A man who says he owns the pigs “rescued” from a tiny Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta island Tuesday is demanding them back.
The half-dozen pigs were plucked off the tiny island by Farm Sanctuary, a New York-based animal rescue, which brought them to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine for evaluation. The group contended the pigs were abandoned on the island and mistreated by visitors.
“The claim that they are starving or abused is false,” said Roger Stevenson, a Delta man who said he’s the rightful owner of the six pigs taken from “Pig Island.”
“I filed a stolen report yesterday,” he said.
On Tuesday, Farm Sanctuary announced it had completed a two-day rescue of the pigs from the 14.7-acre island near Stockton. The animals were infested with lice, suffering from diarrhea and underweight, said Susie Coston, Farm Sanctuary’s national shelter director. Whisked away via barge, the animals were taken to UC Davis.
Coston said more will be known soon about how drinking brackish Delta water may have affected the pigs’ health.
Four years ago, Stevenson said, he made an agreement with the island’s owner, Warren Wong, to house the pigs that he purchased at auction on Wong’s island. The idea was to have the pigs clear the island of vegetation so Wong could build a Zen garden. The benefit for Stevenson would be that he could fatten up his pigs at minimal cost.
“My goal was to clear the island of vegetation and create a reserved food supply,” Stevenson said. The plan was working, he said. “The vegetation is decreasing and the pork poundage is increasing.”
Coston said Farm Sanctuary sought and received permission from Martin Wong – the adult son of the elderly Warren Wong – to remove the pigs from the island. The Wongs could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
“We do own the pigs. We got the pigs by legal means,” said Coston. She argued the pigs were essentially abandoned and forced to survive on the island without care or steady food. The original four pigs are gone – possibly eaten – leaving what remains of the second and third generation of pigs.
“You can’t come back four years later and say these are mine,” Coston said.
“To say these animals were happier and healthier because they are in the wild isn’t true. It’s like saying a feral cat is living in paradise. These are the survivors of the island. They were not living in paradise.”
Stevenson maintains that Martin Wong should have known about his agreement with his father and said he was never asked to remove the the pigs.
Activists previously sought to remove his hogs, Stevenson said. He said the sheriff previously investigated claims the animals were being mistreated. He won that battle, he said.
“These bleeding heart animal activists weren’t able to get the sheriff to removed them …” he said. “So they tuned to a New York group to take my property.”
The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to Bee inquiries about the pigs.
Officials with Farm Sanctuary pushed back Wednesday against the claim they stole healthy pigs by sharing a press release with old Facebook posts from Stevenson and other boaters expressing concerns about the pigs’ health and a photo of a Delta boater pouring beer down a pig’s mouth.
While food from tourists were more plentiful during the summer, those meals got more sparse during the winter, Farm Sanctuary said. The animals were malnourished – despite their relatively robust appearance – they said.
“This past winter, the torrential rains and flooding made their existence very precarious,” said the release stated.
Stevenson dismissed concerns about the health of the pigs as petty.
He acknowledged that at least one pig had a significant health issue after delivering a litter, but said that’s a normal part of raising hogs. In response to a photograph of a man giving a pig a beer he asked: “Is that a felony in this state? I like beer.” He also brushed aside concerns raised that tourists tried to ride a pig, saying he didn’t think that was criminal either.
Stevenson said he wants custody of the pigs when they are to be released.
“I’m waiting for the sheriff to tell me I can take them from UC Davis,” Stevenson said.
Should UC Davis or the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department decide that the pigs should be returned to Stevenson, he said he’s not sure where they’ll go.
“I would like to return them to their home on the island. I don’t have a second home for them,” he said. “If the island is no longer available to them, I don’t have a Plan B yet.”
Farm Sanctuary said they will go to a great home for the pigs with open acreage and the best medical care. Those concerned about the pigs will eventually be able to visit them and watch them on a web camera, Coston said.
“They will have massive space. Our animals have tons of space,” Coston said. “We take care of our animals. Each one’s needs will be met.”