10 reasons why owning a pet pig is nothing like owning a dog!

One of the most common questions that I get asked since we adopted our pet Juliana pig named Elly comes from people wondering… “Is it JUST LIKE owning a dog??” The answer is a hard and fast no. Not at all. Not even close! I must admit, there was a time when researching whether a pet pig was the right choice for our urban family that I too thought a porker would feel similar to any of the canine companions that I had owned over the years. My last being a very boisterous Jack Russell Terrier that took intense training and patience throughout my college years. A pig could not possibly be more work than the terrier, right? Wrong.

  1. Going for a walk.

The first time I took young Elly for a walk was notably one of the most embarrassing moments I can recall over.. oh maybe the last 5 years. Again, I assumed walking my new porcine housemate would be JUST LIKE walking a dog. WRONG. Someone once compared walking a pig to flying a confused kite. The difference is, you may actually fare better with the kite! Pigs don’t like to be walked, you are just along for their ride. Their very SLOW ride. In fact, sometimes the pig may just flop over and do this!

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It may very well take you 2 hours to make it around one city block. Aside from the 50 new friends that the pig will make including random pedestrians, people on bikes, folks driving cars that pull over to see the pig, strangers taking videos of you walking the pig, and of course herds of children by parks yelling out PEPPA PIG you really wont make it far! Any experienced pig person will keep a bag of snacks handy for desperate times that involve MOVING the pig. Where there is food the pig will always follow. Of course my first walk with Elly did not include any experience, or for that matter a sack of food. So when I found myself planted in the dead center of a cross walk at a busy intersection with a pig uninterested in moving we were both in trouble! The cars were lining up and my face was quickly deepening into an embarrassing shade of red. I tugged HARD on the pig to get her to move. That was a big, this is not a dog mistake number 1! The animal bore down with all of her might and let out an ear-piercing barnyard SSQQQUUUEEAAALLLLLL! At this point concerned folks are running out of their homes and the people in their cars are simultaneously holding up their phones set to record. I don’t remember how long it took me to get that pig out of the crosswalk. But what I do remember was that it was embarrassing!!!

2. Pigs are crazy smart

Dogs are smart too. But pigs, are the fourth smartest mammals on the planet. You want to know who is first? Humans. I have to be honest, the pigs intelligence is one of the things I happen to LOVE most about my porcine friend. I love her ability to have complex thoughts and relationships. Pigs learn tricks crazy fast and thrive off of challenge. But they also get bored easily. Very easily. And will open kitchen cabinets, refrigerator doors, screen and storm doors, knock over trash cans, toss furniture across the room, or tear up any flooring that is not nailed or cemented down. And these are just a few examples! Pigs cannot be left alone for hours on end a day. A bored pig is a naughty pig

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3. Pigs have the memory of an elephant!

Be mean to a pig and it will never forgive you. Pigs are known to sport an amazing, uncanny ability to remember everything and everybody! If your mean to a pig it may very well choose to hold a grudge against you.. well… forever. I bought a couple of books on the training and care of my mini porker before bringing our Elly home. They all cautioned speaking “nicely” to the pig and also not “upsetting” the pig. I now understand this phenomenon. Yell at the pig and she may squeeze a retaliation turd on my rug, throw a chair across the room, or repeatedly slam our bedroom door at 5am. Not fun. Who said happy wife happy life?? It should be happy pig happy wife!

4. Pigs eat everything.

Literally. Everything.

We bought our daughter a container of pink MORPH. Some sort of hot pink, shape shifting fluff for making critters and creations. Elly of course, ate the container of MORPH and we spent 2 straight days trying to get the pig to poop it out! And once the pig was finally pooping, we were watching for it to turn hot pink. SO FUN. Luckily MORPH is all natural… so it did eventually… naturally come out! On a different occasion Elly scared the life out of us by swallowing a seeded grape whole! The supersized grape got lodged in the pigs trachea and the husband got to perform the Heimlich maneuver on her! The crazy animal was woozily passing out while I was frantically calling her emergency vet all while Googling “how to save my choking pig.” Luckily, there are actual directions online for saving the life of a pig with food lodged in its trachea. The pig survived and we stopped buying grapes.

5. You will never be alone. At least not in the kitchen.

Pigs are obsessed with all things food. And of course the sorcerer of food is the kitchen. The problem is, pigs can be pushy. Very pushy. In fact, their snout may permanently jam itself into your lower calf the entire time you make breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, do dishes, need a drink of water, or simply open your fridge with a thought of food. The pig also works to keep all intruders out of the kitchen by head butting and physically pushing the perpetrator out. The pig thinks she is protecting the hard-earned fruits of the herd.. unfortunately your grandma, the neighbor kid, the plumber, the babysitter, or anyone else for that matter may not be so understanding!

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6. Pigs are VERY, VERY, VERY noisy!

Dogs bark.

Pigs squeal, honk like geese, bark like dogs, scream when they are upset, slam doors, knock over furniture, and of course grunt and oink. They also make these amazing, for loved ones only, hot pants that sound like a breathy HAH HAH HAH and they sigh and make soft content moans and groans when they are happy. Mama pigs have been recorded singing to their baby pigs while they nurse! The pig is a complex animal with an amazing, intelligent array of sounds. Hopefully, if you live in a city, you have very understanding neighbors. Your neighbors will regularly hear the antics of your pig!

7. There is no such thing as a tea-cup pig.

Tea-cup Chihuahua, yes.

Tea-cup Pig, no.

Elly is a Juliana. This particular breed of pig is often marketed as a tea-cup pig. As a baby Elly looked like this! Pretty cute right! She weighed maybe 5 pounds.

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Elly is now almost 1 and a solid 75 pounds and still growing! According to the American Mini Pig Association a “mini pig” is any pig between 50-300 pounds full-grown. Many people buy mini pigs thinking they will stay the size of a tea-cup or a miniature dog. They just never do. A full size hog can weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds. Therefore a 100 pound pig is miniature in comparison. Pigs bond VERY strong with their families. Some get so depressed that they die when given up. Pig sanctuaries across the country are filled to the max with pigs that grew larger than expected. If you want a TINY pet buy a miniature Chihuahua, not a pig.

