Joyful Living with a Mini PigJohi Kokjohn-Wagner
Dawn Bleeker had always loved pigs. Although Dawn never owned a pig, or even a dog for that matter, she and her husband Paul took the leap into miniature pig ownership about a year and a half ago. Their tiny bundle of “joy” arrived April 5, 2012 via airplane from Texas. Weighing a mere 5 lbs. and 2 oz., the seven and a half week old mini pig was welcomed into their home and their hearts. Naturally, they called her Joy.
The decision to own a mini pig was not an impulsive one. Dawn, Paul, and their middle daughter, Michaela, spent two years educating themselves about mini pigs. Two members of the Bleeker family possessed severe dander allergies to common pets like cats and dogs. Miniature pigs, because they have hair instead of fur, were an allergy-friendly option. In Dawn’s research, she discovered that her Iowa town of Newton had an ordinance prohibiting pigs as pets. The city code stated, “All swine are dangerous,” yet allowed other exotic pets, such as six foot Pythons. The Bleekers sent a letter to the City Administrator asking for a change in the City Code regarding miniature pigs. Eight months and multiple meetings later, the Newton City Council ended up approving mini pigs as pets and Joy was welcomed into the Bleeker home.
Now Joy has firmly established herself not only in the Bleeker family, but also in the town of Newton. Paul and Dawn purchased the local movie theatre, The Capitol II Theatre, and made Joy the mascot. Their slogan, “Where every movie brings out Joy”, features a picture of Joy in a custom created usher costume. Joy can often be found greeting movie-goers in front of the theatre. Joy is a very busy mini pig who also spends her time giving back to the community as a therapy pig. She visits with many of the local nursing homes, daycares, preschools, and special care facilities, where she performs tricks while wearing custom designed costumes. Joy also enjoys attending and performing at birthday parties. While Joy loves all of these activities, her favorite past times are napping, snuggling, eating, and spending time at home with her family. When Joy isn’t spreading her special light all over the town of Newton, you can find her snuggled into a bed or the warmth of one of her humans. Joy is a happy pig. More importantly, she is a well-trained, well-adjusted pig who has successfully brought her own special brand of “joy” to all five members of the Bleeker family.
20 Ways to Bring out the “Joy” in Your Mini Pig
Make your mini pig a part of your family 1 of 21
Pigs are herd animals.
Dawn stated, "They take in their family as their herd. They will try to find their place in their herd, so it is best to use caution with young children."
The Bleeker herd: Mackenzie, Dawn, Michaela, Paul and Madison with Joy on Mother's Day 2012.
Dawn said of Joy, "She's my baby. My girls were a little put off by it."
Mackenzie said, "She is the baby of the family and my Mom sometimes has a hard time remembering that Joy is a pig. Joy has my Mom wrapped around her finger and is definitely spoiled."
Train your mini pig 2 of 21
Pigs are smart, as 10 week old Joy demonstrates with "sit".
The Bleekers hired dog trainer, Sharon Wallway, to assist them in training Joy when she was 10 weeks old. Sharon was pleasantly surprised by the pig's aptitude for learning, saying, "I wish more puppies paid attention as well as Joy." Sharon opted for private lessons because she thought having a pig in a class full of puppies would be taxing on both the pig and the pups. She praised Joy's learning abilities with Cheerio's and raisins and noted, "Pigs are all about feeling secure and comfortable. They need both to be able to pay attention and start to learn."
Read more of Sharon's training expertise on Facebook at Pet Kingdom.
Snuggle with your mini pig 3 of 21
Pigs love to cuddle, sometimes while camouflaged with your shorts.
Make sure to spend plenty of time cuddling with your pig, like Madison is doing here with Joy. Madison (14) shares her thoughts on owning a mini pig, "Having a pet mini pig is fun, different, definitely brings attention, sometimes is a pain, and painful. 40 pounds plus hooves doesn't feel very good on your body. Joy is the perfect name for that little/heavy bundle of happiness. She is loving, kind, tries to be gentle and cuddly. But don't get me wrong, that pig can have an attitude that's worse than Miss Piggy's. I can'teven imagine what my life used to be like without her."
Mini pigs love to be warm 4 of 21
Baby Joy is sunning herself on the deck.
Dawn calls this "Joy's impersonation of a rubber chicken." In fact, Joy hates the cold so much that the Bleekers made her a special outhouse, complete with a heat lamp, for Joy's potty needs.
Take your mini pig on a walk 5 of 21
Exercise for the entire family!
Dawn recommends a specially designed pig harness for your mini pig. She also recommends patience when walking your mini pig. She said, "It can take an hour to go around a small block."
Know your mini-pig’s limits 6 of 21
The term is "pig-headed" for a reason; pigs are stubborn.
When Joy is done walking, she lies down and the sidewalk and basically turns into a cement block. Usually Joy will give a sign before she reacts in this way, but sometimes her people aren't initially tuned in. Dawn said, "We are fortunate and Joy is not verbal on a regular basis as other mini pigs we've heard about. However, if Joy isn't happy with a decision we've made she will walk away from us grunting, as if she's telling me how she really feels about the situation. It reminds me of my teenagers when they are mad about a decision I've made and walk away. When we talk to her she answers back. When she has to go potty she has different grunts to communicate with us based on what she has to do. The key is to listen -- and I'm not always good at listening until it's too late and then I think back and realize she was trying to tell me something."
Accept the weird habits of your mini pig 7 of 21
Joy is a butt-snuggler. It took Paul some time to accept Joy's bum cuddles.
