Haku, a 350-plus-pound spotted pig, enjoys rooting in the dirt, eating bananas and papayas, and getting belly rubs.
The lucky pig is the first resident of the newly established Aloha Animal Sanctuary. It opened at the start of this year, which also happens to be the Year of the Pig, according to the lunar calendar.
Haku, age 2, had been destined for slaughter, according to Aloha Animal Sanctuary co-founder Jessica Palomino. He was posted on Craigslist under the category of “used farm supplies” and marketed for backyard slaughter as part of a Thanksgiving meal.
“When we went and met him, we just couldn’t leave him, knowing that would be his fate,” said Palomino.
She and the three other founders of Aloha Animal Sanctuary — Anchi Howitz, Hannah Mizuno and Nick Pecoraro — purchased Haku and eventually brought him to the sanctuary, which is on a privately owned, agricultural-zoned property in Kahaluu.
The sanctuary’s goal is to save animals like Haku and create a place where people can visit and connect with them.
“We are animal activists, so we were working in animal welfare,” said Palomino, 25, a pediatric nurse. “We noticed a need for people to get to know these animals. Most people never get to know pigs, cows or chickens even though they’re the animals that we raise in such a high quantity. So we really wanted to have a place for them where people could interact.”
The 2-acre property is still a work in progress, with plenty of brush to clear away and enclosures to be built. With the help of volunteers, they recently finished Haku’s enclosure, with fencing and a wood and corrugated tin-roof house where he can rest under cover.
The sanctuary recently launched a GoFundMe campaign seeking to raise $30,000 to build more fencing, pay for vet bills and food, and purchase tools and a canopy for volunteers. So far, about $12,000 has been raised. Down to Earth donates produce to feed Haku.
The land is off the grid, so they are also planning to eventually build a water catchment system, install solar lighting, grow fruits and vegetables, and compost. Eventually, the sanctuary would like to open its doors to the public, including families with kids, who want to visit.
Donations would be welcome, but there would be no fee to visit the animals. The sanctuary is also looking for more volunteers to help care for the animals and maintain the property.
According to Palomino, every major island in Hawaii except Oahu has an animal sanctuary. Maui has the Leilani Farm Sanctuary, which has a similar mission. Kauai has an animal education center, she said, and the Big Island has two animal sanctuaries.
Pigs are social animals, so soon, she said, the sanctuary hopes to bring in another pig, named Cinderella.
Mizuno, 20, of Honolulu, described Haku as goofy, social, playful — and smart. The moment he was placed in the new enclosure, he explored every corner and quickly discovered the weak spots, which had to be reinforced.
“He has such a peaceful, gentle soul,” said Mizuno, “and we just hope many people will get to meet him and see how precious he is.”
A rooster named Debbie, along with a few chickens, also roams the property.
Debbie was sold as a chick to a family who hoped she would produce eggs, but Debbie turned out to be a rooster, not a hen. The sanctuary decided to keep his name as a way of sharing his story.
Though the sanctuary just opened, it already has a waiting list of animals seeking refuge.
Approximately 10 other pigs are on that list, according to Palomino. Many are falsely sold “mini-pigs” that turn out not to be so small after all. They grow to several hundred pounds, beyond the means of the people who got them as pets.
Realistically, the sanctuary can take in only a few animals at a time.
Palomino is also in discussions with Big Island Dairy, which is ceasing operations this year as part of a legal settlement, to take in two cows. But first, the sanctuary needs to finish building a second, much larger enclosure.
“We put our hearts, our soul and sweat into this place,” she said. “It’s been a labor of love.”
ALOHA ANIMAL SANCTUARY
>> What: Oahu’s first sanctuary for rescued farm animals
>> Where: 2-acre site in Kahaluu
>> Info: AlohaSanctuary.org or firstname.lastname@example.org
>> On Instagram: @alohaanimalsanctuary