8. Pigs cannot walk down steep stairs.

We live in Chicago. 100 years ago when our neighborhood was built all of the homes were constructed with  steep stairs leading up to both front and back entrances. When we first trained Elly to go potty outside we carried her. When she got around 50 pounds carrying her became too hard. So we had this not so inexpensive ramp built to give our independent little lady a way outside! Owning a pig = ramps. Lots of ramps.

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9. Pigs are prey animals.

Dogs are predators, pigs are prey. Pigs are born cautious and leery of anyone approaching them! Young piglets have to be trained to enjoy being picked up. Some pigs may never like it. The first time we handled Elly she screamed and squealed and carried on with such intensity you would think we were pinching her. It takes patience, a gentle voice, lots of food, and slow movement to earn the trust of a pig! They will not love you just for being you. You will have to earn their respect and trust over time. Once a pig accepts you as a member of their herd, they are extremely faithful and loyal!

10. Pigs live 15-20 years.

That’s a LONG time! Fortunately, we really love our pig. She is sassy and always keeps us on our toes! Our daughter and the pig are inseparable. Its been a good match for us, but most that spend time with Elly would agree she is not the right fit for them! Understand what you’re jumping into when you purchase a pig, it’s definitely not a dog!

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*** Header photo credited to: http://www.ashleyletourneau.com/

An open letter to our pig sitter…

For the last official week of summer vacation we decided to take a quick family vacation up to the Wisconsin Dells. And while we assumed our pet pig Elly would enjoy the eateries of cheese country we sided with our better judgement that pigs and water slides do not mix and opted for pleading with a close family friend to “pig sit” in our absence. But this would not be the usual drop in animal care of feeding, watering, and walking. We needed a full-fledged porcine housemate. Fortunately for us, we had a long-term family friend willing to take on the challenge of caring for our portly porker.

The night before leaving town the husband mentioned to me that perhaps we should “write things out” detailing the daily care of Elly. I agreed. And the most hysterical list of piggy care emerged.

Hello! And thank you SO MUCH for caring for Elly while we are gone. While she is a loving, intelligent, passionate animal she has a few nuances we want to forewarn you about!

1. Elly has a biological timer that erupts at exactly 6am every day. It does not matter if this is a day you plan to wake up at 6am. The pig will spring to her feet and barrel across the house honking at the top of her lungs! She wants food. If you try to ignore her and lock her out of your room she will head-butt your door until you wake up. Sorry in advance. She is quite pleasant after she has been fed. 

2. You will need to take Elly potty in the morning. She will use her ramp out the back door to get into the backyard. Sometimes she does not want to go out to potty, so just grab a cucumber from the fridge and she will follow you out into the backyard. Just make sure you give her the cucumber. Because it will turn into a battle of the wills if you want her to relieve herself before eating.

3. Pigs are herd animals and can be territorial about their homes and favorite spaces (i.e. the kitchen). You will notice there is a large framed photo of the pig on our kitchen wall. That is because she actually owns and operates this particular room of the house. To earn the respect of the pig you will need to ask her to “earn” her food. You can do this byrequesting she spin for you, sit, or she can high-five. Only feed her after she performs. This will help you earn the respect of the pig.

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4. Elly likes to snuggle on the couch at night. But she has gotten a bit portly for jumping up onto it without help. If you find her pacing next to the sofa letting out an intermittent and disgruntled (GRRRUUUNNNTTTT) that means she needs help. Simply lift the pigs front hooves onto the sofa and then situate yourself behind her rump and firmly push up until she climbs her way onto a cushion. Once on the couch she likes her head situated under a pillow and her belly scratched. She also likes to spoon, but I don’t think you’re in that level of a relationship with her yet. 

5. There is beer in the fridge. Please drink it. Drink all of it if you need to. 

6. If for any reason the pig escapes the back yard and is refusing to come home, simply stand outside with a can of oats and shake it vigorously. The pig will always come home for oats. She can hear this sound a full city block away. 

7. You will find that Elly tips her water dish over many, many times a day. This is normal and she will especially make a point to tip it over any time you have just mopped and cleaned the floor. Unfortunately this is completely normal and pigs need fresh water, so go ahead and refill the bowl so that she can tip it over again later! Just keep a lot of towels handy for future spills. You will use a LOT of towels. 

Thank you SO MUCH for taking care of our sweet Elly! If you need anything at all let us know!!

Day 1:

The family – “How’s it going with the pig?”

The pig sitter – “Oh it’s going… ok I think. She keeps trying to push me out the door when I come home! She literally takes her snout and forcibly shoves me backwards out the door. I kind of think she does not want me here.”

The family – “She will come around! Keep making her spin for you and give her lots of treats.”

Day 2:

The family – “How’s it going today? Any better?

Pig sitter – “She wont spin.. or sit.. or do anything for me. She just mows me down and steals my food! I think she has eaten everything in the house. I am going to give her some space.”

The family – “Did you find the beer?”

Day 3:

The family – “Hey there how is it going?? Our daughter wants to face-time with the pig. Can we figure out a time for that?”

Pig sitter – “Umm sure we can try that. Right now Elly is guarding the stairs. I am in the basement and she has taken post at the top of the stairs so I can’t come up. Its kind of like we are married. She is sleeping upstairs and I am sleeping downstairs.

The family – (we check our security camera, the pig is in fact angrily pacing back and forth at the top of the stairs). “Oh my!! We are so sorry! Try going up the outside stairs…”

Pig Sitter – “I did.. and then she runs over and pushes me out the door.”

The final day:

The Family – “Hi good morning!!! We cant wait to see everyone later today!”

Pig Sitter – “Oh yes.. me too! Elly seems to have finally made marginal peace with me. Of course that finally happens now that your coming home.”

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We arrive home later that day. We excitedly prepare to embrace our porcine companion as we burst through the front door. Elly, on the other hand, is ticked that we vacationed without her. She barks at us, turns her back towards us and STOMPS away. No happy pig greetings, no tail wags, no wet snout kisses, just flat-out contempt. It took a solid day for our piggy friend to come around, and luckily we still have the friend that pig sat for us as well.

