A pig found wandering the streets between Bloomington and Ellettsville recently found a home with vegan Bloomington couple Brian O’Quinn and Natalie Levin and their two parrots.
O’Quinn, an electrician, said Levin, an IU medieval history doctoral student, jokingly suggested adopting the pig after seeing a post about it on social media in April. Shortly after declaring it “totally unrealistic,” they picked up the still-unnamed pig they usually call Pig or Piggy.
Cindy Chavez, a Bloomington resident and the director of Pantry 279, a food pantry in Ellettsville, said she was in the midst of a work call when the Monroe County sheriff's office contacted her in early April about a loose pig roaming near her home that they thought might be hers. Chavez has two pet pigs that she said are like children to her, and soon her family was receiving calls and Facebook messages from people around the neighborhood asking whether the loose pig was hers.
Chavez said that the sheriffs did not know how to deal with a loose pig and asked for help, so she went out with two of her daughters and lured it back to their house with the help of Cheerios and apples. It was a long and slow process.
“Picking up a pig is incredibly difficult — they’re very dramatic. They scream, and they’re incredibly strong,” Chavez said. “If pigs don’t want to move, they don’t move.”
Once at her house, Chavez’s daughters promptly cleaned and manicured the pig, temporarily naming it Paisley. However, Paisley did not get along with one of Chavez’s own pigs, so Chavez decided she needed to find it a new home. She posted about it on Facebook, where she said the pig went “semi-viral” and caught Levin’s eye.
O’Quinn said when they first took in the pig, they planned to house her only temporarily, but all of the local pig shelters were full. They have now had the pig for over two months, and O’Quinn has built her a bed in the basement, installed an underfloor ventilation system to make sure she is breathing clean air and reinforced the door to keep her in when she is in heat. He’s also preparing the ground outside to create a wallowing area with water and mud for her to keep cool in the summer months.
“I think she’s really attached to us now, and if we sent her away she’d get really depressed,” he said. “The pig is like the parrots — it’s really intelligent and also really needy emotionally.”
Chavez confirmed this concern, saying that having a pig is a commitment because they bond with their owners, and if they are separated, they sometimes stop eating and die.
Chavez and O’Quinn both noted that the pig was very unhealthy when she was found. Besides being elderly and missing most of her teeth, she was overweight and blind because her fat was blocking her eyes and had mange. She also had two nipples chewed off, evidence that she was used for breeding at some point in the past.
“We had no idea what to expect with this kind of animal,” O’Quinn said. “It’s definitely sucked up a lot of my time and energy, but it’s cool.”
In the beginning, they often asked Chavez and pig community Facebook groups for help because, as O’Quinn noted, much of the information online is aimed at producing pigs for meat, which are killed after less than a year, and not aimed at producing healthy and long-living animals.
O’Quinn said in the early days of owning Piggy, she would try to bite them, testing them as she figured out her place in the herd hierarchy of their household. He also tried to make a harness for her, but said she would go “completely berserk” when they tried to put it on her, so he gave up.
Now, he said, she has learned the boundaries of their yard and spends much of her time sleeping. They feed her mini pig food pellets and kitchen scraps mixed with water so she can eat despite her missing teeth. O’Quinn said she likes beer, loves bananas and dislikes onions, though she will eat them when there are no other options.
He added that her skin has improved, and she can see a little more than before, but not much. They cannot really tell if she has lost or gained weight because her body is such a strange shape. They wash her with shampoo intended for human use and buy straw for her bedding at Rural King. O’Quinn recently gave her a yellow snake-shaped toy, but he said he's not sure if she's interested in it.
The pig wakes up early, and O’Quinn said she has changed his sleep schedule. He takes her out in the morning, and Levin takes her in the evening. He said that so far all the neighbors think the pig is cool, and one neighbor, local jeweler Tim Terry, likes to visit the pig on weekends. “I like the pig, it’s a nice pig,” Terry said. “Its movements are unpredictable.”
Terry added that he does not see having a pig neighbor as any different from the chickens down the street, and that he thinks that O’Quinn and Levin are wonderful, conservation-minded people for saving the pig’s life.
“They’ve had to adapt their whole lifestyle, which is pretty bizarre,” he said. “I’m a meat-eater, and of course Brian always makes me feel guilty.”
Both O’Quinn and Levin are vegan and O'Quinn has not eaten meat for at least 15 years. He said he’s tired of people making jokes about eating the pig, which occurs frequently. He describes the pig as “really hilarious entertainment” all on her own.
“I feel like she’s pretty happy right now. She really just likes to be comfortable and petted,” O’Quinn said. “Once they know you’re in charge, they kind of calm down, and I think they kind of like it better, they know you’re taking care of them.”
“Everybody in the pig groups says ‘Pigs leave hoofprints on your heart,’” said Chavez. “And they do.”
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