Tumbler, a pig the size of a pony, needs a new home.
The 900-pound animal is one of four farm pigs housed on a 10-acre farm in Pardeeville that for a decade served as an animal sanctuary run by the Midwest Animal and Potbellied Pig Association and Rescue, or MAPPAR. But on Monday, the foreclosed property went on the auction block - and MAPPAR founder and president Dee Rondone is scrambling to find foster homes or permanent homes for 4-year-old Tumbler and his 800-pound penmates Daisy, Paolo and Zoe - not to mention 18 cats and a potbellied pig named Pearl.
"People think they're going to be cute little micro-pigs," Rondone says as she gives a belly rub to 4-year-old Pearl, who weighs 150 pounds and has her own kiddie pool on the property's front yard. "A lot of people don't realize that when they get an animal to begin with, it's a lifetime responsibility."
These are tough times for animal sanctuaries, who say they've been squeezed in two directions by a bad economy: At the same time cash donations are harder to come by, more animals are in need of homes. That's evidenced by a bumper crop of fundraisers for Madison-area animal shelters and sanctuaries in August, one each weekend of the month.
"It's definitely something we've seen growing the past couple of years - people who've had to surrender animals for economic reasons," said Gayle Viney of the Dane County Humane Society. "People have lost their jobs, lost their homes. We're seeing more animals come in that we probably wouldn't expect to see, and then our donations just haven't been strong at all."
Madison-based Heartland Farm Sanctuary, founded in 2009, moved from a single barn stall last winter to a barn and 25 acres leased to the group for free for four years. The group now cares for close to 40 animals, including llamas, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, two farm pigs and some feral cats from the Dane County Humane Society.
But even though Heartland has expanded its outreach to the Verona School District and recently hired a part-time social worker to do therapeutic work with animals and youth, it can't take in any more animals, said executive director Dana Barre.
"Financially, we're stretched thin," she said. "To be honest, it's personal money that's keeping us going. We need more donations."
Rondone, who founded MAPPAR three years after buying a pot-bellied pig as a pet in 1993, bought the farm in Pardeeville in 2000. It soon became a temporary home to abandoned horses, cows, ponies and chickens as well as its current resident animals.
But by 2006 Rondone could no longer afford it, and sold the farm to Monica Jacobs, a friend and MAPPAR volunteer.
"At the time I was in a better financial standing. The hope was to get them on their feet and eventually the land would get signed back over to MAPPAR," said Jacobs, who works in customer service in Madison. "That was the hope, but it just didn't work out."
Last year the farm stopped accepting new animals. In February it transferred several chickens and 11 cows, which came from a park district petting zoo, to a sanctuary in Virginia.
"But before that we were getting a lot of animals from people who were also going through foreclosure and having financial problems, so they were giving their animals up," Jacobs said.
Today MAPPAR is using "borrowed money" to feed the four pigs, who continued to grow after they passed the usual six-month butchering age, on about $15 a day, and receives donated canned cat food from Purina.
The cat food and free litter will be passed along to anyone who will adopt a cat from MAPPAR, Rondone said. In the meantime, volunteers cash in the aluminum cat food cans to raise money.
"Obviously it's a really desperate situation," Jacobs said. "We have some connections with a few other rescues that are trying to help MAPPAR possibly get some property to continue. But right now I feel the best thing for the animals is to get them located to other shelters or homes."