Now onto planning our next trip.. anyone know of any pig friendly family vacation destinations!?!?

 

This little piggy goes to the vet!

While most vets treat mainly cats and dogs, ours specializes in the exotic categories of lizards, birds, snakes and of course pigs. To date, our Juliana pig Elly’s veterinary care has consisted of a spay surgery, an emergency trip to dislodge a grape out of the pigs trachea, and a general check up. While vaccinations are not required for a Chicago dwelling porker, we did decide to inoculate our porcine companion against a few pesky diseases.

Not so fast though! While vaccinating Fido would consist of simply phoning in an appointment, getting Elly her shots was a bit more complex. For starters, the vet does not keep pig vaccines on hand. Why? Because not many people have urban dwelling pigs! As a result, I found myself perusing farm veterinary supply websites searching for bottled pig vaccines for our vet to administer. I struggled to find single vaccinations, so I ended up with a jug suited to inoculate an entire herd of pigs! (P.S. I have extra).

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Now comes the fun part. Getting the stubborn pig to the vet. In retrospect, getting her there was the easy part. Actually getting the vaccine into the angry pig was a whole different ball game! We arrived with Elly full of hope and unrealistic expectations. I assumed they would give a quick jab in the rump and we would be on our way. Instead, pigs apparently receive injections behind their ears in the neck region. This was a game changer. Fortunately our vet was prepared with an assistant who had once worked on commercial pig farms, I was prepared with my unshakeable husband. Between the two of them I was sure magic would happen. I escorted our uneasy 7-year-old daughter out of the room and left the 3 of them to the mercy of Elly. Within moments we hear the pig angrily squealing. I assume they are getting the job done and attempt to zone out the noise. Elly gets louder, and louder, and as I uneasily look out the window I can see pedestrians scrunching their faces in confusion. I slip down a little lower in my seat and hope for an end to the pigs commotion and apologize to the confused faces in the waiting room. Soon I hear a ruckus like the exam room is being ransacked. Elly is squealing and squawking, I can hear the vet, her assistant, and the husband problem solving their next plan of attack. The daughter is nervously jumping around outside the door, reaching out to touch the handle, then nervously bouncing back. She pivots between reaching for the door and running back to plug her ears on the waiting room sofa. She squeezes her hands over her head while shouting “LALALALALA… IS IT OVER YET???” I assure her it will be over soon. But it wasn’t over. Not even close. In fact, they were in there for over an hour. I was struggling to figure out how 3 adults were having so much trouble with one lady pig. Finally, after 75 minutes I get word that the job has been completed. I grab our daughters hand and walk her into the exam room. Elly is angrily honking and stomping around the exam room. The vets assistant is bleeding from getting stabbed with the syringe, the vet is covered in sweat, some poor soul is cleaning pig poop off the floor, and the husband’s stomach is bruised and raw from being “hooved” by the ticked off porker. Everyone looks exhausted. We are told by the assistant that pigs often pass out if they get too upset, and its important that we keep a close eye on her for a bit to make sure she is stable before we go home. As I watch Elly angrily twitching her tail and clambering around the room, stomping her hooves and swiping her head I doubt she will fall over from stress. This little lady is red-hot mad! The vet looks defeated when she tells us to please return in 3 weeks for the booster. She warns us that our pet may be lethargic for the rest of the evening. Upon our return home, Elly spends her time knocking over chairs, rooting up the backyard, and generally showing zero sign of lethargy.

3 weeks later:

The husband and I spent countless hours brainstorming vaccination part 2. Perhaps he can wear his bullet proof vest to protect himself from the pigs hooves?? Maybe we can find the most delicious food imaginable to distract the pig?? Perhaps we can just throw a pillow case over the pig’s head and hope for the best??

This time the pig bears down in front of the veterinary office door and REFUSES to go in. She remembers this place from last time. She is NOT going in. After general pleading and bribing is a fail, I start heaving on the pigs rump to try to force her through the door. This makes the porker even more angry and she bears down harder and squeals. I look helplessly at the husband. He heaves her 65 pound physique onto his chest and hauls her inside. I am expecting everyone to look disappointed we came back.  Surprisingly the vet, and the same assistant look happy to see us. The assistant excitedly telling me that her syringe stabbed hand only took a few painful days to heal. How lovely. I think. It takes a lot of coaxing to get Elly back to the exam room but she does move along with the help of a sack of sliced grapes. The child and I resume our post in the waiting room. And lo and behold, we hear one LONG angry squeal and get word that its done! Fantastic! With several weeks to plan, 3 adults were able to conquer the pig! The staff spends 20 minutes feeding her veggies and fruit. And of course, the daughter snuggles her in the waiting room for being brave.

One year down. Only 15 more to go.

Pig Headed

There is a reason the slang term “pig-headed” was coined. And even though the pig does have a peculiarly thick skull, the term refers to a person being painfully stubborn versus the latter. I may have just assumed this phrase was a happy coincidence until we adopted our pet Juliana pig Elly. Elly has been the epitome of a stubborn animal. From the retaliation turds of her potty training days to the way she oh so obstinately persists on her conquest for food the pig has her bases covered. In fact, I have learned that with pigs its more about persuasion, and convincing the pig that (insert – going potty, walking outside, coming back inside, moving out-of-the-way, ceasing disaster making…) was their idea all along.

Reflecting on our pigs stubborn nature brings me to a recent porcine well-being visit from our neighbor. Thank the good lord for awesome neighbors! While Elly has taken to making friends with all of the folks that live within proximity of us, our next door neighbor Shyanne has graciously offered to help feed and potty the starving animal when the husband and I both work late. Shyanne’s first visit with Elly as a wee-piglet involved the frightened animal bolting across the house squealing obnoxiously before hiding. It took a head of broccoli to convince the porker that she was a good Samaritan and meant no harm!

