Real Pigs of Norfolk County make their TV debut

The animals of Ralphy's Retreat Animal Sanctuary, including Rupert the pot-bellied pig, will be the stars of a new series on Eastlink titled The Real Pigs of Norfolk County. Submitted jpg, DN

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Move over Real Housewives, Norfolk County has the newest type of reality TV star.

The debut episode of the 13-part The Real Pigs of Norfolk County, featuring Kara Burrow and the animals at the Ralphy’s Retreat Animal Sanctuary, aired on May 9.

Ron Mervis, Southern Ontario’s regional manager with Eastlink, said the show came to be as part of the company’s community programming, which creates content relevant to their local viewers.

“We’re trying to highlight our rural areas, and Norfolk is very beautiful and has a lot going on,” said Mervis. “We worked with Clerisy and got very creative.”

Clerisy Entertainment, based in Nova Scotia, pitched the idea of a show around an animal sanctuary, which is when they found Ralphy’s Retreat in St. Williams.

“We hit the lottery finding Kara and Ralphy’s Retreat,” said Mervis. “She’s awesome.”

Burrow said she expected a small documentary, but after meeting with Eastlink and Clerisy she realized it was going to be a whole lot more.

“It’s just been an absolutely amazing experience to be involved in it,” said Burrow. “It’s been not just special for me, but for the animals.”

The show will follow the animals at the sanctuary. Each of the animals is given a voice and a storyline throughout the series. Burrow then has sections where she speaks to the needs of the animals and the importance of sanctuaries.

Burrow said the animals appeared to love every second of filming and would be ready to be on set as soon as they saw the crew pulling into the driveway.

“They (crew) were incredibly respectful to the animals,” said Burrow. “Most of the crew were city people, they weren’t from a small town like St. Williams. When they first came to the farm they were a little wary of the pigs, but they formed really cool bonds with the animals.”

Burrow added none of the animals were forced into anything, if they didn’t want to be involved they were not made to be on set.

Mervis said the filming crew definitely became more comfortable with the animals as the weeks went on through the summer of 2019.

“Early on everybody was getting to know each other, people were side-stepping around things and being extra cautious,” said Mervis. “I came back in a couple weeks later and the main camera operator had a cat laying on his shoulder as he was shooting the pigs and donkeys.”

Viewers will be able to catch the show on Eastlink Community TV channel 610 on Saturday mornings at 11 a.m., or on the Eastlink OnDemand app.

“What I took away from it is Kara and her team of volunteers and helpers at the sanctuary, they’re doing a tremendous job with a bare-bones budget,” said Mervis. “They rely a lot on sponsors to keep the sanctuary going. I hope there’s some awareness for not just her sanctuary, but all sanctuaries around that take care of animals that other people have discarded or abused.

“They take them in, feed them, take care of them, and all of that costs money.”

Clerisy Entertainment was approved by the Nova Scotia Film and Television Production Incentive Fund for $365,209 to work on the project, said a release from the Government of Nova Scotia in October 2019.

Both Ralphy’s and Eastlink plan on hosting viewing parties to celebrate the belated premiere later in the year once social distancing rules are lifted.

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