Rescuer calling for education, foster homes
Pot-bellied pigs Bonnie and Clyde have been in the care of the Whittling family in Ball Ground for the last year after they were saved from the slaughterhouse. One local rescuer said pot-bellied pigs often end up unwanted because their owners don’t realize how large they get.
If everything goes as planned, Bonnie and Clyde, a pair of pot-bellied pigs, will get a new home soon.
“About a year ago my father-in-law got them from some friends who decided they didn’t want them anymore,” said Ball Ground resident Nicholas Whittling. “They were going to kill them and take them to the processing place and he didn’t want that. His health isn’t great anymore and he can’t care for them.”
Fortunately, the Whittlings were recently contacted by a potential adoption family, but Nelson resident Victoria Bragg - potbelly pig rescuer and board member with Forgotten Angels Rescue & Education Center - said not all pigs are as lucky as Bonnie and Clyde.
Fad Gone Bad?
“Pot-bellied pigs are a fad gone bad,” said Bragg, who is the non-profit’s education and adoption director for Georgia. “People get them and don’t realize they’re going to get big. We’re always looking for homes.”
The pot-bellied pig craze started in the late 80s and early 90s after they were imported from Vietnam in 1985. Since that time, the pet pig craze has had several resurgences, including the most recent “mini” or “teacup” pig wave - but Bragg said the only reason these pigs get the name “mini” is because they don’t weigh 500 to 1,000-pounds like a hog.
“There is no such thing as a mini or teacup,” she said. “The ‘mini’ potbellied pigs are the same as a potbellied pig. Breeders swear they have bred [them] down, and some have, but maybe like one percent have. I have had tons of people call me with their ‘micro,’ ‘minis,’ ‘teacup’ pigs at 100 pounds and more so those are just a marketing ploy.”
A quick Google search turns up several mini-pig breeders in Georgia alone. One site sells its minis for nearly $2,500, which is what Bragg paid for her first pig in 1990.
“And that was a good deal at the time,” she said. “They were going for $5,000. Then the bottom fell out and you could get them for nothing, like $50. Now pot bellies go for $25-$100 on Craig’s List, livestock sales and flea markets.”
Bragg was in a pig club in Florida when the 90s craze tanked and that’s when she got into rescue. She’s helped place pigs in foster homes ever since. She even gives 25 percent of her own business’ proceeds to Forgotten Angles Rescue & Education Center.
Education needed; foster homes wanted
Bragg said she fields about 100 calls a year in Georgia for pot-bellied pigs, about 65 percent from people who don’t want their pig anymore. Other calls are from shelters she works closely with and, on occasion, a person who wants a pig.
“One of the main problems is that [the pigs] can breed at 12 weeks and have a four-month gestation period,” she said. “They’re not full grown until at least three years and people think that a six-month old mom is full size, but that’s only like 40 pounds. Most full grown are between 80 and 150 pounds. We also joked that they could breed through brick walls. It gets out of control.”
Bragg, like other pot-bellied advocates, say people are often misled by breeders who claim their pigs will stay small if they are fed a restricted diet. The North American Potbellied Pig Association estimates that, “The rate of pigs being re-homed because they grew bigger than expected has been reported at 90 percent or higher in the first year.”
The NAPPA website also warns potential pig owners not to fall for the myth of teacup, micro or apartment pig myth.
“People have paid 1000s of dollars to be disappointed when a pig reaches weights greater than 100 pounds,” the site states. “Do not have unrealistic expectations. All pigs grow. The tiny pig you may see or even buy will grow much bugger.”
Pot-bellied pig shelters are reporting overcrowding from unwanted pigs, and finding residential placement is much trickier than it is for dogs or cats. Bragg cautions people need to do their research before they buy a potbellied pig so they don’t get in a bad situation down the road.
It’s a pet, but it’s no dog
“This isn’t a dog,” Bragg said. “You can’t just throw them in the car and take them somewhere and if you’re not consistent with training you won’t have that control.”
For the last year, Bonnie and Clyde have stayed in a 15’ x 15’ dog kennel, but Nicholas said lately they have been kept separate so they don’t breed. As for personality, he said they have never been aggressive and that one even loves to play.
“When my father-in-law’s health was better he’d walk around the back yard with Bonnie and she’d follow him like a puppy. She gets ornery sometimes, but she likes to play and is friendly. Clyde is private and to himself, but not mean.”
Bragg said they are extremely smart and easily housetrained, but can be aggressive with other pigs or people they don’t know. Pot bellies are routine oriented and need to be confined because they will wander off. Places that allow dogs or cats don’t necessarily allows pigs.
“They can be great pets and love to be rubbed on their bellies, and they love kids and animals and don’t have fleas and are good for people with allergies, but people don’t realize what they are getting into,” she said.
Victoria Bragg, the Georgia education director for FAREC, can be reached at 770-735-1876 if you are interested in fostering or adopting a pig.