On a more recent visit to our home a mature Elly was feeling quite opinionated about the order of events. The pig wanted food before potty. Our well-meaning neighbor came in determined to take the porker potty first. Elly bore down in front of the refrigerator and let out a stubborn GROAN. She was NOT moving. Shyanne tried negotiating, asking, begging, and finally grabbed a broom and tried nudging the pig away from the fridge. Nothing. Elly started stamping her front hooves while honking DIRECTLY at the fridge. For those not familiar with the vast array of comical pig noises, they do in fact honk like a goose when frustrated! At this point neighbor Shyanne gets more assertive and shepherds the feisty pig out the back door using the broom for leverage. Elly is MAD. She storms down her ramp, stomps into the back yard, and squats to pee while thrashing her head aggressively back and forth! As she thrashes from left to right she rips grass out of the ground and chucks it across the back yard. This is NOT what she wants to do. Upon finishing up with her business the pig marches back inside and resumes her post in front of the fridge. HONK HONK HONK… Food NOW! The pig eats. The two resume as friends. I get a text.. “mission accomplished… your pig is so smart its scary.”

While Elly loves challenging myself.. my husband… the friendly neighbor… our extended family…  she is enamored with our daughter! These two just gush sonnets of love for each other! It’s enough to make you raise your hands up to the porcine gods in the sky and ask “WHHHYYYY… WHY NOT ME?!?!?!”

 

If we need the pig to do anything important we find the child. If the child is not present progress becomes a bit more difficult! Our daughter is especially helpful in herding our pig back home. Elly loves being outdoors. She loves the front yard in particular over the back. Of course the front yard does not have a fence. Elly has also recently discovered how to open our front storm door. If no one is paying attention she will just let herself out. Once outside she has her routines. She likes to take a poop in front of our elderly neighbors bushes. I am always perusing his grass with bags in case she snuck one out on me. She likes to eat our opposite neighbors grass. She also likes to fall over and nap in their grass! Thankfully they are nice people!

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Down the street a bit we have that neighbor that is not so great about mowing the lawn. Elly LOVES trotting about 4 houses down to their billowy yard to chomp grass. There is also a suspect weed that grows under these folks bushes that makes Elly go completely batty. Once she is down there gleefully munching under those bushes getting her home becomes a problem! I call.. I beg.. I offer food… I shake oatmeal cans. Nothing. In fact, below is how I convince Elly to finally come home! Enter the broccoli again!

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What do you think happens if our daughter comes outside and calls to the pig? She comes home. Every time. I can’t say it enough. The two of them have an inseparable, love bond with each other. Its special. And who am I to argue with that?

Speaking of inseparable love bonds, our daughter recently had her last day of school. And how better to celebrate than insisting on bringing her porcine BFF to an overcrowded movie night in the park to hang with her and her closest 20 school friends.. and their parents… and the other 1,000 people who showed up for the concert we didn’t know was happening. Oh and did I mention there were also 3 simultaneous baseball games happening as well. Lets just say the park was packed and the kids were stoked.

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We planned ahead and brought a grocery sack full of produce. First we tried sitting with all of the families from school. That didn’t work because the pig started helping herself to everyone’s picnic food. Within minutes she grabbed a piece of watermelon and bolted out of range to eat it alone. Except she was not alone because about 20 new child aged friends followed her. After determining our seating was not going to work, we then set up camp on the outskirts of the movie viewing area. This was better. Our attention seeking pig was able to meet and greet without all of the food distractions. All seemed to be going well until Elly slipped out of her harness and took off towards one of the baseball games. A couple excited kids followed her which caused her to run faster. The husband and I ran closely behind trying to catch up. Of course the pig made it into the outfield and planted herself firmly into the ground chomping grass. I was fumbling to get her harness back on to move her out-of-the-way when someone from behind home plate starting yelling loudly for us to GET OFF THE FIELD. I could feel the blood running from my face with embarrassment as I was trying to get Elly to walk a couple of feet backwards. The pig was NOT interested in cooperating. The person yelling from home base got louder.. and louder.. and was soon demanding I pick the pig up! For anyone that has ever lifted a stubborn pig, they are HEAVY and aside from being heavy SQUEAL! Not knowing what else to do I leaned over and heaved her up onto my chest. Elly started squealing with such fervor that everyone just stopped and watched aghast. This pig was not going out easy and it was going to take me dragging her off the field to get the confrontation to stop. Hot, sweaty, and mortified I got the pig out of their outfield. We retreated back to our post. Elly, deciding she had enough, buried herself under a blanket with only her snout exposed. She was done. At least for 30 minutes. Enter our (clueless to the past 10 excruciating minutes) child. “Oh look, the pigs sleeping.” Defeated.

1 – pig

0 – The adults

 

This little piggy went to the Logan Square farmers market.

Call me crazy but I decided that for Mothers Day we would all go visit the grand opening of the Logan Square Farmers market for the summer season. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE this farmers market. Located on a tree lined street along the boulevard in the heart of a burgeoning urban neighborhood you feel like you have stepped out of the city and into the Midwest regions agricultural bounty! These folks have everything from fresh produce, hand made soaps, honey, maple syrup, seedlings, musical performances, and my most favorite blueberry lavender frozen yogurt from our friends at Yoberri Gourmet! In fact, if I have to choose between eating this particular frozen yogurt versus the calorie consumption of an entire meal I’m definitely siding with the dessert.

What does this have to do with our pet pig Elly you ask? While pigs are not purveyors of dairy, we did cheat this one special day and indulged her in said yogurt. I assume it fulfilled her deepest ice cream desires as it does mine. Every. Single. Summer.

Now back to our trip to the market. I knew coming here would be a giant investment of time. Every person we met (and thousands turn out Sunday mornings) would want to meet our porcine friend. We decided to plan appropriately and show up immediately at the 9am opening. All of the vendors were just starting to set up shop and we had a decent run of the place to ourselves. Except of course, pigs don’t typically run, so we weaved slowly around the parked tables while Elly scavenged for food! Fortunately for us, the vendors were keen on our porky friend and offered her unsaleable veggies like these!

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Thanks for the DELICIOUS heirloom tomatoes!

