Rescue or robbery? That's the question a group of delta boaters are asking.
An animal rights group by the name of Farm Sanctuary removed a half dozen pigs from an island on the San Joaquin River. Activists say the pigs were sick and being abused, but a group of boaters say they were caring for the pigs.
“These pigs were sort of an attraction. They were being fed beer and people were riding them," said Suzie Costin with Farm Sanctuary.
The pigs showed up on the island four years ago. It's estimated the current pig family is the third generation. The group caught wind of the pig situation in February. They rented a barge, herded the pigs in corrals on the island, then loaded them on the boat.
“The owner of the pigs abandoned them and left the state. The owner of the island signed the pigs over to us,” Costin said.
The owner of the pigs and the owner of the island are two different people. We were unable to contact the owner of the island, but we did find a man who claimed to own the pigs. His name is Roger Stevenson and he lives in Arnold, California.
“Those are my pigs and they are being cared for by many people,” Stevenson said.
He added that he put the pigs on the island with permission from the owner.
“The pigs eat the vegetation on the island. They love to swim out and eat the hyacinth and kill it,” Stevenson said.
The pigs became very popular with the local boating community. So much so Delta Chamber and Visitor’s Bureau president Blair Hakes created a Facebook page for the pigs.
“We are all for taking care of the pigs but was this necessary?” Hake said. More than 900 people follow the pigs on Facebook, including Stevenson. Many take turns feeding the pigs throughout the year.
“This is no different than raising cattle on grazing BLM land. It’s done all the time.” Stevenson said.
This isn’t the first time someone has tried to remove the pigs off the island. In 2014, a complaint was made and San Joaquin Sheriffs did a welfare check on the pigs at Pig Island. They found that there might be a code enforcement violation, but after further investigation by county code enforcement, no violation was issued.
The pigs are now at UC Davis Animal Clinic for health checkups. Farm Sanctuary is the only one that has access to the health records form UC Davis. When asked about the pigs health record, Farm Sanctuary responded by email, saying, "We met with the vets this morning and they're in the process of evaluating them, which could take days, which is in the best interest of the pigs who are adjusting to their new temporary environment. They are being well cared for and receiving the best medical care and attention possible. This is how it would be handled for any rescue."
At this point, there is not a professional diagnosis of the pig’s condition. Farm Sanctuary says they have found homes for the pigs.
“Those hogs need to be returned to their rightful home on that island,” Stevenson said.
The island owner may have given permission to have the pigs removed, but Stevenson says he owns the pigs and he would have like to have been a part of the conversation before the pigs were removed.