After adopting a potbellied pig at the age of 14, Olivia Head learned that while they are hotly sought after as pets when they’re cute little piglets, once they turn into full-grown pigs, many are abandoned. Feeling a passion take hold of her heart, the teen made it her mission to ensure more pigs have happy forever homes — and it changed her life too!
Making her way to the pig pens at the animal rescue, a ball of emotion lodged in then-
14-year-old Olivia Head’s throat.
Having grown up on a farm in Brownsburg, Indiana, Olivia adored all animals, but she especially loved the family’s two pigs, Pixie and Penelope. Olivia would play and cuddle with them just as she did the family’s dogs and cats. When Penelope passed away, Olivia begged her parents to let her get another pet pig. “Please, I’ll take care of it myself,” she promised. She was planning on getting a little piglet, but when she and her mom arrived at A Critters Chance rescue, the young teen was struck by how many adult potbellied pigs they had for adoption.
“Why?” she asked.
“Lots of people get pigs as pets when they are young and expect them to stay cute and small. When they grow, they get rid of them,” the rescuer explained.
That’s so sad, Olivia thought, and she decided to adopt an adult pig herself, coincidentally also named Penelope. But her aching heart longed to do more.
Pigs are smart, loving animals and deserve to find homes where they will be understood, loved and cared for. I have to find a way to help them.
From passion to purpose
With her parents’ okay, Olivia began volunteering with A Critters Chance, fostering pigs. But she soon realized her home wasn’t just a temporary stopover. Rehoming was difficult, as most people had misconceptions about pigs, thinking they are dirty and unruly. After two years, Olivia realized more needed to be done.
“I want to open my own rescue for potbellied pigs,” Olivia, then 16 years old, told her parents, explaining her nonprofit would not only care for the animals but educate people about them.
“They need to know how big they will get, but also that they are loving, smart and clean, that they cry tears when they’re sad and wag their tails when they’re happy. I’m going to break this misconception cycle.”
Her parents supported her passion and mission. Her father even let her turn one of his hay barns into a pen and, in 2019, Oinking Acres (OinkingAcres.org) opened, welcoming all kinds of pigs and unwanted farm animals.
Happily ever after
Once word got out, Olivia began getting three to 10 requests a day to take in a no longer wanted pig. Before long, she had a few dozen and while she was happy to provide a permanent home if necessary, she wanted every pig to have the love her own pet pig did.
Concentrating on social media, as well as community education about adoption and local outreach, Olivia actively began sharing vital — and truthful — information about potbellied pigs. “There is no such thing as a teacup pig, only piglets that will grow into big pigs,” she’d tell potential adopters. “But their hearts are just as big,” she’d emphasize.
To help people see that firsthand, Olivia holds events, like this year’s Valenswine Party for Valentine’s Day, where more than 300 people came to give her precious oinkers belly rubs and hugs. She also holds Pig Yoga classes, where pigs roam freely around while people practice yoga, providing laughs and calm.
And Olivia’s efforts have paid off. To date, Oinking Acres has saved hundreds of animals. Olivia currently has 65 pigs at her rescue, along with goats, ducks, chickens and cats. She was humbled when PETA selected her for the 2020 Hero to Animals Award, honoring her important and unique work.
Although Olivia acknowledges she doesn’t live the normal teenage life, she couldn’t be happier.
“Society tries to put people in a mold. I truly believe it is when we break away from the mold, that is when we find our true self and that is when we are able to change the world,” Olivia, now 18, says. “Even if it’s just on your block or in your neighborhood, we can all make a difference when we follow our hearts.”
3 Easy Ways You Can Help Local Farms
- Support a sanctuary. Many farmers have special animal sanctuaries on their properties to ensure rescue animals are raised in humane conditions. Google “Farm sanctuary near me” to find participants in your area, where you can volunteer or donate food and gently used goods.
- Save the flawed foods. Farmers report that up to 50 percent of their produce ends up trashed for cosmetic reasons. Visit ImperfectFoods.com and sign up to receive a box of “unwanted” but healthy produce that’s been turned away from grocery stores. Giving “ugly” fruits and veggies a home supports farms across the country.
- Visit a U-Pick Farm. Many farmers say running a U-pick operation is the only way to get a fair price for their products due to supermarket competition. Visit a U-pick farm to pick your own produce and give money directly to farmers. Simply go to UPickFarmLocator.com and select your state to find farms near you and have fun picking your own.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.