As many of you know by now, I had to find a new home for my baby boy Oliver. I rescued him 3 years ago when he was only 2 weeks old. If you want to know how, you can read his rescue story here. I always thought that he was able to stay with the family I work for, but apparently that was based on a misunderstanding. I was heartbroken, because I never imagined having to find him a new home. It is not easy to find a new place for a close to 250kg weighing pig. If I knew he wasn’t allowed to stay I would have found him a home when he was a lot younger. As soon as I heard he had to go, I was super stressed. I didn’t know where to start, how to transport him and when I heard he had to have his ear tagged before traveling I almost lost it. I couldn’t see how I was ever going to manage that all. Oliver is lovely, but it’s not like he is always cooperating very well.
I contacted all the sanctuaries I knew and all the sanctuaries I was able to find that were close and further away. Everything was full for pigs and with every message that came back I lost confidence of finding him a good place. It was such a hard and stressful time for me. A few sanctuaries recommended contacting ‘Pigs in the Woods’ though. They were very far away, but they also help with rehoming pigs. So, as a last resource I send them a message. They didn’t have a place for him, but he was going to be on a waiting list. When I heard that the waiting list is very long, I actually gave up on that as well. I did fill in the form though and I explained that it was urgent (I had 2 months before the family I work for moved houses) and then I got a message back from them. The lady said that she was going to visit a sanctuary the next day and that she would mention him. I didn’t hear back and I was too nervous to ask about it. Then almost a week later she send me another message that she might have found him a place, because she visited another sanctuary that just freed space for more pigs. She send me the contact details of a lady called Michelle Morgan. It was already quite late in the evening, so I decided to send a message first. But I got a message back straight away, asking me to give her a call. So I did. And within 2 minutes Michelle took away all my worries and stress! She told me that she would take Oliver and he was very welcome to live with them forever. She also was able to do transport and they would do his ear tag at the sanctuary by their vet. It was such a huge moment of gratefulness! It was very emotional!
Then about 2 weeks later they came to get him. First he was going by trailer, but in the end they came and get him with their van (my baby boy had his own little vanlife adventure! Haha!). It was so lovely to meet Michelle and her husband Julian! I was crying straight away, because of all the tension and the huge feeling of gratefulness. I was also feeling stressy, because Oliver has a lot of strengths (literally), but doing what I want him to do is not one of them. But to all of our surprise he got into the van straight away. Only to get straight out though! I thought we were lost and it was going to be a huge battle, but within 5 minutes he was in again and I quickly shut the door. I was shaking of adrenaline, but we did it! It was going so much better than I expected. It was a 4 hour drive back, but he slept the whole way and he was quite sleepy when he got out. As he is deaf, he didn’t even notice that they openend the van when they arrived. He was greeted (Michelle filmed it) straight away by their dog Sheldon, by their 2 kids and lots of other animals. I’ve watched that video about 50 times!
It is going very well ever since! After a period of getting used to his new surroundings, he lived with a group of goats for a while, but since a few weeks he actually has 2 huge pig girls to share his field and life with. It was a little tricky in the beginning, because he was a little scared of them at first and he broke out of his field (he is super good at this!) to be with Michelle and Julian, but it’s going better and better. It makes me so happy, because he was aways so lonely when he lived with me. Something that always broke my heart, but I couldn’t have another pig at the place. I was going to get him a friend after the move, but as you now know everything went a lot different. Seeing him with other animals and with lots of attention, gives me the happiest feeling! He is surrounded by lots and lots of rescued animals who are all lucky animals, because they all have Michelle and Julian looking after them and they are the best!! This is also one of the reasons why I’m writing this, because I would love to tell you their story, to make you aware of how special and inspiring they are.
Michelle (51) used to live in South Africa and in 1996 she met Julian (49), who was on holiday over there. They moved in together very quickly and now, 24 years later, they have been married for 15 years. All this time they always wanted to move back to Wales, as Julian is from there. Michelle really fell in love with Wales, after visiting Julian’s family many times. They both wanted to move there to have land and keep a few animals. They never thought of having a sanctuary though. The reasons why they eventually did is so inspiring and I have to share this with you!
The first reason has something to do with family life. Michelle was working in the hotel industry, Julian was working in IT and both of them loved their jobs. They tried for children for about 10 years, but without any succes. Then one day Julian came home and said: ‘what about fostering?’. They started to look into that and eventually they did. They now have 2 long term foster children. They both have severe special needs. Their daughter Sophie (15) has down syndrome, ADHD as well as severe learning and their son Charlie (21) has global development delay. Michelle feels very strongly that they couldn’t have biological children, because they were meant to have Charlie and Sophie. I find this an amazing thought and I totally believe as well that everything happens for a reason. Michelle: ‘Destiny is faith and these children were waiting in the wings to make our lives complete, which they have!’. Michelle left the hotel industry to focus on family life and when they were asked to foster Sophie, she knew she needed an extra pair of hands. They kids often each need one to one care and sometimes appointments would fall on the same dates. She needed help and that is where Julian left IT.
They were living at Basingstoke at the time when Michelle went to a petting zoo one day. This is where she got inspired to make their dream happen. Not because she had such an amazing experience, but the opposite, she was horrified. She saw animals being handled very roughly by children and staff being on their phones not caring one bit. When she got home she said to Julian: ‘Let’s move to Wales, let’s get a smallholding and let’s rescue some animals!’.
