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2 rescued 750-pound pigs find new home at Asha Sanctuary

NEWFANE -- Merty and Esther, two 750-pound pigs rescued from deplorable conditions on a Middleport farm in November, found a new home this week at Asha Sanctuary in Newfane.

But Asha founder and president Tracy Murphy said the porcine pair will think they found more than a new home, adding, “they’ll be in paradise here.”

“The pigs are huge, so sweet and so cute,” she said.

The two pigs were rescued in November by the Niagara County SPCA, which charged their owner, Richard Heschke, 80, of Middleport, with 47 counts of animal cruelty. Heschke later agreed to surrender the animals to the SPCA, which dropped its civil suit against him, but not its criminal case. Along with the two pigs, which were reportedly found up to their necks in feces, the SPCA rescued 45 cattle, 12 ducks and more than two dozen cats. The SPCA found farm homes for the other animals.

Murphy said this was the first time the Niagara County SPCA had contacted her about taking in rescued animals and she hopes it’s the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.

“We were really happy to be able to work with them and hope we can continue to work together and bring in more animals in cruelty cases,” Murphy said.

Asha is seeking donations to help properly house and care for the pigs -- even offering an opportunity to adopt one for a year for $300. And, all donations will be matched by “a very generous, anonymous donor,” Murphy noted.

“It is going to be extremely expensive to take care of Esther and Merty,” Murphy said. “I’ve read they’ll each eat 10 cups of feed a day, and we’ll be putting so much straw in their barn so that they can really burrow into it to stay warm through the winter.”

Murphy said volunteers helped set up an Amish-built, 10-by-20 barn on a stone foundation on sanctuary grounds to prepare for the pigs’ arrival this past week.

“We’ll also have the costs of veterinarian care and shots,” she said.

The sanctuary set a goal of $12,500 to cover the pigs’ expenses for one year, which included the barn. Murphy said the community has been very supportive, with Black Willow Winery of Burt donating $700, for example.

The sanctuary will hold a private fundraiser for its members from 11 a.m. to 2 pm. Jan. 8 at the Van Horn Mansion in Newfane, featuring a vegan brunch, entertainment by Steve Allen Melcher on the mansion’s historic piano, and a tour of the mansion. Brunch tickets must be purchased in advance for $29. Murphy said memberships are $20 and are good for one year. There is limited seating, but Murphy stressed that donations will be gratefully accepted beyond the Jan. 8 event. More information may be found at

Murphy founded Asha Sanctuary at 2969 Coomer Road in January 2013, bringing the first rescued, farmed animals to the site in May 2014. She held her first public event in 2015 on the 27-acre site.

“We brought in over 1,500 people this year, from our visitors to our volunteers, and they’d like to see us grow,” Murphy said.

Next on the list is a new duck pond and an education center, as well as clearing and fencing another acre and building a bigger barn to rescue more animals, Murphy said.

“With the educational center, people will be able to view films on agricultural practices -- standard practices that are very inhumane -- and they’ll be able to meet our animals and find they are no different than cats or dogs,” she said. “We’ll also have a commercial kitchen where visitors can sample and purchase vegan foods.”

Murphy said Esther and Merty will join Nicky, a pot-bellied pig, as well as a steer, sheep, donkeys, goats and 10 birds who currently reside at Asha.

“The difference is that Nicky was a house pet, while Esther and Merty are part of the food industry,” she noted. “They are bred to grow heavy and rapidly, which is unnatural. We want to help educate the community about this. These pigs bred for the food industry have heart and arthritis issues and are kept in very confined areas and do not live long.”

Murphy, who also founded the Buffalo Vegan Society, added, “These are the kind of pigs you find when you’re sitting down to a ham dinner. We want to empower people to make compassionate food choices.”

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