For two years, Mary Tharp and her family have allowed a pig sanctuary to utilize their 8-acre Cantonment property for agricultural research, using the ever hungry hogs for the removal of invasive cogongrass.
And while the experiment appears to have been an unmitigated success, drawing praise from agricultural experts, Tharp said her dealings with In Loving Swineness Sanctuary definitely altered her world view.
“That was the biggest mistake we ever made,” she said.
Now, following a run-in with code enforcement and other issues, the operators of In Loving Swineness Sanctuary Inc. agreed have to vacate the Tharp’s property.
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Tharp said she and her husband bought 8 acres on Highway 95A in Cantonment about 10 years ago with the thought of building their retirement home there. They decided to allow In Loving Swineness, a nonprofit operated by Christal and Francis Ellard, in part because their next door neighbor wanted the sanctuary gone from that property.
“We kind of just got involved in it charitably,” Tharp said.
She said they were originally asked if the pigs could be used on the property as a research tool in the cogongrass experiment the Ellards had received permission to conduct. They were informed about 20 pigs that would be used in the experiment.
While the pigs did a great job of scarfing up an invasive species—a plant capable of taking over forestland at a pace of 800 acres a year while displacing native plants in its wake—they didn’t stop there.
“They eat everything,” Tharp said, adding that they also had a tendency to wander off the Tharp reservation and into the yards of people who didn’t want them there.
Both Tharp and the Ellards related a tale of one neighbor threatening to shoot both roaming pigs and an In Loving Swineness Sanctuary volunteer.
The angry neighbor episode, which occurred in April, brought Escambia County deputies, animal control officers, and code enforcement officers to the Tharp’s property.
In a video posted on her Facebook page, Ellard told her followers her husband had been presented at that time with 15 nuisance animal citations, a handful of code enforcement violations and was threatened with animal cruelty charges.
He has been fined just under $2,000 for those animal control violations, court records show.
One of the code enforcement citations was for keeping an RV on the Highway 95A property. Tharp said, unbeknownst to her family, the Ellards, who list a Charbar Drive address as their business headquarters, had taken up residence alongside the pigs on their land.
“They didn’t tell us they were going to live out on the property,” Tharp said.
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The code enforcement citations issued to the Ellards included not only the unpermitted use of an RV but also unpermitted use of land or structures, creating nuisance conditions, allowing the property to become overgrown and failing to clean up trash and debris.
They were also cited for having pigs on property zoned Low Density Mixed Use. Farm animals are not permitted to be kept in that zoning category.
The episode with the neighbor and the encounter with law enforcement and code enforcement led the Tharps to move in July to evict In Loving Swineness Sanctuary Inc. and the Ellards. The eviction notice was overturned on a technicality, but the Ellards agreed to vacate the premises by Nov. 23.
“We’re not even cleared all the way off the property,” Ellard said Friday. “We’ll be done by the weekend.”
It took the Ellards so long to start the process of evacuating the Tharp property that Tharp said she threatened to take the couple to court. The Tharps have been working with code enforcement to make sure that the proprietors of In Loving Swineness Sanctuary and its volunteers are making progress cleaning up the property.
And the Ellards are relocating their sanctuary, Tharp said, “one inch south” to the next door neighbor’s property they had originally come from.
The location is temporary, Ellard said. That property, at 1846 Highway 95A, is zoned Medium Density Residential and farm animals are not permitted in that zoning classification either.