This wasn’t the only reason though. In 2018 Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer and her tumor has an 84% chance of coming back in the first 5 years. This is when Michelle said to Julian: ‘If the second cancer is the one that comes and takes me off of this planet, do I want to be taken off it from a smallholding in Wales surrounded by animals or do I want to be taken of it here in a mid-terrace in Basingstoke?’. The answer was pretty simple! She says that the silver lining in her cancer diagnoses is that it pushed them to what they had been discussing for years. Now, that is the way to see and take life!
They first wanted to just have a smallholding with a couple of animals, but when they rescued the first 2 animals, they realised the need. This is when they seriously started their sanctuary and they now have over 80 rescued animals! They have Welsh large pigs, Kune Kune pigs, lambs and sheep, ducks, turkeys, roosters and ex battery hens, goats and a dog. Julian is basically the man with the strength and does all the maintenance. Due to Michelle having had cancer she is quite weak in her hands, but that is why she gets to do all the loving, which I think is such an important role. Her chores are: tickling, scratching, cuddling and kissing. How amazing!
Their sanctuary never rehomes. All animals can live there for the rest of their lives. The only exception is when there is an issue what causes the animal unhappiness. For example, they once had a boar called Jeffrey who they couldn’t castrate, because he was too old and the operation could have killed him. They couldn’t keep him on their land, because of the female pigs that they have. Keeping him would mean that he had to be in a pen by himself, with the smell of the female pigs around him all the time, that would drive him crazy. But luckily they have a farmer across the road who also has a small holding who was able to keep him there with no females. He is now happy over there!
Michelle became vegan 2 years before she was diagnosed with cancer. She decided that she wanted to know where her food came from. She heard some horrifying things in the media and wondered if they were true. So she started researching herself. She is very visual, which means that telling her about slaughterhouses and the horrible circumstances animals live in, isn’t helping her that much. So, she started to watch videos and documentaries and that is how she started to realise it all. Michelle: ‘I thought how can I call myself an animals lover? I can’t! I have to call myself a dog lover, a cat lover, because I was eating pigs, cows and all other commercial animals.’. So much has changed since then. She said that she used to be someone who ate her body weight in chicken and bacon, but since researching the horrible industry and seeing how much cruelty existed, she turned around completely. Michelle: ‘Talking about the cruelty makes me rather emotional, because animals are sentient beings and we shouldn’t eat them or use them for anything. You can also be way more healthier having a plant based diet!’. She does believe everyone has a choice of what to put in their mouth. She chooses to not preach veganism, but to show people and live by example. She hopes that when other people see their lifestyle and meet their animals, that they start to think differently. Some friends have already. How great is that!
During chemo therapie though, her body rejected all food! Everything she ate was thrown up again, except for.. meat! It broke her heart, but luckily she is now off all the chemo and active treatment. She is so happy, because she couldn’t imagine being outside with all the lovely pigs and then go inside to eat pork. Julian is not 100% vegan yet, but he doesn’t eat any meat of the species of animals that they keep. Which is a good start, especially cuz they have so many different species already. Veganism is very important to Michelle! Michelle: ‘You look into the faces of these animals and they are not just animals, they have hearts, they have traits, they have personalities and they are absolutely fabulous and each one has its own character and depth. I absolutely love it!’.
Michelle and Julian tell me that they used to be quite materialistic. Michelle had a big handbag and shoe fetish, collecting many big brands. Julian would buy loads of electronics and gadgets. Since moving to Wales their life has changed 360 degrees. They are now big into recycling, sustainability, animal welfare and care! She was telling me that she bought an industrial poop scoop and broom the other day and she was so excited when it arrived and that it was the same excitement she used to feel when a handbag or a pair of shoes arrived. I absolutely love this!!
Michelle: ‘Cancer taught me to live my best life and Julian fully agrees’. The diagnosis turned their life upside down, but it also showed us what we actually need and what we want to do. They hope to even purchase more land around them, so they can rescue even more animals! They would love their sanctuary to grow a good reputation. In my eyes they already have, because with so much honest love and care, you can’t top that. They don’t want to open to the general public, but instead they want to open for parents who have children with special needs. Many special needs children can’t go to other sanctuaries or petting zoos, where it can be quite busy and noisy because of other people. So families can call them and, by appointment only, they can come and visit. They are making sure there is only one family at the time. This way the children can meet and touch animals and learn about them in a safe and calm environment.
They are a 100% non profit organisation and every penny spend on the sanctuary comes from their own pocket. This is why any donation is gladly accepted and appreciated. All this money goes towards the animals directly! I donate £30 every month (every 13th, because that is the day Oliver moved there), which I hope to increase in the future. If you can spare a bit of money, even if it’s just a little bit or even if its just a one time thing, please donate via PayPal: firstname.lastname@example.org. They use this money for all the right reasons!!
Aren’t they amazing people?! I told you! I love them both so much and I’m forever grateful that they came into my life and I trust them completely when it comes to my lovely boy Oliver! Do you have a question or do you have something you want to say? You can do this below or you can do this via Instagram: @freedomevermore and @safe_haven_animal_sanctuarys (give them a follow!!). Thank you! X