At first glance, the pigs at Cotton Branch Farm Sanctuary seem like any other of its kind. Oftentimes, visitors can see them lying out beneath the sun when arriving on the farm.
However, these particular pigs all have one thing in common: They all have been rescued from abusive environments.
Executive Director of Cotton Branch Farm Sanctuary Joshua Carpenter Costner said he has dealt with the traumatic events of pigs being abandoned and being used to train hunting dogs.
One of the pigs that Costner rescued, Jules, had chemical burns on 80% of her body from human abuse when she arrived at the sanctuary. Costner said that at the farm, a veterinary specialist helped her heal completely.
“It amazes me because, (despite) all she’s been through, she is the sweetest pig," Costner said. "And she is so attached to us."
Another pig, Charlie, arrived at the farm after being attacked by a dog. A veterinarian then performed a life-saving procedure where Charlie's ears had to be removed. Due to this procedure, Costner said he taught Charlie respond to hand signals.
Tiffany Galloway, Cotton Branch's director of outreach and events, said Charlie is just one example of how proper love and rest can rehabilitate traumatized pigs.
“It’s sad what happened with Charlie, for example, but she is the happiest pig ever, and that’s actually one of the things I keep letting people know," Galloway said. "There’s going to be a light at the end of the tunnel."
In the same way that pigs have high intellectual capabilities, the animals also experience complex emotions. Costner said that when the pigs endure abuse before being rescued, many develop trauma that causes them to be shy and unsocial.
One way Cotton Branch has helped its rescued animals become more comfortable is by using "pig cuddling" — a method that allows volunteers to cuddle the pigs and help socialize them. This method offers an opportunity for volunteers to cuddle the pigs and help strengthen the animals' socialization and sense of comfort, according to Costner.
“I find that, when people visit, they actually get a lot of good — mentally — out of it for themselves," Costner said. "Especially people with PTSD and trauma, because you’re dealing and communicating with animals who have come from PTSD and trauma."
Third-year biology student Jennan Bradley said she heard about Cotton Branch Farm Sanctuary through the Carolina Mountaineering and Whitewater Club and decided to volunteer to help care for the mistreated pigs.
“(Members of the club) asked people to go and volunteer there to help socialize the pigs through cuddling them and petting them (and) giving them treats and stuff, pretty much just to make them as adoptable as possible,” Bradley said.
According to Costner, this technique of socializing the pigs has gained popularity with the public. Before COVID-19, a Columbia television station did a story on the sanctuary's method of pig cuddling, which went viral three days later.
Due to the excitement over its pig cuddling program, Costner said people from all over the world, including a couple from London on their honeymoon, have come to visit the sanctuary.
Since going viral, Costner said Cotton Branch Farm Sanctuary will continue to create a safe place for pigs and has plans to get more volunteers out to the farm as well as offer internships for students.
For more information on these internship opportunities and other volunteer events, visit their website.