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Finding a home: couple provides sanctuary for abused animals

Laffy Taffy smiles for the camera at Tilted Tavern Animal Sanctuary in Jonesborough. Laffy Taffy is a three-legged pygmy goat who is loving life on the farm along with pigs, horses, cows and many other animals. (Photos by Marina Waters)

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

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When Brooke and Robert Jones fell in love with the historic DeVault Tavern in Jonesborough 10 years ago, they knew they had found the place they could call home. Little did they know, numerous animals would also find their happily ever-after ending on that same piece of land right along with them.

The animals at Tilted Tavern Animal Sanctuary didn’t have the easiest life before they came to live on the Jonesborough farm, having been abandoned, abused, neglected or injured. But once they make it to the animal sanctuary, they have found a sort of safe-haven where they can live out the rest of their lives.

“If they’re here, usually they’re here for good,” Robert said. “That way we know who’s treating them. We know they are getting the proper care. When you foster out, it’s such a mixed bag. You can have great homes, and to vet those kinds of things, it’s not something we’ve been able to do yet.”

From left to right, Robert Jones, Peggy Canter and Liz Crandall work hard to make a difference in the lives of all the animals that live at Tilted Tavern Animal Sanctuary, including Twizzler, a goat who had been so mistreated she had lost her ability to move freely.

Tilted Tavern is home to animals such as horses, goats, sheep, pigs, ducks, chicken, cows, swan and even a turkey on 50 acres. But mostly, they’re ready to help almost any native animal in dire situations live out a peaceful life.

“If we took all the animals we got calls about, we’d have a thousand animals and no resources,” Robert said. “So we try to be selective. Every one of these animals will stay here forever. And we want them to all have great enclosures. That’s sort of our goal. If we can’t provide a good space for them, we don’t accept them which is why we’re probably done with pigs (laughs). We have nine pigs.”

Tilted Tavern has been overwhelmed with helping pet pigs that have typically been abandoned or abused find refuge on the farm. The influx of pigs, he said, is a result of the pet pig trend.

“There is a big need for a pig shelter, especially a pet pig shelter,” Robert said. “We honestly didn’t want to do pet pigs at all, but we’ve been contacted by more than 1,000 people with pigs that we had to turn down. They were just people getting them and not being able to care for them. We usually try to stick to cruelty, neglect, abuse and abandonment cases.”

But these pigs, Robert stressed, are not small enough to fit in a teacup, which is the incorrect notion some people have when looking to get a pet pig.

Dumbleboar has finally come to recognize that these humans are here to 
protect him.

“I think they think they’re really cute when they’re little and at a flea market,” Robert said. “People just buy them on a whim. They do the same thing with chicks and ducks and don’t really think about the long-term care of them. I think that’s a big issue with it. Teacup pigs turn into that,” Robert said, pointing at a large pet pig happily meandering in the nearby pasture.

Those pigs have been putting their creativity to work with snout-painted art that has been auctioned and is currently available for purchase at the Corner Cup in Jonesborough. That’s all thanks to one part-volunteer, part-animal sanctuary staff member, Peggy Canter, who is unofficially the pig whisperer at Tilted Tavern.

Peggy has harness-trained some of the pigs, has come up with ideas to help exercise the pigs to keep them at a healthy weight and has brought in some donations through the pig paintings.

One of the pigs Peggy has worked with is the infamous 700-pound pig, Pee Wee, who was kept to be “Christmas dinner” until his former owners abandoned him. Pee Wee then took to the streets of Carter County, destroying flower gardens — which landed him on the news. But now, he’s found a simpler life full of rooting around at Titled Tavern and painting his latest snout masterpiece.

“He reminds me of a loyal dog. That’s his mentality,” Peggy said. “That’s how he acts. And he’s got the perfect snout for painting. I love snout painting with him.”

Tilted tavern also works to socialize these animals. 

Dumbleboar, a pig who was rescued from a dog fighting ring, is one of the original animals the sanctuary first added when it started in 2018, but hasn’t been able to get along with other animals. Socializing animals with one another and with humans, Robert said, can be a challenge. And often, that’s a challenge that takes a lot of time.

“Especially the really abused animals (need time), like Dumbleboar,” Robert said. “It took him a while. When our farm manager, Terry, first approached Dumbleboar, he was ravenous. He was crazy aggressive. It just takes time socializing and him knowing you’re not hurting him, those kinds of things. Pigs are smart. They know we’re not the ones who are abusing them. Once they know that, it’s a much different circumstance.”

How does one run a 50-acre farm and care for that many animals that oftentimes need medical attention? A little help from volunteers, staffers, and, of course, the community. 

Jack the turkey and his new-found feathered friends are happy on the Tilted Tavern farm.

Robert said the sanctuary is looking to allow people to sponsor different animals such as Skittles, a goat the sanctuary rescued from a dog fighting ring, or Ru, a horse that has walking issues due to neglect. 

“We are working on talking to the local community to try to get small recurring donations like $5 a month or something like that where they can sponsor some of the animals,” Robert said. “It’s so important when you’re a non-profit to get residual income. That keeps us sustainable so we can feed everybody each month and pay the staff.”

Education is also a big part of community outreach that the sanctuary plans to grow.

Executive Assistant Liz Crandall said the sanctuary plans to host a lecture series at the Jonesborough Library to educate the public on helpful wildlife aid tips along with information on the increase of pet pigs who end up having to be re homed.

“We are going to start doing more educational events,” Crandall said. “We are going to be working with the Jonesborough Library to do a lecture series. We are still planning those, but one is going to be about what to do in a wildlife emergency. During the spring we get a lot of people meaning well who will pick up an animal thinking it needs assistance when it needs to be left alone. So we will be educating on that. And the pet pig (topic) is going to be our first one.”

Tilted Tavern may be a sanctuary for animals, but it’s also a sort of therapeutic place for people. 

The sanctuary has about 15 volunteers, some of which Robert said are veterans and folks who are dealing with PTSD.

“We get people who use this as therapy,” Robert said. “I know a lot of our volunteers come out here and this is kind of their happy place. They come out and feed and take care of the animals. It helps with PTSD and some other issues like that. We have multiple veterans that help out. Peggy’s son who has autism, it’s great for him.”

Before Robert and Brooke dedicated their farm to rehabilitating animals, Robert fought cancer. That’s when he came to appreciate giving back while also healing your own life, which is something Tilted Tavern aims to offer to the community.

“It helps. It definitely changed my world, helping something and giving back. It’s really nice to be able to do that for other people and obviously the animals. It’s so important that we have another aspect because we can’t collect animals for the rest of our lives and be sustainable, but we can give back in other ways and help more people and bring our goats to other places. That’s one of the more important aspects of what we do I think.”

For more information on the sanctuary or how to donate, go to https://www.tiltedtavernanimals.org/ or visit https://www.facebook.com/tiltedtavernanimals/.