Monday in a mud pit within a temporary 14-foot-by-14-foot steel enclosure on an abandoned golf course in the Sierra foothills town of Arnold. And the neighbors weren’t happy about it.
Farm Sanctuary didn’t take them there.
The pigs were transported to the closed Meadowmont Golf Course on Friday after resident Roger Stevenson stepped forward to claim ownership, saying he was the one who brought a small swine herd to live on Pig Island four years ago. Farm Sanctuary said the animals were neglected and in ill health, and it had obtained legal title to the pigs from the island’s owner.
The San Joaquin Sheriff’s Office sided with Stevenson, who said he made an agreement with the island’s owner to bring the pigs there to clear the land. UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, which had been evaluating the pigs, released them Stevenson after the sheriff’s office weighed in Thursday.
Late Tuesday, Calaveras County Animal Control officers along with Calaveras sheriff’s deputies were at Stevenson property. It not immediately clear whether Stevenson would be allowed to keep the animals at the location. The sheriff’s office confirmed the visit was underway, but couldn’t comment on the reason for the visit. Stevenson posted on Facebook that an officer was stealing his pigs.
Stevenson’s home is one of many that back up to the mostly abandoned nine-hole golf course a short drive from Big Trees State Park. The course closed several years ago. Some residents mow the area behind their homes, others have allowed tall grass to reclaim the fairways.
His neighbors won’t need their gas-powered mowers once he sets the pigs loose on the course, Stevenson said.
“They can’t wait to get into this grass,” Stevenson told The Bee. “Rather than use tractors and mowers and blow dust all over your neighbor, like my neighbor does, I want these hogs to be able to go out eat this natural grass and turn it into pork.”
That was also his vision for their stay on the island.
“If we ... let them be our weed eaters, we are turning a nuisance into a solution,” he said.
After meeting the Delta island’s owner (who dreamed of building a Zen Garden), Stevenson said he delivered his hogs with the goal of the pigs clearing the island of vegetation, meanwhile fattening up his animals. (He said he doesn’t eat sheep or goat, two more conventional choices for clearing vegetation.) The plan was a partial success, but others voiced concern over the animals’ health, especially through the winter when feedings from tourists and boats became less frequent.
“Farm Sanctuary’s position is that we rescued the pigs only after we obtained clear legal title to them, and because they were in danger,” the organization said in a prepared press release. “We were surprised to learn that someone else was claiming ownership of the pigs, and even more surprised and disheartened to learn that the veterinary hospital decided to release them to him.”
“We have the pigs’ best interests at heart and looked forward to providing them safe, loving homes for the rest of their lives. We are considering our options.”
The group, which has two shelters in California, also delivered 1,100 pounds of food to Stevenson’s place in Arnold, but that still hasn’t stopped some people from questioning its motives for plucking the pigs from the island.
“It was so unnecessary. Was it a fund raising ploy? I don’t know that saving pigs was (their) true motive,” said Blair Hake, the Delta boater who created the “Friends of the Pigs on the Delta!” Facebook page.
He said the group should have just taken a vet to the island, if it was concerned.
“I wish they were back on that island,” Hake said of the pigs.
Stevenson said in an earlier interview he hoped he could return the pigs to the island, where they had room to roam and could easily cool off with a swim. The owners of the island, Warren Wong, and his son, Martin Wong, could not be reached for comment.
In Arnold, (elevation 3,999) the overgrown Meadowmont Golf Course runs parallel to Highway 4. The pig enclosure is placed several yards behind Stevenson’s home. It’s unclear where the Stevenson’s property ends and the golf course begins. On Monday, the mist from a hose, the shade of a backyard umbrella and the mud pit provided the pigs relief from the 95-degree temperature.
Stevenson and a grandson tended to the pigs as Christian music played from speakers near the house. Stevenson, wearing a red cutoff shirt and shorts, called them by name as he tried to lay out individual tubs of pig feed. The plan didn’t work out so well. All of the animals battled over first tub of food.
“It’s cruel what he is doing with those animals out in the blazing sun, no shade,” said neighbor Jim Hughes, who owns a local video store.
Stevenson previously tried to keep cattle on the abandoned golf course, Hughes said. “It’s not his property.”
He and other neighbors said the owners of the property have been notified of the hogs’ presence. Dan Shaw, a representative of the Los Gatos-based ownership group, said it was aware of the issue and was discussing it with legal counsel. They did not return a call for additional comment.
“The neighbors are going to be real upset if they pigs stay long,” Hughes said. “They will have to smell them.”