What it's really like to have a pot-bellied pig as a pet.

It's summer in Ramsay and I'm on the front porch reading when a little girl and her dad walk by. They get a few steps past the house when I hear “A pig lives in that house”. “Is that right?” her sceptical dad responds. “Yep”.

That is right. 
A pig does live in this house.
My house. 
Like a dog? 
Yes, sort of like a dog but different. 
Why did you get one?

I wish I could answer that. It might be because I saw one on a leash as kid, or because I love their cute little faces, or maybe just because I wanted to be different.

It all started at the wise old age of 24 when I googled "How to keep a pot-bellied pig as a pet". The articles were very helpful, and painted an easy life with a smart, obedient and charming pet. Filled with confidence in my pet-parent ability, I did what anyone would do; I drove to an exotic animal auction in Olds, Alberta with Georgia and bid on a baby pig while my boyfriend waited in the car.
The baby pot-bellied pigs were grunting, groaning, and screaming. I ignored their 200 lb counterparts in the next stall, telling myself they were a different breed. We had never been to a farm auction before, but we got a number and sat in the risers with everyone else. The pigs were ushered out, so cute, and any hesitation I once possessed, went out the window. Georgia knew. She raised our number, and no one else bid against us, so in a split second pig #7 was ours for $40.00.

In the waiting stall were 12 little pigs with numbers glued on their sides running around biting eachother. Unsure of how to get my little # 7 pig out  I asked the closest teenager in farm clothes for help. He found a box, hopped in the stall and picked up #7; the scream was unlike anything I'd ever heard before.


As I approached the car with my pig in a box, Ryan put out his cigarette and shook his head.
"You didn't".
The pig was very frightened and immediately went to the bathroom. We ditched the poo box in the parking lot and I held him in my arms the whole way home.

Weird facts no one ever tells you about pigs:

  • Pigs eat smells. Mickey chomps at the air when something smells good or bad.  
  • They can run super fast, like videogame fast. See here. 
  • Not only do they snort, they also bark (when displeased) and wolf (when scared or running).
  • Pig penises are shaped like corkscrews and dart into the ground at a furious terrifying rate.
  • They can chews gum like a human. Mickey once chewed a piece for 45 minutes without swallowing. 
  • They enjoy food like a human would; as Chris once said: "he would like a chip, but he would prefer a chip with dip".
Mickey settled in nicely at the house, with a little bed, a litterbox and a whole main floor to discover. I went to bed that night and had nightmare after nightmare about the reality of what i'd done.

When you ask Google how to have a potbellied  pig as a pet it says something like:

Vietnamese Pot-bellied pigs were introduced to Canada in the early 80s as household pets. Smarter than dogs and very clean, pot-bellied pigs are unique pets with special needs, that with the right care can live a very happy life indoors.

I would like to re-write that according to my experience.

What the internet tells you:

1. Pigs are very intelligent. More intelligent than dogs even.

Intelligent enough to know that sitting inside for a few hours a day, or even a backyard enclosure is not stimulating enough. Boredom sets in, as does mischief. Mischief involves: pulling up every little fibre on the carpet, knocking all the cushions off the couch, chewing on the table leg or pulling plaster off the wall. If you think having an inside pig is crazy (it is), you can make him a nice home in the backyard. I did, but it also wasn't perfect. He got out, no matter what fence I put up, he is that smart. Expect to spend your evenings searching surrounding properties for your pig and wondering what you have gotten yourself into.

2. Pigs can be litter box trained.

They can be litter box trained quite easily, on the first day as a matter of fact. However, they EAT cat litter like it's going out of style. You must use special pine litter and put it in a giant litter box (a child's plastic pool works well) to accommodate the size of your growing pig. They also like to drag all the pine shavings all over the room, and into their clean blankets where they sleep, which makes the entire room an embarrassing mess.  Pig owners quickly realize their pigs must learn to go outside like all other animals.

3. Pigs are generally clean animals and odourless because they don't sweat.

Their bodies are clean but their snouts are always covered in mud, leaves, or yogurt. Everything in your house at snout level will soon be covered in that as well. Your pants and your guests pants will get 'pig faced' by the dirty snout, and you will also become accustomed to a pigs' not so odourless gas.

