Ziggy is a well-loved rescue pet. He has his own bedroom, his own general store and his own blog with a following.
Three years ago, Ziggy’s future was uncertain. He was given up for adoption when he was 8 months old and weighed 40 pounds.
Ziggy was well on his way to becoming the 165-pound Vietnamese pot-bellied pig he is now when his owners realized they didn’t have a little pet on their hands.
“His owners were moving and said they couldn’t keep him,” said Angie Deras, 49, of Kearney, who saw Ziggy advertised on Facebook.
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It’s a story Deras knows only too well. For more than 17 years, she was the animal-control supervisor in Gladstone. She saw how pet owners abandoned or dropped their animals off at the shelter when they became inconvenient.
“It’s frustrating,” Deras said. “For the same reasons rescue groups exist for dogs, you can substitute ‘pig’ in the sentence.”
Like puppies, piggies are given away when they “become a burden or the cute factor wears off,” said Kayli Houk, 28, of Kansas City.
Houk is president of the Kansas City Pig Rescue Network, a collaboration of groups working throughout the metropolitan area to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home pet pigs.
Ziggy was lucky. Angie and her husband, Marc Deras, paid Ziggy’s owners $100 and took him to their home in rural Kearney. There, he met the other four-footed family members: three dogs and two cats.
Like many rescue animals, Ziggy was traumatized by the move.
“He screamed an ear-piercing shrill all the way home,” Deras recalled. “He was absolutely terrified.”
Deras said she spent a lot of time talking to Ziggy, comforting and reassuring him, and, in about three weeks, he was acclimated to his new home.
Ziggy is different from the dogs and cats in the Deras household because he has hooves and a bristly coat. Other than that, Ziggy is as much a pet as the others.
“He is just as personable, affectionate and social as a dog,” Deras said. “Pigs are highly intelligent and they can pick up on your body posture, your tone of voice.”
Angie and Marc Deras accommodated their home to his needs.
Ziggy, it appeared, didn’t care much for the carpet in the house and pulled it up with his snout. So, they got rid of the carpet.
Marc Deras built a bed for Ziggy and they gave him his own room. He even has his own store — Ziggy’s General Store across the road from Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site.
The Derases bought a former bait shop, remodeled it, named it after their pet pig, and opened the store in July 2016.
The store sells bait and tackle, firewood, camp supplies, hand-crafted dolls, groceries, cinnamon rolls, sandwiches, ice cream and other goods.
While Ziggy’s name is on the store and his face is on roadside billboards, Ziggy can’t come inside, because food is prepared and sold there. Thus, Clay County health regulations prohibit a pig’s presence.
Ziggy has acquired quite a following anyway. He rides on the store’s float in the annual Jesse James festival parade. He attends outdoor parties given in his honor at the store, and he has his own blog on the general store’s Facebook page, “Ziggy’s Corner.”
Ziggy’s occasional visits to the general store delight regular customers and attract attention from motorists.
“We were just driving by and thought he was a dog,” said Julie Reinhardt of Liberty on a Sunday in November when Ziggy was outside the store.
Ziggy’s bright red harness caught the eye of her 2-year-old grandson, Malcolm Reinhardt, and they stopped to pet the dog that turned out to be a pig.
Malcolm giggled as he hand-fed Ziggy an apple. Enthralled with all the attention Ziggy was ... well, as happy as a pig in sunshine. He snorted, rooted through the grass and gravel, ate apples — all the while grunting, squealing, waddling and wagging his tail.
That’s right. Ziggy was wagging his tail, not a curlicue, but a slender reed wagging happily back and forth.
Dogs may be limited to barking, growling or baying but pigs have a wide range of vocal expressions.
Of course, they oink and squeal, but they also emit a low-throated rumble emphasized by a pawing of the ground, a continual monotone grunt of contentment and a snort of disbelief when asked to do something the pig doesn’t want to do.
Ziggy threw his head back and snorted when it was time to leave the store, get in the van and head for home. His snort of disapproval rapidly swelled to a crescendo of outrage. He was having fun and did not want to go.
Perhaps Ziggy knew that he wouldn’t be coming back any time soon — the store was closing until February 1, 2018, and that’s a long time in pig days.
Deras has learned to interpret his utterances.
“There’s a grunt or squeal for everything,” she said.
Some pig owners believe their pet’s communication skills are only part of what make them such good pets.
“Pigs are smarter than dogs,” said Randi Lutz, of Tonganoxie, who has both. “They’re easy to train, curious, always thinking and up to something.”
Lutz has three rescue pigs and two piglets she is fostering until they’re socialized, neutered, vaccinated, microchipped and eligible for adoption at the end of January.
Lutz said she has taught her own pigs commands such as sit, wait and spin — to turn around in circles. Two of her pigs live indoors. The third prefers the hog shed outside.
Lutz’s pigs live with her and her husband on about 10 acres outside Tonganoxie.
After hearing the “horror stories” of her own pigs’ abuse and neglect, Lutz volunteered to foster other pigs for the Kansas City Pig Rescue Network.
