EASLEY — From the outside, Teresa Cooper’s house looks like a typical suburban home: blue shutters, spacious manicured lawn, beautiful front porch decked out with gently swaying wind chimes.
She belongs to a HOA, has a fenced in back yard and when I arrived, she was baking cupcakes for a birthday party.
It’s the kind of home you associate mentally with a tire swing, family dog and two cats in the yard.
But Cooper prefers a different kind of pet — pigs.
“I’ve always had pets, I’m the kind of person who needs a dog or a cat or something running around,” said Cooper. “But I developed allergies to both.”
To fill the pet void in her life, Cooper turned to an unlikely animal: she bought a pig.
“My first was a pot bellied pig and he’s been great. But then I found Julianas, and that’s what I breed.”
According to the American Mini Pig Association, most of the mini pigs you see today are the result of selective breeding to produce the smallest pig possible — originally to be used in laboratory research experiments.
One of those research breeds — known as the Minnesota Mini Pig — was shipped to Germany. While there, they were crossed with local breeds ultimately resulting in the development of the “Gottingen.”
The Gottingen was then brought to the United States and used to help create the Juliana — which is what Cooper breeds today as pets.
“One of the first things people say when they meet one of my pigs is that they’re surprised they don’t smell,” she said. “When people think pigs, they just assume they’re dirty animals but they’re actually very clean.”
When pigs are left outside, they can sunburn just like people. To keep cool, keep bugs away and to protect their skin, pigs will often coat themselves in mud, she said.
“It’s actually a sign of their intelligence,” Cooper said. “Pigs can’t sweat so they engage in behaviors like that to stay cool. Now, mine don’t do that because they can just come inside and hang out in the AC. They really are very smart — smarter than dogs.”
Cooper has had to install magnetic locking mechanisms on her cabinet doors to keep them from getting inside.
“We had the kind where the cabinet doors will just open a little bit and then you have to reach in and push a lever down, but they figured it out. They have problem-solving abilities to the level of a three-year-old human.”
She’s not wrong.
On a listing published by National Geographic, pigs were rated number five for intelligence, coming in behind orangutans, dolphins, chimpanzees and elephants.
There’s been studies with video games and things where often times they’ll score higher than a child. I tell people all the time, owning a pig is like living with a toddler that never grows up,” said Cooper.
But it’s not for everyone.
“There is a real problem out there with dishonest breeders falsely claiming how big these guys get,” she said. “I never guarantee a weight. I can show you the parents, I can show you adults from previous litters — but there’s no guarantee.”
While some breeders will sell piglets claiming they “won’t get much bigger.” Inn reality, Cooper said the adults can range anywhere from 50-80 lbs.
“Anything under 150 pounds is considered a ‘mini pig,’” she said. “None of mine have gotten that large, but it can happen. The problem with not being honest to people about it is then you have cases of people who end up dumping their pigs off at a shelter or something because it didn’t stay 12 pounds.”
Another tricky aspect to owning a pig is veterinary care — pigs need to go to the doctor just like any other pet but finding one who accepts pigs can be problematic.
And, don’t forget the diet.
“A lot of people assume these guys eat dog food but it’s actually really bad for them,” said Cooper. “Dog food has a sodium content that’s just not compatible with pigs. On the other hand, they can’t eat the stuff fed to industrial farmed pigs either — that stuff is full of growth hormones and stuff designed to make them put on weight very quickly.”
Cooper said she feeds her pigs a specialty food, designed specifically for pigs kept as pets. Well, that and a lot of table scraps.
“It is kind of like having a little garbage disposal around — nothing in my house goes to waste. Potato peelings, carrot ends … you name it. They love fresh fruits and veggies.”
Speaking of eating, when asked if she still ate pork after bringing pigs into her home as pets, Cooper squirmed guiltily.
“I do … Not my pigs! Never my pigs,” she said. “But bacon … Ugh, I can’t give up my bacon. Just don’t tell them.”
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.