by Tom Hooley

I had a close co-worker who grew up on a farm in Indiana. We used to share stories of our childhood and often laughed at the odd rituals that our different upbringings imposed on us. Since my Mom was English, I was forced to eat "fish and chips" several times a week. Given my choice, I would rather have enjoyed some BBQ ribs. Rob, on the other hand, loved fish and fishing but absolutely refused to eat pork.

I once asked Rob why he disliked eating pork. Having lived on a farm, I expected he would tell me how dirty they were or that they ate garbage. "Pigs are emotionally very much like humans," Rob said, "and once you've been around them you just can't eat them."

Rob told me a collection of farm stories and traditions, mostly dealing with the horror that pigs sense when one of their "friends" is about to become tomorrow's dinner. "It's no joke," Rob warned, "they cry and squeal and get depressed. But they also are very friendly and bond and make friends with their keepers."

I was reminded of these pig stories when I received word that several thousand households in America had potbellied pigs, a specially bred pig, as indoor pets. These pigs are large - a lot of pork - but they're definitely not for eating. Their keen intellect and strong emotional attachments have made them "family members" to the lonely, elderly and disabled. They are also a more intimate pet than, say a dog or cat, and get along great with kids.

Potbellied Pets, "Reggie" and "Pepper" often entertain and visit with the elderly
in Retirement and Nursing Homes.

Odd choice? Maybe not as odd as you might think. Rebecca DiNolfi, Vice President of the Delaware Valley Pot-bellied Association says that they are one of the cleanest, most intelligent animals that you could have as a pet.

"They are just like children. They cry real tears, they never forget a person, and they naturally bond with people very closely. They are easy to train and they reward you with love."

But before you convert your garage into a Pot-bellied guest house, you should know that there are problems. Some people hate pigs. They hate pigs so much that they have forcibly taken these lovable pets from their homes, causing heartbreak and sadness to both the pigs and their keepers. In one recent case, a Connecticut woman who has had her two Pot-bellied pets for over eight years has been ordered to surrender them to the State. Her refusal to comply with this legal order, initiated by her pig-hating neighbor, costs her $40 a day in contempt charges while she appeals her case.

Many pig owners are opposed by antiquated laws that see pigs of any breed as "livestock" and thus tend to view their conjoint living with humans as unhealthy, unclean and even uncivilized. These old laws were designed to restrict the locations of rural farms, where chickens freely roamed the kitchen and cattle munched on the front lawn. Understandably, urban sprawl could not allow placing a housing development next to a cow pasture. And so such areas were zoned to exclude the keeping of livestock.

These zoning laws never anticipated the infatuation that urbanites would have with this specially bred pig, whose nature and intellect raises the emotional well-being of so many households.

"In Anaheim, California, home to Disneyland, there are over 200 Pot-bellied pets living in good homes," reports Rebecca, "What will become of these domesticated and affectionately pampered pigs?" What will happen indeed. It is one thing to raise animals for food, letting them roam with little or no interaction with humans, but when you actually become emotionally involved with a pig, a cobra, a cat or any animal, they take on a special meaning and often give their owners unconditional love - yes love - that becomes central to their owners mental health and happiness.

It is no wonder, then, that pig owners are banning together to fight. Imagine if dogs, a "livestock" food in some Asian countries, were taken from family homes and turned into sausages and roasts! Pig owners feel the same about their pets. They want the government to leave them alone and to change these antiquated laws - the same laws that allow such violent and viscous creatures as Rotwilders and Pitbulls to roam with impunity, often targeting young children in hundreds of fatal attacks each year.

"They just want love and to be loved," says Rebecca. And is that so bad?

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