4. Pigs are easily trainable.

Your pig will learn quickly where to go to the bathroom and how to do tricks because they are very food motivated. Some pigs play toy pianos, dunk basketballs, jump through hoops, ride skateboards. Other pigs open the fridge, open the cupboards, knock over garbage cans, run away with purses, tear up books, eat make-up,  and shake tables until everything on it comes crashing down.

5. Pot-bellied pigs stay small.

Small compared to a 1000 lb hog, but not small enough to pick up, or put in a car, or do anything you can do with a dog or a cat. Pigs become housebound very easily at anywhere from 80-200 lbs. Micro-mini and teacup are new terms being thrown around, but are not a proper representation of their size. All potbellied pigs will get larger than you'd ever expect, about the size of a dog, but 3x as heavy.

6. Pigs make good friends for dogs.

Pigs are a dogs natural enemy, and if they are left alone together, they will eventually fight. There have been many instances of dogs killing pot-bellied pigs in family homes.

7. You can put him on a leash, take him for walks, dress him up and take him to parties.

If you spoil a pig he knows you're the weakest link. Eventually, he becomes aggressive, territorial, and demands to get his way at all times. This will cause attacks, biting of both you and strangers, and an inability to trust your pig with other people. He is not the cutest guest at a party.

8. Pot-bellied pigs are social animals.

This is why they need other pigs to live with. Then they can create a hierarchy within their pig company rather than within your family. If the pig starts to think he is one of the family, he will decide to move his way up the ranks, by picking on the weakest link. Many families have one family member the pig decides to attack to show dominance. Pigs need to realize that their human family is not their pig family, and that can only be done by keeping them with other pigs.

I encourage anyone who loves pigs to visit RASTA Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in Calgary - a by-donation-only charity (Rasta Website ). After rescuing over 50 former house pigs, some 'teacup designer' pigs (that grew to be over 100 lbs),  RASTA is no longer able to rescue anymore. There is nowhere left for these guys to go.

I am very sad to say that these wonderful animals are being abandoned on a regular basis due to this misinformation. Everything they do is natural for them to do. So the destruction and problems caused are not their fault, rather ours, for trying to convince ourselves they are something they are not.

I had Mickey for 5 years, which, in retrospect, was 2 years too long. I knew he was not in the right environment for a long time, it just took a couple years to find the proper forever home for him. This spring I drove Mickey up to Wetaskewin Alberta to live as a permanent resident at FARRM/Potbelly Pig Rehoming Network where he is living happily outdoors, with many pig friends, and a woman who devotes her life to helping these guys.

So I guess all I ask of you, the reader, is that the next time someone tells you: “I hear they  make great pets” -  is to share with them the thing about the corkscrew penises and the whole eating walls thing.


Alberta Love

Canmore, Calgary, High River and everywhere in between was flooded out on June 20-21st by the Elbow and Bow rivers. 

Thursday 9:00 AM – The city goes to work, happy it’s almost the weekend. It’s raining.

Thursday 11:00 AM – The rain is heavy and the city declares a state of emergency.

Thursday 11:30AM – Calgarians are skeptical. 

Thursday 3:00PM –The neighbourhood of Deer Run is being told to evacuate. How strange. 

Thursday 5:00PM – We all go home and turn on the news and realize just how much the rivers may flood from the rain. Many more neighbourhoods are being told to evacuate. Evacuate to where?

Offers on facebook begin, and it sounds like a good time.

Thursday 7:00PM – “Maybe we won’t have to go to work tomorrow.”  The selfish hope of many who don’t realize the extent of the situation (including me).

Thursday 9:00PM - Will we have to evacuate? What about Mickey? I guess all we can do is go to bed, wait and see. If we get woken up by a policeman at our door, then we'll have to go.

Between 3pm and 9pm 100,000 people evacuate from their homes. With only 1500 in community centre shelters, Mayor Nenshi asks 'Where did everyone else go?' Why, with friends ofcourse! Calgarians are helping eachother out. Unfortunately, the reality for some, is seen below.

Friday: Reality sets in. 
We don't have to evacuate, but our neighbourhood is an island so we aren't going anywhere.

