Missing Your Pot-bellied Pig?

Pets go missing. It’s a sad but true fact in many parts of the world, including ours.

Log onto social media or look at signs fastened to utility poles or check the Lost-and- Found classifieds in any newspaper. Dogs and cats get lost, but they’re not the only kind of pets that do.  It happens with parrots and pythons. Sugar gliders and skinks. Turtles and tarantulas. It even happened with a pet kangaroo in Sparta just a few months ago.

Farm animals get lost, too. Cows push through fences. Horses open gates. Years ago, when I lived on a farm, a billy goat showed up in my pasture. Try as I might, I never found his owner. So I named him Billy and fed him hay and sweet feed for the rest of his long life.

And what about pigs? When it comes to livestock, they’re in a category all their own. Evidence suggests that pigs are far more than a source of bacon and pork chops and country ham. Pigs have proven themselves to be cognitively complex and highly social creatures. Animal scientists rank the intelligence of pigs right alongside that of dogs and perhaps even on par with primates like chimpanzees.

Anyone who watched the 1960s CBS sitcom “Green Acres” knows this to be true. Remember how the pig Arnold Ziffel, surrogate son of Fred and Doris, could write his name in cursive, play the piano, change the TV channel and do lots of other stuff? Arnold was amazing.

All of which leads to what this column is really about. One night close to bedtime, I grew bored with the book I was reading and began scrolling through Facebook. An unusual post caught my eye. It pictured a chubby spotted pig and said this: “I live in Bloomington Springs. One of the aggravating parts about having a small homestead is that every farm animal that is loose in the neighborhood belongs to us. NOT! …I now have someone’s potbelly in a pen because I can’t afford to have it tear up my chicken tractors to get at the feed so it will stay penned (I hope)…I had a spinal fusion two weeks ago. There is no way I can water the pig so someone better come after it soon.”

Wow. Sometimes a newspaper column falls right into your lap. What else could I do but ask Susan Richardson, the person who posted this story, to call me?

She did. As it turns out, I already sort of knew her. She volunteers in period costume at White Plains Plantation during the Algood Quilt Festival and at Grandma’s Barnyard during the Putnam County Fair. For the past 35 years, Susan has worked a small farm, where she raises poultry, sheep and, sometimes, hogs. Until the stray potbelly showed up, she was down to only one pig, partially because of a bad back and also because her husband’s job as an OTR truck driver means she works the farm alone most of the time.

With the help of a neighbor and a little encouragement from her walking cane, she managed to coax the stray into the hog lot with her other pig. “People around here dump pot-bellied pigs all the time,” she told me. “They get them when they’re little and think they’ll make great pets. When that turns out not to be true, they just turn them loose.”

It was mid-June when Susan told me she didn’t intend to keep the pig, but a month later it’s still with her. I asked if she’d named it, thinking that “Arnold Ziffel” might be a good choice, although he was a Chester White pig, not a potbelly. “No,” Susan said. “It’s a female. I just call it the little girl. I guess we’re stuck with her until the right person shows up to give this pig a forever home.”

If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll pass your name along.

(July 15, 2023)