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Pet pigs make house their home

By Mary Collister
Published April 6, 2007


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Barbara Baker's home at first seems very typical.

There's nothing out of place, and two colorful pup tents look like the remnants of a child's rainy-day activity.

Inside one of the tents, though, two long, dark mounds stir. Baker quickly introduces the other members of her family: 13-year-old Lord Chapman - "Lordy" for short - and Lady Lee, age 14. In the other tent is Princess Grace, also known as Gracie. Just 7 years old, she's the youngest and most dominant of Baker's three Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs.

And there's more to Baker's menagerie: four cats and a bird.

Children have a way of introducing pets into a household, and the Baker home was no different.

"Our daughter wanted a dog and cat, but my husband was allergic to both. So I came home with a potbellied pig. That was the start."

Indeed, it was just the beginning.

"They must be fed two or three times daily at the same time each day," Baker said. "Food is the most important thing to pigs, and they can get grumpy and stressed if not fed on schedule."

Pigs also require routine veterinary care including vaccinations, hoof grooming and oral hygiene. Potbellied pigs are susceptible to heart and respiratory problems.

"They have small organs in relation to their body size, and that takes its toll," Baker said.

Despite personality quirks that make pigs a bit of a challenge, Baker thinks they're the perfect pet. "They are very intelligent and have a way of manipulating their owners," she said.

Food and manipulation issues aside, Baker said they're great housemates: They stay clean, don't smell, require little exercise and don't eat much. Each of Baker's pigs gets one-third cup of pig pellets and a handful of steamed vegetables at each feeding. She also adds about a cup of diluted Gatorade to the bowl after they eat.

"Pigs don't drink much water, and this is a way to get them to drink," she said.

The animals also enjoy grazing and have free run of a fenced back yard that they can access from inside her Ruskin home.

"They come in and out as they wish," Baker explained.

The most important activity for the pigs, next to mealtime, is human contact. Baker sits on the floor, and Gracie ambles over and flops next to her, anticipating a belly rub.

"Gracie insists I sit on the floor with her," she said.

Baker also runs The Duchess Fund, which was started after her 2-year-old pig, Duchess of Pork, died in 1999 of liver disease. The ultimate goal is to extend the life and improve the quality of life to these companion animals.

"We want a database that is helpful to the medical caretakers of our pigs," she said.

Baker also helps with a nationwide rescue group for unwanted pigs. "Some people are not as well informed about the pigs as they should be before bringing them into their home and quickly learn the pigs aren't a good match with their family."

Finding foster homes for the pigs is difficult because there has to be a quarantine area, according to Baker. There's also typically a dominant pig, causing many hard-fought battles until one establishes dominance.

"This is very stressful on the (animals), so it is difficult to introduce new pigs into a household," she said.

With two older and one middle-aged pig, Baker isn't sure she'll add any more. "My husband and I want to travel, and each time we leave the house I must have a pig sitter come stay here," she said.

[Last modified April 5, 2007, 07:22:02]


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