Imagine waking up in the morning, opening your eyes and seeing on the pillow in front of you a cute face. The face of a piglet.
That was just a regular morning for Viktorija Naujokaitė and Edvardas Stalionis – and a pot belly pig called Barborytė – around three years ago.
“When we went to sleep Barborytė was lying on the footside of the bed and during the night she climbed to the best place on the pillow, always. There we were, sleeping on a bad mattress in sleeping bags next to a pig”, Edvardas tells laughing.
It was April 2015 and Trys Paršeliai, Three Little Pigs Sanctuary, had just moved to its home. It is the first and so far only farm animal sanctuary in Lithuania and the Baltics.
It had been Viktorija’s dream for many years already to run a sanctuary. She went to work to Sweden for a year and thought that after coming back she would start the sanctuary in her small home town.
Then Viktorija met Edvardas, who was from Vilnius, and they decided to start the sanctuary together. Edvardas hoped to live more near to the nature and the couple started to search for a new location.
They went to see many farmsteads but none of them seemed to tick all the boxes. Either they were too expensive, too remote or there wasn’t the buildings needed. Then a friend, that kind of a person who knows everyone, told that she knew people who own land with a homestead. They were not doing anything with it and were willing to let Trys Paršeliai start there. The location near a small town Aukstadvaris is perfect, between Vilnius and Kaunas, two of the biggest cities of Lithuania. In the beautiful countryside but easy for people to visit.
When Viktorija and Edvardas moved to the sanctuary to be, there was a lot of work ahead. No one had lived on the farm for eight years and you could tell that. Nature had taken over the place and there was lots of trash lying around in the house.
But there was potential. Viktorija, Edvardas and many helpful friends started to make the place more comfortable for its residents, who started to move in. Now there are around 30 animals living in the sanctuary. Chickens that have been rescued from a trash bin outside a chicken farm. Sheep that were supposed to be used for research in an animal laboratory. Rabbits whose owner was too old to take care of them any longer. 13-year old cow Zuika, who would have ended up to a slaughterhouse. Let’s not forget the goats – and how could we?
“People are often surprised that goats are always there, checking what you are doing”, Viktorija laughs.
It is not the only thing that people learn when getting to know the animals of the sanctuary.
“Many visitors don’t know that cows are not milking machines, they imagine a cow always produces milk. In general people are amazed that animals are so friendly and come to meet you and are not running away. If you have apples they are your best friends”, Viktorija smiles. That I notice too when I step to the field with apples in my hands.
Running a sanctuary has also changed how Viktorija and Edvardas think of animals. For Viktorija learning how clever personalities chickens are has made a big difference. “I love chickens. Now everytime I hear a lot of chickens somewhere in a farm I feel sorry for them. They don’t sound the same like they used to.”
Meeting the animals and learning about them can break many prejudices. That is why Edvardas and Viktorija hope to host more visitors from schools this spring and summer. There are also many other plans that are now a bit closer, thanks to what happened a year ago.
Tiny pig, big impact
When the couple had lived in the homestead for two years it was clear that the place suited well for the sanctuary. The problem was that it was not theirs – yet. It didn’t make sense to invest money to build on the land that they might have to leave one day.
Viktorija and Edvardas put up a crowdfunding campaign to finance buying the place. Campaign lasted 1,5 months and was successful. It brought them not only the money to buy the farmstead but also a lot of publicity in Lithuania. For example all the biggest TV channels made a story about Trys Paršeliai. “We were quite surprised that people were so interested in these farm animals and it was really nice to see that.”
Future plans include being able to host volunteers, to accept more guests and to work more on educating about animal rights. Building a new barn is also on the list.
Already a lot has changed since Barborytė was there taking the nicest and softest pillow on the bed. Barborytė has sadly passed away but she left a lasting impact on Viktorija and Edvardas. She was born in a farm and raised for meat, so she wasn’t that used to living with people. Regardless, after couple of days living with Edvardas and Viktorija she already knew her name.
“Barborytė was so clever, we were taking her everywhere. She was running together with the dogs without a leash, she was amazing. If she would run far, you would call Barborytė and she would turn around and come back”, Viktorija says.
Even the former owner of Barborytė was so impressed with how social and clever the pigs were when they had the freedom to be themselves, that she didn’t want to raise them for meat anymore. Talking about a small being making a big difference in this world.
Find out more about this wonderful place, its residents and how to help at Trys Paršeliai’s website.