While the veggies were definitely fantastic. All of the amazing people made the trip worth the effort and time! There is just something about a pig in the city that gets folks giddy. A young toddler girl got eyes the size of marbles while pointing at Elly exclaiming “PIG!!! PIG!!!” The wonderment on her face and her contagious smile left me feeling amazed right along with her. Her mom mentioned that she loves pigs, but has only seen them in books. She was thankful her daughter got to meet Elly. Grown ups alike were beyond stoked to chat about Elly. What does she eat? Where does she live? I heard they make great pets, is that true? I started to feel a bit like a recording, yet each person was a bit different with their own energy. Somehow I never truly tired of chatting about Elly and as a result we made some great new acquaintances!

Like these!

We spent 4 amazing hours just roaming. We made friends several times with the helpful guy manning the bike valet tent. Elly loved the long, plush grass under his shaded bicycle abode. She could have stayed there all day I think. At one point while I was paying for tomatoes, Elly (and the daughter) took off running into one of the produce tents. A well meaning shopper tried helping to get control over the rambunctious pig by aiding our daughter in tugging her leash. Elly squealed her loudest, barnyard SQQUEAAALLLL! Everyone stopped confused by the commotion! I thanked her and took over Elly’s lead. You can’t tug a stubborn pig.

One of the last people that we ran into was a local photographer. We actually met her friend first.

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She was very talkative and very excited to spend time with Elly. I enjoyed just sitting in the grass with her while her friend Ashley took these intriguing shots! You can check her other amazing work out at www.ashleyletourneau.com

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By the end of our day we had spent 4 hours in total meandering around the market. We bought ourselves some rhubarb and asparagus, about 6 different seedlings for our own small, city garden, and a honey wax candle in the shape of a panda for our daughter. We also made a lot of new friends. And in the end, isn’t that the real fun in visiting neighborhood markets? Until next time Logan Square.

Eat like a pig!

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Never have I met an animal as perpetually starving as our pig Elly. The porkers entire existence revolves around obtaining food! From the moment we brought her home as a wee piglet, she has been obsessively focused on her next morsel. Pigs, like us, are omnivores and Elly eats the rainbow daily by gorging on peppers, greens, squashes, berries, apples, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and pretty much whatever needs used up from our crisper! In fact, I fondly refer to Elly’s veg consumption to that of an extra-large, over enthusiastic vegetarian man who has moved in and taken over our kitchen. In some ways though, I enjoy the pigs enthusiasm for food.

For example: I slave away in the kitchen making our daughter a delicious healthy, vegetable infused meal.

Me – Look! I made us delicious soup full of organic produce, sunshine, and good health!

Daughter – I don’t like this. Can I have some cereal?

Second example:

Me – Elly! I microwaved you a plate of peas!

Pig – (Sheer joy, admiration and the utmost level of appreciation for my efforts). She eats ALL of her food and asks for more!

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Yeah, on second thought, I think its more fun to feed the pig! Now don’t get me wrong. We were THOSE parents that were determined to have an organic, free range, no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives kid! We fed her the rainbow as a young tot, I spent a ridiculous amount of time making quinoa cakes and broccoli nuggets, and our kid still turned out a “picky eater.” So the pigs lust for food is a breath of fresh air. I can throw a pile of kale on a plate and my porcine friend thinks I’m amazing! It’s great, and I have decided that cooking for the pig is fun! Unfortunately, the pig can also get too excited about her food. So excited that the silly animal chokes on it! Let’s flash back a few weekends ago. Trying to be a nice person, I gave Elly a handful of grapes. The pig was so thrilled that she swallowed them whole! Too bad these were of the seeded variety because one literally got lodged in the pigs throat!

Me (to the husband) – The pig is choking on a grape in the kitchen!

Husband – I’m sure she is fine. That pig is always eating too fast!

Me – No really.. she’s heaving, and foaming, and I really think its stuck!

( after a few more minutes of persuading the pigs case… the husband enters the kitchen)

I spend a few moments patting the pigs back and offering words of encouragement. The pig starts to look woozy and we start to get nervous! I search online for “how to save a choking pig” and miraculously directions pop up! By this time our poor porker appears to be passing out and the husband, per the online instructions, is pushing a paintbrush handle down our porcine friend’s throat trying to dislodge the stubborn grape! He succeeds! We rush our pet to the vet where they stabilize her and forbid further grape consumption. After receiving the animal ER bill we agree, we throw the grapes away upon returning home!

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Elly’s hunger does not stop with mealtime though. The pig is ravenous at night as well, and usually her stomach starts raging at about 3am. How does a pig show hunger pains? She SQUEALS! From the first night we brought Elly home, the witching hour wake up calls ensued. Pigs are super smart. If we gave in with food she would expect it every night! So we covered our heads with pillows and tried ignoring her! Months later she now “sleeps in” until 5am before honking for food. I accept this as improvement! During the day we also have to take the proper precautions to keep Elly out of our food supply. Within a few months of her tender life, Elly learned how to open our cupboards and unload the food! She consumed an entire container of rice, a tub of nutritional yeast, and half a bag of popcorn kernels before giving up! We now child proof our cupboard doors. Again. But this time not for our actual child, but for our pig!

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I  do have to wonder how much food our little lady will need as she matures over the years. I already find myself perusing the grocery aisles grabbing snacks for the child… even more snacks for the pig! I suppose there is a reason the saying “eat like a pig” was coined! As usual, it just took us humans a bit to figure that out!

 

 

 

My pig is smarter than your honor student…

One of the largest adjustments in learning how to house a pig has involved combatting the pigs boredom. Pigs are super smart! So smart that they have been taught to play video games with joysticks, they can clean up their own toys, master complex tricks and even use tools (such as mirrors) to locate objects. One particular accomplishment of a swine herd, that I personally find hysterical, was discovered by Dr. Curtis at the University of Illinois. Pigs like to keep their living quarters very warm, and his porkers figured out how to turn the heat on in their cold barn on chilly nights! When the barn would reach the desired temperature, they shut the heat back off! HAH! Brilliant if you ask me! The pig rates 4th in total intelligence with humans in first place followed by apes, toothed whales and then pigs. But with the pigs smarts comes a dark side! Our porcine companions have the ability to be deceptive, manipulative, and vindictive!  Studies have shown that pigs within their own herds will demonstrate these behaviors to accomplish their own needs!