The piglets, about 11 weeks old, are being housed in extra large dog kennels in a bedroom of their walk-out basement.
“My job is to socialize and housebreak them,” Lutz said.
Having dogs and cats around helps familiarize the piglets with other animals. Lutz said she gets the piglets comfortable with other people by inviting guests to go downstairs with her and sit and talk to them.
The piglets are two of 54 now in the pig rescue network’s foster homes. The network, which was incorporated in 2017, has placed more than 40 pigs in permanent homes.
They’re often treated like “throw-away” animals, said Teresa Kearney, 46, whose farm is home to seven pet pigs and a wide variety of other animals in Cleveland, Mo.
Kearney was one of the founders of the Kansas City Pig Rescue Network and frequently provides foster care on her seven acres in rural Cass County.
She has taken in pigs so badly neglected that their growth was stunted. Some could barely walk, some were much too young — three weeks old, for example — and some were “fat blind,” because they were so overfed that rolls of fat pushed down over their eyelids and they couldn’t see.
With a lot of patience, Kearney has given the unwanted pigs a home and the kind of assurances they need to trust their caregivers.
Standing at the fence and hollering “sooey,” for example, is not the way to call these pigs. Kearney’s pet pigs know and respond to their names — Milly, George, Melvin, Hazel, Pepper, Susie and Oliver.
“With a rescue pig, they get scared and nervous,” she said. “Unlike cats and dogs, who are predators, pigs are prey animals and their instincts are to be afraid. It takes a lot of time.”
And a lot of pumpkin.
Right after Halloween, a hefty load of unsold pumpkins was hauled to her farm for the pigs. The pumpkins and all the feed for Kearney’s foster pigs are paid for by donations to the network, she said.
Pumpkins are a good source of fiber for the pigs as well as a good source of amusement.
Like human toddlers, the pigs enjoyed playing with their food, using their strong snouts to toss pumpkin halves into the air.
Misinformation is the reason many pigs end up in foster care, Houk said. Buzzwords like “teacup, nano, micro and dwarf” often are used to describe a piglet that is small only because it is so young.
“If you want to get an idea how big a piglet will be, ask to see the mother,” said Heather Bornheim, veterinarian and livestock services resident at the teaching hospital of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University in Manhattan.
A small pig is the Juliana breed whose weight averages 65 pounds, Bornheim said. A Vietnamese pot-bellied pig averages about 165 pounds.
“You need to keep their weight under control,” she said. “Or they can develop arthritis and eye problems.”
Pet pigs, often regulated as livestock in ordinances and zoning codes in communities, differ from commercial pigs in their dietary needs.
“There’s a lot more protein in commercial pig feed than a pet pig needs,” Bornheim said.
Pet pigs need annual, sometimes semiannual, trimming of the teeth and toes by a professional. Left untrimmed, teeth can grow into tusks that lead to abscesses and other medical problems. Often the pig needs to be sedated for the trimming to be performed.
They also need respiratory and skin-disease vaccinations. If housed with horses or if required by local ordinances, they also may need a rabies vaccination, Bornheim said.
Adopting a pig is a serious commitment and should never be an impulsive decision or a surprise gift, Houk said. Under-prepared homes give up or abandon many of the pigs purchased as Christmas presents shortly after the holidays.
Pigs could be considered as Christmas gifts if a family “has done all their research, checked their zoning ordinances and found a pig-experienced vet,” she said.
Zoning is often an issue with pet pigs. In some parts of Johnson County and elsewhere in the metropolitan area, “you have to apply for a special permit through the city to have pigs at your residence,” Houk said.
In 2016, Jade George and her husband moved from Olathe to Paola because “living in a suburban community with two pigs wasn’t easy.”
Living in Paola, George said, allows them to help more pigs. They now have five pigs including Petunia, a 700-pound Yorkshire that fell off a transport truck on a highway in central Kansas.
“She came to us with two breaks in her back leg and tons of road rash,” George said. “We were really excited to give Petunia the chance to live her life out as a pet with us.”
Petunia is now healthy and playful.
“Pigs make wonderful family pets,” said Debbie Henderson, of Paola, who owns three.
Henderson said she adopted her first pig more than 25 years ago, a pot-bellied pig that lived to be 15 years old.
“You definitely need to do your research before adding a pig to your family,” she said.
Her recommendations include making sure pigs are allowed where you live; making sure you have the space, resources and time to care for them properly; and having a knowledgeable veterinarian in your area willing to work on a pet pig.
“We truly love our three pigs,” she said. “They are house-trained and very clean but they’re not for everyone.”
Ready to pig out on more pig-related info?
Here are some resources for readers interested in more information about pigs as pets or the Kansas City Pig Rescue Network, which can be reached by email to email@example.com:
Check out these websites:
American Mini Pig Association: americanminipigassociation.com
Mini Pig Info: minipiginfo.com
Or connect on Facebook:
Kansas City Pig Rescue Network: https://www.facebook.com/kcpigrescuenetwork/
Missouri and Kansas Pet Pig Parents: https://www.facebook.com/groups/403067626565796/