A lifesaving legacy: Giving special refuge to survivor's pet pigs

RedRover’s commitment to protecting and strengthening the human-animal bond continues to expand – not only in the types of help we offer, but also in the diverse bonds we strive to protect. In our 15 years supporting domestic violence survivors and pets, we have

  • awarded $2,612,078 in Safe Housing grants to 160 shelters

  • helped create the first pet housing programs in 10 states

  • grown our Safe Housing grant program to include animal shelters as well as domestic violence shelters.

This summer, we had another “first” in our domestic violence work: We awarded a Safe Housing grant to a pig sanctuary in Tennessee, creating a first-of-its-kind program to support the pet pigs of survivors. 

Located just outside of Memphis, Pigtopia’s mission began in 2014 to provide a happy, safe place for unwanted, abandoned, and neglected pigs. But it was a tragic loss that inspired founder Anna Davis Yancey to establish a refuge for animals escaping domestic violence.

In 2020, Anna’s friend Amber was killed by a domestic abuser. Amber had rescued more than 300 animals in her lifetime and loved her companion pigs, dogs, and cats as family. Pigs held a special place in her heart, and she had taught Anna so much about these often-misunderstood creatures.

While the idea of a pig as a pet may seem unusual to some, pigs are deeply sensitive creatures who can form enduring bonds with their people. From her own experience immersed in the animal world since childhood, Anna has found that pigs “are by far the most empathetic and emotional animals I’ve ever encountered,” she told us. “They have a deep sense of compassion and caring for the people they love, and they have a difficult time with change and healing from trauma.”

Watch the video below for some of Pigtopia's Eleanor "Ellie" Pigby show off her tricks

After Amber's passing, her pets found loving adoptive homes. But as Anna grieved and connected with others in their community, she told us, “so many people reached out and said, ‘I’m in a similar situation and I don't have anywhere for my pig to go – I don’t want to leave them behind.’ I realized this was a more extensive issue than I’d thought.” In fact, through an anonymous social media survey of pig owners, she found that 60% of her respondents said they were in an abusive situation now and would welcome help if it were available.

As a survivor of domestic violence herself Anna was struck by the realization that “it could have been me.” She had believed her situation was isolated or specific, but in losing Amber and connecting with other survivors, she also realized how important it was to bring more awareness to the misperceptions around domestic violence, survivors’ experiences, and the vital role that pets play.

 “People were just stunned and shocked about what had happened to Amber because she was a strong-minded, powerful, independent woman. They’d be discussing it and someone would say ‘I’m in that same boat right now.’”

The need was undeniable. To honor her friend’s lifelong passion for animal rescue and special love of pigs, Anna committed to helping ensure that no one else’s story would end like Amber’s. 

After researching, networking, and learning that no program existed for pet pigs of domestic violence survivors, Anna became determined to create one herself. Her research also led her to RedRover, where she discovered our Safe Housing grant – created to support exactly the type of program Anna hoped to establish. The RedRover Relief team was so struck by Anna’s story and commitment to leading a nationwide movement to support survivors with pigs, they encouraged her to apply for even more funding to get her program, aptly named Amber’s Refuge, up and running. 

When Anna learned that Amber’s Refuge had been approved for a Safe Housing grant, her gratitude was beyond words. She wrote:

I was completely overcome with emotion at the realization that your team believes in our mission, and has empowered us to change and save lives. I wanted more than anything to tell my friend Amber her passing was not in vain and we will honor her legacy of love by helping others, but I smiled at her picture on my wall. I wept at the thought of myself staying in an abusive marriage for 14 years; what I endured and escaped... and what a difference a program like this makes for those of us who love our pets like family.

Through the pain and loss of those experiences, I have found my life's purpose. I don't know yet how many survivors and their pigs we will help, but I do know that we are needed, and every one of them is a precious life. Because of RedRover and others who have supported this work, we will be at the ready to remove one of the barriers to leaving danger.

Anna’s vision is clear: Once Amber’s Refuge is established at Pigtopia, she hopes to collaborate with other animal sanctuaries to create a safe refuge in every state, ensuring that distance is never an obstacle for survivors with pet pigs escaping violence and abuse. 

In Anna’s words: “It is with humble, heartfelt gratitude that I write to thank each of you who have granted us this gift of life and love for survivors and their pet pigs!”

We couldn’t say it better ourselves.

Learn more about our domestic violence assistance programs and  get involved at RedRover.org/dvandpets.

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