Friday AM:  Evacuated areas - all of downtown - is covered in water. Anyone who refused to evacuate is now stuck. Nobody is going to work, for awhile.

Entire familiar neighbourhoods under water, photos of restaurants we know are being shared online.

Embarrassment: A lot of early skeptical Facebook statuses get taken down by embarrassed friends. A lot of people who did not leave are calling friends and trudging into the water, abandoning their underwater vehicles and getting out.

Disbelief: Stay in was the main piece of advice, but of course, everyone was out, taking photos, talking to one another. People just couldn't believe it.

Denial: I heard one story of a bar that had a huge lineup for the Sled Island music festival and they were determined to open. While on hold with the city to get the power back on, the bar owner calls his staff to make sure they’re coming in. Certain neighbourhoods that had become islands overnight, where staff lived, could not leave unless by helicopter, yet they still could not convey this to bar owner who was in utter denial. He was forced to, like the rest of us, just deal with it. A few hours later, Sled Island was officially cancelled.

Misinformation: Somewhere in social media land, it was shared that Calgary water was tainted and a boil water advisory is in effect. This misinformation was spread through social media faster than light. The media, the mayor, and the city spent the next 7 days dismissing this claim. Not before everyone who was supposed to stay home raced to every grocery store and bought out all the water.

The Stampede grounds were covered. 
"Stampede is in less than 2 weeks, will it go on?"
"The Saddledome is flooded up 6, no 8, no 10 rows!"

Pride: What followed was a little bit of pride for our city. Everyone seemed to step up. Emergency workers, city workers, emergency planners, and of course our mayor Naheed Nenshi worked tirelessly for the first week and continue to even now.

Waiting:  Then, we all just waited for the river to go down. Emergency workers, city workers, healthcare workers, and the media were the only ones I knew that still went to work. The rest were forced to wait for the water to go down and stay off the roads.

Twitter was on fire with people trying to get Nenshi to take a nap. #napfornenshi was a big hit and he finally took a nap on Saturday.


Coming together:  Everywhere we looked people were coming together.  Sled Island turned into Flood Island and took place in non-flooded communities at peoples houses. Donations were pouring in and had to be stopped in some places. Ramsay was dubbed Ramsay Island and neighbours were heading to the community centre for free barbecues. Suddenly there were free barbecues all over town.

Nenshi announced Stampede would go on and Come Hell or High Water, a slogan created by a Calgarian on Twitter, became the new Stampede campaign for 2013.

The wait was over: The water went down and people in the flood zone returned home, overwhelmed. Those without power and no damage to their home continued staying with friends, although they could now go home and get some essentials they may have left behind.

Work: Everyone began the inevitable cleanup with 4 days of pent up energy and frustration to put into it. Overwhelming and terribly upsetting for the victims, but seemingly fun to get down and dirty for the volunteers as they instagram and hashtag all their muddy rain boot photos. 

Getting back to normal: Ramsay Island was no longer as of yesterday. The bridges opened and we were part of the city again. With that, comes many people still driving downtown to work, despite dozens of damaged bridges. The streets are a mess.

   Heroes emerge:

Enmax restores power to many communities working day and night. Some people wondered why isn't our power still on since all the waters gone?

We were told the Enmax station was under water too.

Ranting begins: Everyone started to complain.
·         If you don't have to drive, then don't.
·         If you can snoop and take photos of our demolished basements, why don’t you get off your bike and help?
·         Alberta deserves this after all they’ve contributed to climate change with the oil sands. 
·         Hey Toronto, do you even know that there is a giant flood in one of the biggest cities in Canada? Stop talking about Rob Ford for once.

A Bump: A CP rail bridge is carrying a train car full of diesel East, when the rail bridge collapses.The city blames CP Rail, CP Rail stands by their inspection of all bridges, and the train is rescued and bridge closed off.

It is now day 7.  This does not represent what High River went through and I am deeply saddened and worried about the state of their residents and homes. Their clean-up is just beginning.

But what a week that was.

Pinky and the brain.

This year, I think I’ll prioritize brain health.  I’ll sleep a bit more, learn to give it some rest by turning it off for periods of time....