Stevie, a Vietnamese pig and also known commonly as a pot-belly pig, enjoys to lay in the shade beneath the trees, and away from other pigs. His black fur is coarse and his teeth poke out from his mouth, but only just enough to see the tips of the teeth. Stevie recently just regained some of his eyesight back from the weight he lost – the weight from being overfed causing his eyes to be covered with his own skin.
He was a family’s pet pig, and in June 2015 he was relinquished because his owners didn’t want him anymore. It was his second family, and they couldn’t handle his aggression issues with the husband —their choice was to give him up. He went to Penelope’s Purpose, which is a non-profit pot-belly pig rescue and sanctuary located in Ramona.
The pet pig trend is on the rise with many social media pages and articles dedicated to owning a pet pig. And, with more and more people adopting pigs — from the weight to the size of the pig — they may not know what they are in for. Or, how to care for the animal.
Also, with the inconsistencies of city zoning ordiances with pet pigs, people may not know they aren’t allowed to have the pet in their neighborhood.
Now, pig rescuers and sanctuaries are trying their best to educate people and care for the unwanted pigs.
“Misconceptions of owning a pig are they are going to stay small and they are going to be just like dogs,” said Brittany Whissel, the founder of Penelope’s Purpose.
A place for unwanted pigs to grow
On a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, Whissel and her husband were at a farmer’s market, and they saw two pigs walking on a leash with their owners. It was a moment that would change their outlook on pigs as pets — and as animals, too.
When they returned to San Diego they adopted a piglet of their own. They named the piglet Penelope, and she’s the one who started the urge for Whissel to rescue pigs.
“So many people see them as a novelty and don’t truly do their research on what it takes to responsibly have a pig as part of their family,” Whissel said. “People don’t give these amazing animals enough credit or respect.”
Over time, Whissel’s love and understanding for Penelope and other pigs grew. She became involved in online pig communities on social media sites, and that’s when she saw the need to start her own rescue in 2014.
Now, there is a one-lane road that leads to Penelope’s Purpose. The rescue and sanctuary is filled with mud, grazing goats, and most importantly, pot-belly pigs. Penelope’s Purpose rescues and rehabilitates pigs who are unwanted, neglected or found as strays.
At Penelope’s Purpose, there are nine adoptable pigs, and if they never get adopted, they will remain at the sanctuary their entire lives.
“Pigs are comfortable here, and they’re safe here,” Whissel said.
Whissel said she hopes her organization can give the pigs the opportunity to live they lives they deserve.
In her five-year plan she wants to incorporate more educational programs and opportunities for volunteers. And, even a therapy pig program for people with anxiety, depression and PTSD disorders.
Mini Pigs Actually Don’t Stay Mini
The term mini pig only exists when referencing a piglet because the piglet is still young and hasn’t reached its full growing potential until about five years old.
Whissel said there are false claims with “mini pigs” and breeders who try to sell the pigs to potential pig adopters:
- Designer pet pig names such as micro, teacup, mini or pixie are just marketing ploys to make buyers think pot-belly pigs will remain small no matter the age.
- Breeders suggest feeding pigs an extremely small amount of food, which stunts their growth.
- Breeders will tell potential adopters the pig parents of a piglet are full grown when they really are just babies themselves.
And, often when pigs outgrow their owners, they are given up, relinquished or abandoned.
According to San Diego Humane Society spokeswoman Stacy Archambault seven pigs were taken to the San Diego Humane Society in 2015. The most common reason for their intake is they were found as strays. The pigs are housed only at their Escondido Campus where resources are available.
Whissel said she’s helped the San Diego Humane Society by taking a pigs into her rescue because of the abundant resources she has at Penelope’s Purpose.
Not just anyone can own a pet pig
Hammy, a timid, pot-belly pig at Penelope’s Purpose, was forced to leave his home due to a zoning ordinance in the City of Chula Vista. Hammy is just one of many pigs forced to leave their homes due to cities within San Diego County that enforce a municipal code not allowing the ownership of pot-belly pigs.
Hammy’s previous owners had to find a new home for Hammy, and after no success, the only choice they had was humanly euthanizing him, according to Whissel.
But, a veterinarian working with the family finding a new home for Hammy contacted Penelope’s Purpose. Hammy was brought to the rescue in May 2015, and shortly after became extremely depressed after losing his family, Whissel said.
It wasn’t until months later Hammy opened up to other pigs at the rescue and his caretakers, according to Whissel.
There are inconsistencies of the allowance of owning a pet pot-belly pig, which include zoning ordinances and municipal codes in each city within San Diego County. Each city has its own different zoning regulations regarding pet pot-belly pigs.
Unincorporated cities allow two pet pigs, but there there are unincorporated cities that are half city zoning and half unincorporated – which means no pet pot-belly pigs are allowed in that home.
Whissel said potential adopters should call the zoning and code compliance department for their city and have the code pulled for the specific property they live at to check if they are allowed to own a pet pig.
Laurie Joniaux of San Diego Animal Services said they don’t enforce zoning restrictions when adopting out pot-belly pigs to owners because each city within San Diego County is responsible for regulating pot-belly pigs.
Life with a pet pig
Sydney Belio, a Lemon Grove resident, is an owner of a grey and black spotted pot-belly pig name Piggy Smalls. She is allowed to own a pet pig because of the city within San Diego she lives in.
“I always wanted a pig and my dad thought it would be fun to get one,” Sydney Belio said. “So, after he passed away I just wanted to do something to make myself happy.”
Piggy Smalls spends his days playing with toys and receiving love from his owners. He also loves to spend time napping in his pig barn outside, which has a patio attached, Belio said.
Belio said she loves having a pig, but her advice to people looking to adopt is to make sure to spend as much time training them as possible because without it, the pig may be hard to care for.
But, when the proper care is given and the pig is well-behaved Belio said there’s nothing better than spending time with her pet pig.
“There’s nothing cuter than him eating Cheerios or watermelon,” Belio said.