Pillows... buns... it's all comfy.
Mini pigs need special clothing 8 of 21
The Bleekers buy Joy's clothing from piggear.com.
Dawn shared her knowledge on pig's clothing, "Dog clothes fit on pigs as babies, but not as they get older; their shape changes."
"Root" on your favorite team together 9 of 21
Joy prefers to always be a part of the action. Dawn said, "Joy is my baby. She will stay by my side. If she can't see me she will grunt and come looking for me. I've learned that when no one else is in the house, I need to tell her where I am so she doesn't get scared. When I take a shower I have to let her know and leave the door open; otherwise, I hear a panic-type grunt as she's looking for me."
Be silly with your mini pig 10 of 21
Mini pigs look phenomenal when in costume. Obviously.
Personally, I like ketchup and relish on my hot dog.
Travel with your mini pig 11 of 21
Dawn bought Joy a special seat so that she can see out of the car window.
Paul commented on traveling with a pig, "Living with a pet pig has made traveling more interesting. I remember our first trip down to Branson with Joy. We stopped and got gas in Kansas City so Joy got out to do her thing in the grass. A few people came up and talked to Dawn about Joy as we waited in the Van. We were getting used to waiting awhile anytime Joy went out in public because she attracted so much attention. However, this time it turned out a little different. As we were waiting, a police car pulled up beside our van. "Uh oh" we thought, "now we are in trouble." We didn't know if we should claim we were with Dawn or not! I was thinking, "maybe they have some ordinance against pigs or something." Well, the officer walked over to Dawn, and slowly pulled out his cell phone. He asked, "Can I get a picture with your pig?" He thought it would be great to have a picture of a "pig with a pig". What a relief that was."
Earn your mini pig’s trust 12 of 21
Michaela (17) said, "I think having a pig is different. It's not like having a dog. She doesn't come running to you when you call her name and want to cuddle. But when Joy does come to you without calling her name you feel rewarded that she really loves you. Pigs have to earn your trust and when she comes to snuggle with you, you know she trusts you."
Take your mini pig to the beach 13 of 21
Who doesn't love the beach?
When you visit fun places, it really is best to take your entire herd.
Mini pigs love "forking" 14 of 21
If you want your pig to be in "hog heaven", try "forking".
Forking is taking a fork and pressing it all over the pigs body. Pigs LOVE forking. Dawn said, "A pig farmer I knew told me that he would do it to the pigs he raised for food and his wife would say, 'Quit playing with your food!'"
Mini pigs love spooning, too 15 of 21
Joy likes being the little spoon.
Madison and Joy are enjoying a nap together. Mackenzie (20) said, "Living with a pig is generally more like living with a two-year-old sister rather than living with a pet. She whines, she pouts, she throws tantrums when she doesn't get her way, and she likes to tell us No, but when she is sleepy she is the biggest snuggler."
Spend quality time with your mini pig 16 of 21
Everyone needs somebunny to love.
Spend time getting to know your mini pig. Just like any animal, they have individual personalities, complete with likes and dislikes. For instance, the Bleekers discovered that Joy has a love of gum. Dawn recounted, "Joy LOVES gum! Found this out last summer when she was just a few months old. She found gum on the city sidewalk. I panicked as I didn't want her to choke. I've since learned that she will not swallow the gum but will instead spit it out when the flavor is gone. She's has chewed on gum or just kept it in her mouth for upwards of an hour. When she's found something better to eat, she will just spit it out. I also love gum and always have some in my purse so she associates purses with gum. If she sees a purse on the ground, she will go searching for gum -- doesn't matter who's purse it is."
Mini pigs need plenty of sleep 17 of 21
"I didn't make my bed because I didn't want to disturb JOY, Mom!"
When the Bleekers initially got Joy, she slept in a crate in Mackenzie's room. When Mackenzie moved home and found her room had been claimed by a pig, the family had to make some adjustments. Joy now sleeps next to Dawn in the master bedroom, giving the term co-sleeping a new slant. Having a set of hooves in bed has proved challenging to Paul and Dawn, mostly because of the bruising, but Joy is comfortable and very content with her new sleeping arrangement. If she gets mad at Dawn, Joy sleeps with Paul.
Mini pigs can do tricks! 18 of 21
Joy entertains the masses by showing off her skills.
Joy knows many tricks. She sits, shakes, knocks down bowling pins with her snout, plays piano, and jumps through hoops. Dawn said, "She hates the hoop. That's usually the comedy portion of our act."
Food is a mini pigs biggest motivator 19 of 21
Food is the answer to everything with pigs.
Dawn said that in her mini pig studies, she read not to feed your pig in the kitchen because they will go through your cupboards. Dawn never had a problem with the kitchen because of Joy's slick hooves on the tile. Joy fell once as a baby and now hates the kitchen. She much prefers carpet.
As to what a mini pig eats, Dawn said, "Joy's diet is mainly made up of miniature pig food made by Mazuri. She also will get vegetables from time to time and she grazes on the weed purslane. The more she's grazes or gets vegetables, the more we cut back on her miniature pig food. For tricks we may give her Cheerios, grapes, or popcorn. We are strict abut her diet and don't feed her table food. (of course, some is snuck in on occasion)"
Take your mini pig to work 20 of 21
Gratuitous side view 21 of 21
I've never seen anyone look cuter in an usher uniform.
(Photo by Twin Cities Aesthetic, http://www.tcaesthetic.com/)