On-site learning

By David Dickson

When Lisa Catizone Heslop of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, came to Best Friends for the first time a couple months ago, she ended up learning many things, not the least of which was all about potbellied pigs. Before the trip, she hadn’t so much as met a potbellied pig.

"I never could even imagine what they’d feel like, or how they’d sound," Lisa says. Well, that all changed during her stay. Her new insights can probably best be summed up as follows: "I will never call a man a pig again," explains Lisa, "because I now know that’s a compliment!"

Now that’s leaving an impression …

Along the road to potbellied pig enlightenment, Lisa also ended up making history at

Best Friends Piggy Paradise

, though she didn’t realize it at the time. As it turns out, Lisa, along with Cherry the potbellied pig, had something new to experience this trip.

Backing up a bit, Lisa’s journey to Best Friends began last year when she attended the

No More Homeless Pets conference

in Las Vegas. Lisa runs a small nonprofit organization in Arizona. She writes about adoptable shelter animals for the newspaper. She does everything possible to find them homes. When she attended the conference in Las Vegas, Lisa was blown away. She’d never known how many other people feel exactly the same way she does about animals. After the conference, Lisa wanted to visit the Sanctuary.

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Cherry and Carol

She planned a trip with longtime friend Carol A. Sherratt of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While arranging details for their stay, Carol noticed that volunteers could take pigs on sleepovers. She asked Lisa if she would mind doing so. "Why not?" Lisa said. And with that decision, the rapidly growing Piggy Paradise fan club was about to gain two enthusiastic new members.

They selected Cherry for a sleepover. "There was just a persona about her that she was quite a lady," explains Lisa. "I got the sense of her being a gentle soul."

Carol was the one who spent most of her time volunteering at Piggy Paradise. Lisa worked with dogs primarily. That said, it was Lisa who truly connected with Cherry during the sleepover. Lisa admits to knowing next to nothing about potbellied pigs before this experience, and she considers her time with Cherry a grand education.

"I learned that pigs don’t stink!" she said right away. Pigs really do get a bad rap in that department. They’re actually very clean animals, which Cherry made clear early on.

Lisa was also surprised to learn about their healthy diet. "If we were on her diet," Lisa says, "we’d all look great." (Note: Sad to say, many pigs in homes are fed unhealthy diets due to caregivers’ poor education about pigs, bad advice they receive about pig care or other reasons. Lisa’s right, however: The Sanctuary pigs eat a healthy, appropriate diet loaded with fresh produce.)

Lisa learned plenty more from Cherry about potbellied pigs, from how their skin feels to how they sound when they talk to you. The greatest lesson of all, however, was that of trust. Both for Lisa, and for Cherry.

Cherry came to Best Friends long ago with a chip on her shoulder regarding people. It’s anybody’s guess who let her down in the past, yet Cherry made sure she stayed away from people. Over the years, Cherry has come to trust humans bit by bit, thanks in no small part to the sleepover program. That level of trust was about to take a huge leap.

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Lisa and Cherry get cozy

To set the stage, Lisa and Cherry had already formed quite the bond up to this point. Lisa had brushed Cherry, hung out with her, fed her treats and, in general, developed quite the rapport with her. They became fast friends during the evening. Lisa saw Cherry lounging around inside her sleepover tent and got an idea. She asked Cherry if she could enter the tent, too. "Mind if I come in?" she said. Cherry didn’t appear to object.

Slowly, cautiously, Lisa began entering the tent. She made it about halfway before Cherry scurried out. Lisa patted the floor to encourage Cherry to come back in, and she did! After one false start, Cherry let Lisa enter completely. Little did Lisa know Cherry had never allowed this to happen before. "It was the most unbelievable, beautiful thing," Lisa explains. She and Cherry even had a 45-minute nap together in there! Click here to listen to how well the nap went!

The pig staffers were amazed when they saw the snapshots afterward. "Five years ago when I started [at Best Friends], I would have bet $500 that Cherry would never have allowed someone to get that close while she just sat there," says Best Friends’ pig manager Yvonne McIntosh. "Sleepovers have done so much for her!" she adds.

Lisa had other incredible experiences at Best Friends, including the check-off-her-bucket-list moment when she saw a bald eagle in the wild. She definitely plans to return. The only snag she can’t figure out yet is, on her next visit to the Sanctuary, will she spend her time with shy dogs — her original love — or with Cherry?

You’ve gotta love decisions like these, where no matter which way you go, you’re bound to be grinning ear to ear by the end.

Check out Pig Week from Best Friends for great stories, videos, resources and more!


Check out Cherry's adoption profile for more information on this wonderful pet. Piggy Paradise also has other pet pigs waiting for their forever homes.


Perhaps adding a pig isn't in the cards for your family, you can still help support these awesome pets by sponsoring a resident at Piggy Paradise.


By volunteering at the Sanctuary you are helping our homeless pets get the socialization they need to be the best companion animals ever. Click here for all the volunteer opportunities you'll need to help create a time of No More Homeless Pets!