Potbellied Pigs: Are the Lardiest Pets a Health Hazard?

"They're not apartment animals," said Finck. "They are so intelligent that they do things like pull the wallpaper off the wall when they are bored."

"New York is not the ideal place," added Finck. "I am not saying it's not doable, but I wouldn't recommend it. They like to be stimulated, and you have to be really invested in them. You can't be at work 10 to 12 hours a day."

Potbellied pigs were popular during the 1980s, but then went out of fashion because of the destruction factor. It takes a special type of person to own one, Finck said.

Clooney Mourns Max

Actor George Clooney shared his Hollywood home with a 300-pound potbellied pig until Max the star went to hog heaven at the age of 18, after suffering from arthritis and partial blindness.

"He's been a big part of my life," Clooney — who even sometimes shared the same bed with his pet — told People magazine last year.

Finck said there has been a "resurgence" of interest in potbellied pigs, which can live for 15 to 20 years. She said that, despite the stereotypes of mud-wallowing hogs, most are clean, healthy creatures.

Rivaled in intelligence only by primates, whales and dolphins, pigs learn faster than dogs, and can even be trained to count.

Pet pigs are reasonably priced — at less than $500, no more than a purebred dog — although there is the bill for copious amounts of food. It is no myth, say breeders, that hogs need to watch their weight.

Pigs only shed their coats once a year, when they lose their bristles in the spring. Unlike cats and dogs, they don't get fleas, because the insects can't bite through their tough skin. Mites can be a problem, though.

"And they're quieter than a dog," said Finck. "They don't bark, they oink, and they don't go crazy at the door. They don't jump up on you or get out and run around the neighborhood. They are not aggressive, and will only bite if they are afraid. Their typical response is to run away. They hate confrontation."

But like other domesticated animals, pigs need all their inoculations and health checks. Finck's town also requires that the animals be spayed, and places limits on the numbers in a home. If they are off the property, they must be on a leash.

"Pigs can do just about anything you teach them to do," said Finck. "They are one of few animals that have reasoning ability, and apply a learned procedure."

Beau, a 150-pounder who died of cancer at 16, learned that he could pull the dish towel that hung on the refrigerator to open the door and get vegetables on the bottom shelf.

Helps Himself to Dinner

"He'd go help himself," Finck said.

Piggie performing acts can play basketball, deliver and open mail and even play instruments, according to Finck. In one show closer, she saw a pig hop into a suitcase and close it.

When Finck holds up colored flash cards and asks Barbie which is the blue one, she uses her nose to indicate. One of her friends taught her pig to count. When asked, "what's two plus two?" the hog would respond by pawing the ground four times.

As far as care is concerned, potbellied pigs need their hooves trimmed, and sometimes, their tusks need cutting back — not an easy task, said Finck, because "pigs don't like being constrained."

They can be affectionate. Two of Finck's pigs lay their heads on her lap while she watches "Oprah," and she rubs their bellies.

Still, some pet owners are more realistic about a pig's ability to love back.

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