For abandoned Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, Li'l Orphan Hammies feels like hog heaven
Lying on her stomach in a patch of pansies, Sue Parkinson gives a belly rub to a 300-lb. porker named Turbo. Pig Newton and Bacon One await their turn. "We've got three Bacons here," says Parkinson. "Guess it was a popular name for people who were going to dump their pigs."
She'd know. More than 140 Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, each with a name and a sad story - some lame, some blind, some dying, some just the flotsam of a mid-'80s pet craze - spend their days at Li'l Orphan Hammies, Parkinson's five-acre sanctuary in the rolling hills of Solvang, Calif., 26 miles from Santa Barbara. "Most of them," says Parkinson, 46, "come from breeders who got overwhelmed now that the novelty of pigs as pets has worn off."
Parkinson, the daughter of photographer William Holley and his wife, Margaret, a banker, got P.J., her first pig, at a swap meet in 1991. She then gradually started taking in others whose owners no longer wanted them. "People found out they could call me if there was a hurt or homeless pig," she says, "and now look - pigs everywhere."
Her marriage to auto-parts dealer Peter Parkinson didn't survive the influx. "When I was quoted saying I'd rather kiss my pigs than my husband," she says, "that was pretty much it." (They have been separated since 1997.)
With Li'l Orphan Hammies close to capacity and limping along on an annual budget of less than $25,000 (most of it donated), Parkinson now waits tables to makes ends meet. "My feed bill alone is $1,000 a month," she says. But she does have the help of volunteers like ER's Noah Wyle and wife Tracy Warbin, who have adopted seven of Parkinson's orphans. "We try to help out when Sue is overstocked," says Wyle, who house the pigs at his ranch north of Santa Barbara.
Meanwhile, Parkinson continues to do her best to provide refuge for a pet that's now passe'. "I know I can't save everybody," she says, "but those I can, I just have to."