This brings me to Elly! She looks pretty peaceful right?

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Elly is a member of our family and lives in our bungalow in the city! When Elly gets bored, feels like she has been left home alone too long, is upset about not eating constantly, or just feels left out of the fun she gets into mischief!

How does a pig make trouble? Let me explain.

A few weeks back we had invited a contractor over to take a look at our basement bathroom. We needed some tile work done on our shower and were looking for a quote. Elly had been left home alone all day and was not interested in company. She wanted my sole, undivided, only for pigs attention. In a hurry to show the contractor our leaking shower I patted Elly on the head and rushed downstairs. The tile man starts talking about grout.. and flooring.. (insert lots of construction jargon here) … and then CRASH. We both pause for a moment. Me, knowing this is my disgruntled pig, continues in my conversation with the man. A few seconds later I hear Elly’s hooves above me.. CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CRASH! I holler over to our daughter to please go check on the pig. The tile man looks startled but continues talking to me about leveling concrete. Again… CLICK, CLICK, CRASH! This time I stop mid sentence.. “Excuse me.. I need to go check on my pig!!” I run upstairs and find Elly has trotted her way around our dining room table and purposefully knocked every dining room chair over with a vengeful swipe of her beastly head! I pick up the chairs and haul the disgruntled pig downstairs with me. If the tile man was distracted before, now he has a honking pig joining the conversation. He gives me a quote and leaves and surprisingly agrees to set up a date to come back to complete the work sans pig.

We also struggle with the time she is left home alone! While many folks have good success with crateing their pigs while gone from home, we have always chosen to live dangerously by allowing her semi-free access. Sometimes this backfires. Like yesterday for example.

Wow… thanks a lot pig! If you wanted to paint a picture all you had to do was ask! The 1,000 beads on the floor is also a fun bonus. Were you trying to make a bracelet? We could have helped with that too. Oh wait, we were not home!

In addition to the play room, Elly also loves opening and emptying the drawers in our bathroom, opening our kitchen cupboards, knocking over any and all garbage cans, slamming doors and triumphantly throwing stuffed animals all over our daughters room. It’s not even an option tell our actual kid to clean up her mess because the pig made it! Elly will also take to “reading” books while we are gone. Her favorites are Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson books about a porcine wonder! She enjoyed them so much that she ate the picture of the pig right off the cover!

We now prioritize finding ways to keep our porcine honor student engaged. Elly loves going for walks and showing off her strut to the neighborhood. She does a fancy array of tricks and loves learning new ones! She will graze outside like a California cow in the sunshine for HOURS. At the end of the day it’s just about acknowledging the pigs genius and keeping her engaged. It just took us humans a bit to figure that out!

Sleeping with Elly…

You can take the pig out of the barnyard but you elly12can’t take the barnyard out of the pig. Or at least that seems to ring true in trying to wrap my brain around our pigs sleep schedule. When we first brought our piglet home she woke throughout the night like a newborn baby. Now before the parental brigade gears up to rebut my comparison, I have earned the privilege of using this statement with confidence as I have also endured sleepless nights with an actual newborn, not the porcine variety. Now back to my lack of sleep. When Elly spent her first nights in our home she woke us every couple of hours. But she didn’t just keep to herself, she woke with scream level squealing while barreling full speed through our house. I chalked this annoyance up to the poor porker being lonely and would sit with her, rubbing her belly until she fell back asleep. This lasted about a month.

4 weeks later:

The pig had adjusted to sleeping at night under a massive pile of blankets at the foot of our bed until about 3am. At the exact stroke of 3 she would leap to her feet honking and squealing for food. Knowing that pigs are extremely intelligent, as well as manipulative we threw pillows over our heads and tried our hardest to ignore her. If any one of us caved and got up to feed the pig, she would expect it every night!!

3am – HONKING

3:30am – ANGRY HONKING

4am – PATHETIC HONKING

4:30am – HOARSE HONKING

Did I mention that pigs honk like geese? Yes, in their rainbow of sounds “goose” is in fact one of them. Typically it’s used in times of great frustration. Starvation in the wee hours of the morning is one of them.

6am – The pig gets food! Hallelujah!

8 (painful) weeks later:

The pig is now sleeping until roughly 5 am. But forget porcine noise making, Elly grew wise to our bedroom door being the perfect distance from the foot of our bed to SLAM together!! The first night she literally sent me leaping to my feet looking for an intruder. Alas, the pig had used her robust snout to slam our door obnoxiously into the foot of our bed. “Elly NO” I sleepily shout and go back to sleep. Moments later she slams the door even harder! You asked for it pig! I shove her out of our room and shut the door. Elly groans, moans, honks, and “hooves” our bedroom door in retaliation. I throw a pillow over my head trying hard to zone her out and fall back asleep. The husband stays sleeping the entire time.

12 (sleepy) weeks later:

Elly is sleeping until about 15 minutes before my alarm goes off. While slamming our bedroom door has proven ineffective in getting an early breakfast, she has taken to lifting our under the bed totes with her iron snout and then dropping them. It creates a crazy loud noise that permeates from under the bed. The first night it happens I literally jump about 5 feet and start panicking. What was that?!?!?! Oh just our angry, morning driven pig wanting food. UGH! I shove the pig out of our room and realizing that I have 10 whole minutes left to sleep throw a pillow over my head and attempt to “rest” for a moment. We have come so far pig!!! Why?!?! I lazily get up and feed the hangry animal. She happily dances and honks at me with excitement. How can I stay mad at that?

The following night:

The pig curls up under a pile of stuffed animals in our daughters room. The husband and I tip toe into our bedroom hoping to not disturb her! We feel like we have won!! Not so fast though sleep deprived parents! The daughter wakes us up in the middle of the night. “The pig is being ANNOYING…”

 

 

 

Let’s take the pig for a walk!

