July 31, 2014

Medina
Partly sunny
57°F

This little piggy

By SANDY BARNOSKY
The Pet Lady

It was a cold day near the end of January when Spencer resident Alice Crawford saw a potbellied pig in her yard on Lovers Lane. She tried to lure it to safety with food, but although the pig accepted her tidbits, she wasn’t able to catch it. Sightings of the elusive pig were reported to the Medina County Animal Shelter for almost two weeks, but it wasn’t captured until Maggie West noticed a shivering pig in her West Road backyard and called her friend and rescuer with the Northeast Ohio Humane Association, Lisa Novak.

Owning two pet pigs of her own, Novak joked she had learned to speak pig and gave a few grunts to demonstrate. The pig she named Pigpen was quickly caught and rode home in the backseat of her Ford Explorer, where he was perfectly well-behaved, Novak reported. He was underweight, dirty and very cold, so he got a warm bath and supper at Novak’s home and settled down to sleep on a big quilt in the bathroom.

Expecting the bathroom to be trashed in the morning, she opened the door to find it clean, and was surprised when Pigpen rushed to the door to go potty outside with her dogs. Being housetrained indicated he had been raised as a house pig, but no one answered her “found pig” ad in The Gazette, so she took him in as a rescue until a home could be found.

Pigs, in general, are the fourth smartest animal in the world, and Pigpen is extremely intelligent, she said. That’s how he eluded being caught for so long, traveling around Spencer and surviving the winter cold. Potbellied pigs take two years to grow to their full size and can weigh 125 pounds when fully grown, but Pigpen weighs only 60 pounds, so it’s surmised his parents were small. They can be discerned from other pig breeds by their pointy upright ears, a straight tail, and a potbelly under their swayed back. They can be crate-trained and housebroken. Using a harness, they love to go on walks, but you must be aware of loose dogs because theres no way to lift a pig above your head to keep him from being mauled, Novak explained.

Potbellied pigs are curious and playful.

“Pigpen will hover over my shoes and make a few soft sounds waiting to see if I notice, then he’ll grab my shoelaces, untie them and run because he knows he’s in trouble,” Novak said, smiling. “He also likes to bump me off balance when I’m squatting down cleaning cages, then runs away hoping I’ll chase him. He likes to wrestle around on the ground then flops over on his back to get his belly scratched. He’s a comedian trapped in a pigs body.”

Pigs are unrelenting in their quest for food, and any food left at pig level is fair game. They’re prone to obesity that can lead to foot and joint problems, so their food intake should be carefully monitored. They’re supposed to have a sway belly, but it shouldn’t hang below their knees, she joked.

If they see food coming out of the refrigerator or cupboards, it won’t take them long to figure out how to get it themselves. Her own potbellied pigs, Iggy and Scrappy, have learned to pull at the bottom corner of the fridge to open it, nudge the crisper drawer open, grab a bag of apples or pears and run off to share their loot. She had to install a childproof lock to keep them out.

They need to be taught rules and boundaries by using gentle, but firm discipline and respond well to positive reinforcement using praise and treats.

“You have to have a lot of patience with a pig, because they’ll test you, and they aren’t forgiving if you’re mean to them. They’ll hold a grudge,” she cautioned.

To keep a potbellied pig as a pet, they need good quality pig food, regular vaccinations, hoof and tusk trims and should be spayed or neutered. They’re very social animals and need interaction with their owners. While a house pig will have attention from its human family, a barn pig should have another animal for company.

In the wild, they forage for food and need access to an outside area to root and forage. This isn’t only important for their mental health, but provides vitamins and minerals. Food or treats can be sprinkled around the yard to promote exercise and mental challenges.

Fences must be secure since they’re very good at breaking through, Novak warned. Because they originate from tropical Vietnam, they must have a warm, dry shelter when it’s cold. If kept in a barn, they should have a heat lamp over their stall along with a sleeping bag they can snuggle into. In the summer, they need shade and a wading pool to stay cool since they don’t sweat. Due to their short legs, they can’t negotiate stairs, so must have a ramp in place of them to go in and out of the house.

A potbellied pig will live an average of 12 to 18 years, and for people with appropriate expectations, they can be an entertaining, affectionate and playful pet. While Pigpen has been an enjoyable houseguest, its time for him to find a home of his own, and he’s available for adoption. For more information, call Novak at 330-410-0638.

Barnosky can be reached at 330-725-4160, ext. 4075, via e-mail at petlady@roadrunner.com or by writing The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina, 44256.