Meet the hospice and special-needs pigs of this NJ sanctuary
MIDDLETOWN — Oscar's Piggy Oasis on Chapel Hill Road in Middletown is a 24/7 care facility specializing in special needs and hospice animals, specifically, pigs.
Dawn Midgley Verrilli and her husband, Tony, own the oasis, named after their first pig, Oscar.
This is not a petting zoo but a private residence that is not only a rescue but a sanctuary for terminally-ill animals, said Verrilli.
She and her husband got their first pig, Oscar, in 2002. He was sick at the time with crystals in his bladder. In male pigs, that is detrimental to their health. Unfortunately, there was no veterinarian around with a lot of experience with pigs.
In 2004, the Verrillis were lucky enough to hook up with Tri-County Pot Bellied Pig Club, which put the couple in touch with Dr. Wilbers at Quakertown Vet Clinic in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, one of the best pig specialists in the world, she said.
Unfortunately, Wilbers was found the day after Oscar passed away. But the Verrilli's continued to learn all about pigs from him.
In 2014, the oasis became "all special needs." Verrilli said they are not only 24/7 but also critical care, meaning they do injections and hospitalizations themselves.
They have taken in pigs with special needs issues.
Zsa Zsa was the first to come to the oasis. She had mammary tumors but was too old and too heavy to be spade then. It eventually progressed to liver cancer. Verrilli said Zsa Zsa was an outside pig her whole life but was a neat freak. She always wanted people to take their shoes off before entering her domain, Verrilli laughed.
The oasis then took in Winkie, Sammy, and Clancy. Winkie was in hospice with spinal cancer and severe arthritis. Sammy was also in hospice with brain cancer. Clancy was not hospice, but extremely overweight. Verrilli said when pigs are overweight, the fat is pushed down over their eyes and their ears push forward.
Clancy managed to lose 150 pounds at the oasis. That was good, she said, but he remained deaf and blind. It was Winkie who would help Clancy around the place.
Sammy died in October 2017. Winkie died in November 2018 and Clancy received his pig angel wings in January 2019.
"Quality of life is always the main concern at the oasis. My heart has gotten bigger with every single one we've taken in. Unfortunately, I lose a piece of my heart every time we lose one. But we do our best to keep them as comfortable as possible," said Verrilli.
Whether they are hospice or special needs, a farm life works well for them, she said. On the oasis, things are a little different.
All the outside pig houses are fully carpeted, fully heated, and fully air-conditioned. There is no straw in the houses, only bedding. It helps better with their breathing issues. Verrilli said because of their short snouts, pigs typically have breathing problems.
The houses are also equipped with baby monitors, cameras, smoke and fire detectors, fire extinguishers, and radios.
Verrilli said the pigs listen to country music as it soothes and calms them down, especially the ones with mental health issues like PTSD.
Any animal that is in hospice does not need to eat pig pellets anymore. She said they can have any type of food they want because they are at the end of time and she wants them to be happy.
Sammy, the pig loved pancakes. That was one of his favorite things to dine on all the time, she said.
But Zsa Zsa was funny. Verrilli said she loved French Toast from a certain diner which was pretty far from the oasis and she adored orange chicken from a nearby Chinese restaurant. She passed away in October 2018.
All the pigs love ice cream.
Currently living at the oasis are 20 cats, 13 pigs, and one turtle, all of which are special needs, except two cats. An iguana named Butch, a rabbit named Floppy, and a toad named Wilbur take up residence on the oasis, too.
Current pigs include Mikey, of "The Triplets" (Marvin, Mac, and Mikey). They used to be show pigs. Mac passed away in 2017 and Marvin died in 2019. Mikey is currently in hospice.
"The Howell 9" lives outside in two herds. The girls are Beatrix Maggie, Hexe, and Olive. The boys are Glory, Johnny, Snowball, Lou, and Blaze.
The Christmas Pigs (Donder, Rudy, and Zen) live outside on the oasis, too.
Pigs with angel wings include: Franklyn, Princess, Marvin, Clancy, Winkie, Zsa Zsa, Mac, Sammy, and Oscar.
"Our only bottom line ultimate goal about everything is about quality of life here. We will not allow anyone who doesn't have a quality of life to remain. We do what is appropriate to who they are," said Verrilli.
Running the nonprofit oasis is expensive. Verrilli said it costs about $10,000 a month to operate including the mortgage, specialized foods, and specialized medicines.
One thing the oasis does for hospice pigs, and hospice pigs only, is trials for medications. If a vet thinks a medicine will help prolong their lives, the oasis will try it. She said pigs respond to a lot of human medications.
The oasis runs on donations and is always thankful for whatever the public can give, especially now after tragedy struck the sanctuary.
A fire broke out on April 27 with people and animals inside. While she is grateful that nobody was injured or perished in the blaze, Verrilli said the damage was devastating. The oasis was in shambles and slowly things are getting back to normal.
But the Verrillis, the 13 pigs, 20 cats, and a very special turtle named Rocky are in dire need of support.
All the information about how to donate can be found on the Oscar's Piggy Oasis official Facebook page. A wish list is also available as well.
Verrilli has thanked the Middletown police, fire, animal control, and health departments, as well as the paramedics for helping save the oasis and the animals on that terrible day.
Oasis tours can also be scheduled too.
"We may cry every day, but we also smile every day. Lives have been touched. Love has been given, and we are better for it," Verrilli said.
Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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