I-TEAM: City of Torrington orders Pig Sanctuary to “cease and desist” operations; court hearing pending

The owner says the animals are well taken care of, while the city says the sanctuary owner is breaking the law.
Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 5:45 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 8, 2022 at 9:04 PM EDT
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TORRINGTON, CT (WFSB) - A battle over 2 acres: A Torrington pig sanctuary, under scrutiny, for not having enough land. The owner says the animals are well taken care of, while the city says the sanctuary owner is breaking the law.

The sanctuary owner, Audrey Curtis, says she was born to save animals. “This is my life. This is what I want to do,” says Curtis. “I’ll save just about anything within reason, I will. My passion is pigs.” That’s why she says she opened the Pits and Piggies Sanctuary in 2019. Curtis uses her friend, Paul Church’s, backyard in Torrington to house the animals. She lives on the property and Church helps her run the sanctuary.

“The need for unwanted pigs just became astronomical. People started calling from all over. I have pigs from all over the place,” says Curtis. Curtis says she’s rescued dozens of pigs over the years, along with chickens and ducks, but her mission is under the microscope. “I mean saving lives I didn’t think would be this complicated, I really didn’t,” says Curtis.

The complications revolve around the size of Curtis’ land, and how many pigs Curtis has on that land. The amount? “More than I’m supposed to.”

For almost two years, the City of Torrington has ordered the sanctuary to “cease and desist” operations. The city’s zoning officer says Curtis and the sanctuary are violating the law, because they’re “keeping farm animals ... for a business ... on property having less than 3 acres.” Curtis says the land she uses is only about an acre and a quarter. “I think that’s not enough space. According to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, the minimum should be 1 acre per two pigs,” says Zilla Cannamela with Desmond’s Army, a group of animal law advocates.

Cannamela says pigs are social animals, and don’t always get along, so the more room the better. She says the sanctuary may have good intentions, but rules are rules. “A three acre zoning law for farm animals is put in place for a reason, they require space. Period. And it’s also a health and safety issue for your surrounding neighbors,” says Cannamela.

Since May 2021, the city has fined Pits and Piggies $150 a day for operating. By our calculations, that’s about $69,000.

Along with the cease and desist, the city is asking Church and Curtis to clean up debris on the property, and stop using a hut situation on the land, for their business.

They are asking a judge to close down the sanctuary. We asked Curtis why she doesn’t “just comply with their rules.” She said, “What would happen to these animals’ lives that I saved?” “I’m sure there are sanctuaries that will take pigs. They’re probably not pig specific but they would have to find a sanctuary that would take them,” says Cannamela. Curtis says she’s in the process of trying to purchase the land next door. She says she’s been working on the deal for the last couple weeks. She also says she’s had previous land deals fall through. The sanctuary and the city will meet in court in a few weeks. A lawyer for the city said they cannot comment on pending litigation. “What’s going to happen if they close me? What happens to these animals?,” says Curtis. The Pits and Piggies Sanctuary is not an official tax-exempt charity, according to IRS or CT Department of Consumer Protection records. Although in the past, through her Facebook page, Curtis has asked for financial support for the animals for things like feed, straw bales and medical bills, she told us she is no longer soliciting funds.