Possom's long lashes hide his eyes.
Possum took a long tour of the yard (our own pig, Carlotta, tried to ignore him), then settled in for the evening. Had we acquired a pig? I still don't know! He seems to be a wanderer at heart, leaving and returning whenever he pleases.
Possum is a potbellied pig of the smallest stature, weighing perhaps 60 pounds at the most. He's a barrow, meaning he's castrated, so he once was someone's pet. In all likelihood, his former owners tired of him and turned him out to fend for himself. Fortunately, it's easy for a pig to survive in the wild in the Ozarks, especially a pig this small.
Possum is barely taller than the lowest bar on a pipe gate.
The rags-to-riches-to-rags-again story of the potbellied pig is a sad one. In 1985 Canadian zoo director Keith Connell traveled to Vietnam and brought back 18 pigs of the “I” breed to breed and sell to other zoos in North America. These black, wrinkly pigs with saggy backs were large by modern standards — some weighed up to 300 pounds — but considerably smaller than North America’s standard domestic pig. In 1986 he sold some stock to American pet breeders, and the potbellied pig craze was on. These pigs and their descendants became known as the Con or Connell line.
At first, pigs sold for thousands of dollars each (one reportedly brought $37,000), prompting early breeder Keith Leavitt of Texas to import Mong Cai pigs from northeastern Vietnam near China and the Gulf of Tonkin. His stock became known as the Lea or Leavitt line.
Most of today’s potbellied pigs descend fully or in part from Con and Lea bloodlines, though additional importations, including pigs from Britain and Sweden, soon followed.
America’s enchantment with potbellied pigs grew by leaps and bounds. Early promoters crowed that potbellied pigs were “the size of a cocker spaniel,” were easily potty trained, and made flawless house pets. The same promoters cranked out piglets at the rate of three litters per sow per year and up to six or seven piglets per litter.
They're called potbellied pigs for a reason.
At the same time buyers watched their “35 pound” pigs grow up and up and out. Potbellied pigs don’t stop growing until they’re five or six years old and the epiphyseal plates in their spines fully close. Teensy $1,500 piglets were maturing into 150- to 200-pound hogs.
Owners quickly discovered that pigs are smart and strong-willed and they live their lives from a pig’s viewpoint. Behaviors that seem perfectly normal to a pig, like rooting (all of the linoleum from the kitchen floor), chewing (interior walls), and nipping to establish a place in the herd (composed of the humans in their household), upset pig owners very much indeed. Owners who worked through problems with their house pigs loved them; the ones who didn’t began giving them away. Pig sanctuaries sprang up across the land, and humane groups became inundated with unwanted pet pigs.
According to “Survey of Humane Organizations and Slaughter Plants Regarding Experiences with Vietnamese Potbellied Pigs,” a paper prepared by Ohio State University student Linda Lord and published in the September 1, 1997, issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Volume 221, Number 5, there are between 250,000 and 1 million pet pigs in the United States, most of them Vietnamese Potbellied pigs or crosses between these and domestic swine. In her survey of humane organizations in seven states (responders represented 68 percent of the total number of humane groups in the seven-state region), she was dismayed to discover that over an 18-month period fully 55 percent were asked to take potbellied pigs —to the tune of 4,380 requests. Only 72 percent were accepted, and 21 percent were ultimately euthanized. Furthermore, 485 slaughterhouses responded to her questionnaire, indicating more than 4,000 potbellied pigs were slaughtered for meat during the same period.
The good thing is, if you'd like to give a pig like Possum a permanent home, there are many in sanctuaries that desperately need them. Most, like Possum, are outdoor pigs. Good places to learn about adopting your own pig include Friends of Potbellied Pigs, the Pig Placement Network, and potbelliedpig.com. Check them out!