April 15th, 2017

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This seemingly innocent request from my 7 year old daughter felt simple enough. We had recently purchased a bonified pig harness online and the weather was actually decent enough to coax Elly out of the house long enough to take a jaunt down the street.  The issue was my naïve assumption that the pigs first walk would be simple. Walking a pig is actually nothing like walking a dog! Especially walking a pig for the very first time! I discovered this phenomena the first time we tried crossing the street together. While we live on a residential street, being in the city there is a good amount of traffic! People speed up to the stop signs, barely stopping before they race on in a hurry. Some days it seems like everyone is in a big hurry. So when Elly decided to stop dead in her tracks in the middle of the cross walk I gave her a firm tug trying to force her to finish crossing.
 

BIG MISTAKE.

 
Elly bore down into the ground, started backing up with feverish intensity all while SCREAMING at the top of her lungs. If you have never heard a pig scream it is LOUD!!! I found myself literally wanting to melt into the asphalt at this point but I continued grabbing for the PO’d porcine with absolutely no luck!! I started waving apologetically at the line of cars that had now piled up at the stop sign, holding my breath waiting for someone to start blaring their horn at me to get myself AND my CRAZY pig out of the street. But much to my surprise, the lady in the first car stepped out of her drivers side to start recording the whole ordeal on her phone! She was laughing hysterically. The people behind her seemed amused as well. Thank god because I don’t think this could get much more embarrassing. I finally get a hold of Elly and by this point she is squealing her most boisterous, obnoxious barnyard squeal and people in the surrounding houses start bolting out of their front doors to see what all of the commotion is about. I finally catch the slippery pig and haul her out of the street all while yelling an apology to everyone congregating that “we are fine and VERY sorry” and that “our pig was just scared.” Nothing to see here anymore people. Please go back in your cars and houses and let me die of embarrassment alone!
 
 
Take-Away 1 – Never tug on the pig.
 
 
Once we got the hang of how to motivate Elly to follow us around the neighborhood and make haste across the street (i.e. Cheerios in a Ziploc bag) walking the porker became more enjoyable for everyone. The only issue is that you never actually make it anywhere. We live in a dense, Chicago neighborhood and EVERYONE wants to meet the pig! I realized quickly that you can’t take your pig for a walk feeling anti-social. Almost every person you run into wants to pet the pig. Kids, grown ups, elderly people, pretty much everyone starts squealing and bombards you with their excitement. The little ones are the best! Kids think she is Peppa pig. One little boy asked me how long it took me to walk to the city from my farm! They gingerly touch her snout, feed her Cheerios, and ask about a hundred questions! Teenagers are amused as well. They are as excited as the kids, holding up their i-phones and recording Elly’s antics as a simultaneous pack. But Elly’s visitors do not stop with folks on foot, people in their cars are amused as well! We have experienced people hanging out their windows recording Elly on their phones, shouting to us about how cool they find our pig, and many pulling over piling out of their cars to say hello! In some ways I have enjoyed the attention. Living in a time and place where people often don’t bother to get to know each other, Elly has introduced us to more neighbors in the past month then we met the last 5 years. Its honest, good old fashioned conversation. With name exchanges, and chatter about which block everyone lives on, and all of the typical porcine questionings. Some from the elderly generation very matter of fact question in broken English when we will “eat the pig” while their kids shush them with “MOM.. NO!! and apologize profusely. I find it amusing and an indication of a change in times. One enthusiastic woman today was running down the street proclaiming that she “loved my pork” while her son stifled his laughter requesting she call our pet “PIG” not “PORK.!!” I laughed and told her I understood.
 
 
 
Take-Away 2 – Pigs bring communities together
 
 
Never walk a pig planning on getting anywhere. I once saw a meme online stating that walking a pig is like flying a retarded kite. Kite’s actually get somewhere though, so I’m not sure that the correlation is accurate! Aside from stopping and talking to people every few feet, pigs literally move at their own pace. When Elly decides to run, the whole herd runs. When Elly decides to stop, we all stop. Today we decided to walk for ice cream. It took 2 hours. The ice cream place is a 15 minute walk at best. At one point Elly flopped over in a muddy ditch to rest. She found a dead bird, an apple core someone threw out, a banana peel, about 50 new friends, plastic wrappers, a beer can, a VERY interesting plant, about 25 more friends… (you get the picture). After trying multiple times to speed things up by getting the stubborn porcine to ride pleasurably in our wagon we gave up. Daddy got left with Elly on a corner a few blocks from home and the child and I went the rest of the way to pick up the ice cream sans pig. The plan was for the husband and the pig to work their way towards us after the split. We found them in the exact same spot 15 minutes later! Traffic had stopped, cars had unloaded, and people were making friends with the pig that had flopped over in a bed of landscaping. It took luring the porker with frozen yogurt and fruit to get her back home.
 
 
 
Take-Away 3 – Never take your pig anywhere in a hurry!

So how is it owning a pig?

March 14th, 2017

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So how is it owning a pig for a pet?

This is the question I get asked on a regular basis since we adopted our Juliana pig named Elly and brought her into our family home in the city. I have to admit, I was never prepared for the uncharted territory that would ensue upon her arrival. Even the simplest of tasks seem a bit more complex when navigating decisions for our new porcine friend.

Case in point 1: Pig Supplies

Pigs eat mini pig food. Target does not sell mini pig food. For this I turned to the friendly folks of Ross Mill Farms. A lovely foster home for parentless pigs set in the rolling hills of Bucks County PA. Their website boasts pics of happy, free range, piggy adoptee hopefuls. What isn’t there to love about that? I decide I like these people and order a 20 pound box of Champion Pig Food from them. The food promises good health and disposition. I find the latter claim entertaining! In finding other supplies for our porcine housemate I have attempted to shop local. Somehow I feel oddly left out of the fun when I visit PetSmart. There are giant graphics of proud owners nuzzling their cats and running through fields with their dogs. Entire color coded sections of the store are designated to canine and feline companions with small, dismal subsections for the reptile, fish and bird folks. But there is literally NOTHING for the pet pig. A few weeks back I found myself staring confused at the dog harnesses. It was going to be close to 70 in Chicago in February and I wanted to take my pig for a walk!!! Somehow none of these canine harnesses looked quite right for my new friends giant head. One of the associates sees me confused and asks if I need help.

Sales Associate – Are you finding everything ok?
Me – I’m trying to find a harness for my pig.. and I cant tell if any of these will fit over her giant head!
Sales Associate – Did you say your pig?
Me – Yes, I have a pig and I want to take her for a walk.
Sales Associate – Do you live here in the city?? How do you have a pig in the city?
Me – Yes, we live here in the city…. and Elly is our house pig.
Sales Associate – Sorry.. umm.. no one has ever asked me for a harness for their pig. Good luck with that.

I blindly buy 2 harnesses and drive home feeling confident! Upon returning, Elly takes one smug look at the “dog harness” and shoots out of the kitchen squealing! It takes myself, the husband, and the cheering support of our 7 year old daughter to chorale her back. In very little time, and with a very mad pig we determined that dogs and pigs are not anatomically similar! Epic fail! I drive back to the PetSmart and return the sack of harnesses to the same guy that had chatted with me earlier. This time he does not ask me any questions. Instead of perusing the canine section again, I decide to reach out to my pig loving friends on the PA farm. They have a picture of a happy hog on their website wearing his “comfort fit harness” and looking quite content. I order one in purple.. and another box of food for good measure. Upon its arrival it fits perfect.. and my stubborn porcine friend wears it around the house!

Case in Point 2: Veterinary Care

With every pet there is a need for a good vet! I needed to find one that would welcome our pig! After searching for “exotic vets” I decided to try “Dr. Sarah” at the Paws and Feathers Veterinary Clinic. Luckily for Elly, her care would be simple with a de-worming, minimal shots and a spay surgery. Why spay a city pig you ask? For starters, I have read literature on the raging PMS that little girl pigs get as they blossom into full blown lady pigs! While I never got to experience this phenomena in its entirety, our dear Elly was developing hormonal changes and mood swings that left her insistently trying to attract a neighborhood boy pig! How do lady pigs woo themselves a man? By peeing all over the house!! Little did she know that the nearest boar was easily 100 miles away, and no amount of stubborn urination was going to change that! In addition, near the start of her “big change,” her general demeanor had become more dramatic. I decide to reach out to Pig Breeder Jenna for advice.

Me – Do you think its time to spay Elly. She is almost 5 months and she’s acting like she’s lost her mind!

Pig Breeder Jenna – It’s possible she is starting to ovulate. I think now would be a good time to schedule her spay. It will help a lot with her mood swings!

Me – The pig is being super dramatic! She struts around the house swinging her lady hips and screaming about anything she does not like! Not to mention she has started peeing EVERYWHERE! I literally hired this little British rug enthusiast named Simon to save my rugs! He said they are literally FILLED with “organic matter”

Pig Breeder Jenna – A pig in heat is no joke! Elly’s mom Josie is a stubborn one as well. She is the head sow among my girls! The other pigs really respect her.

Me – Head sow? That’s a thing huh? Ughh

9am the following day I schedule Elly’s reproductive demise.

Case in Point 3: The nuances of owning a pig…

I get it. I really do. Having a pig is a strange idea to many. It is a pet that as a family we did a lot of research on before buying. We knew a pig was a huge commitment and wanted to understand what we were getting into! I don’t think any amount of research could have completely prepared us for the charade of antics that would follow. From the retaliation turds of Elly’s potty training weeks to ripping Mercy Watson’s photos off the covers of our daughters Kate DiCamillo books Elly has kept us on our toes. For reference, Mercy Watson is the famous “Porcine Wonder” depicted in a lovely series of children’s books. Mercy is mischievous and smart. Perhaps our Elly wanted a fellow swine role model? In addition to being an avid reader, our piggy companion also quickly learned how to open cupboard doors. Recently she opened and consumed my entire containers of both rice and nutritional yeast. This adventure ended with an enthusiastic puke on my couch cushion. Thanks pig. Good thing Target DOES sell baby locks. We have also found that our Elly is an enthusiastic early riser. And lately, she has taken to head butting our bedroom door at 5am. Why you ask? The pig wants food. Now any good mini-pig training literature will remind you that pigs are herd animals. It is important for the humans in the home to rank above the pig. Feeding an irate, head slamming pig at 5 in the morning does not reinforce good hierarchy. So we ignore her with pillows over our heads. Rumor has it this too will stop. One of my personal favorites in acquiring our pet pig was simultaneously hiring a new sitter for our 7 year old daughter. For the first time, I sat typing the online listing for part time employment confused on how to integrate “pig duty” into the verbiage. Finally I settled on household “responsibilities include caring for our pet pig.” There. I said it. And lo and behold, people still responded and one so enthusiastic about the kid AND the pig that we interviewed and hired her. I will never forget her first night and the stream of texts that I got.

Babysitter – So I think your pig likes me. I got your daughter to bed and now the pig and I are on the couch together snuggling. Every time I try to get up Elly runs after me moaning and groaning all miserable. She literally sounds like an angry kid and wont stop! I’m not sure what to do with her!

Me – Yeah, the pig turns into an angry toddler at night. You just have to tuck her back in under her blankets and tell her its bedtime.

Babysitter – Yeah I think I am just going to hold it next time.

Case in Point 4: Pigs are not small

I think this is the most controversial question about owning a pig and the most commonly asked. How big will she get?? Honestly? We don’t know. I recently showed a picture of our Elly to a customer of mine at work. She took a look at the pic and quickly said “Oh how cute! But why didn’t you get one of those tea cup pigs???” Well funny thing.. I went to where they sell unicorns and they were fresh out of pocket sized pigs! So we got this one instead! Mini pigs can range from 50 pounds to 300 pounds depending on the breed. There is absolutely no such thing as a pig that stays tiny. Farm hogs can weigh 600 plus pounds, so in the scope of “mini” these pigs are smaller than their rural cousins. Our pig will get however big she gets. Her parents were 3-4 year old “small-ish” Juliana pigs. I am assuming she will look like them. But honestly, we love our little lady. Her size is not our focus. She adds humor, and spunk, and snuggles to our home! Our daughter lights up every time she talks about her. She is our pet. And despite all the differences, we would not want it any other way.