Now, more than ever, Pig Rescue's have become an important need with the advent of social media. Not since, "Esther The Wonder Pig" have these beautiful beings been influencing pet ownership and symbols of cuteness. Mini-pig's like 650lb Esther begin as sensations and are celebrated through various media influencing ownership. She went on to become a New York Times bestseller, after surviving surviving cancer crowned with a title at PETA's 13th annual Libby Awards, which honors companies, brands, and celebrities who are committed to the welfare and liberation of animals.
17 year old Hannah Van Vleet with Duke at the Tyner pig rescue. Her family is helping to save lives of these cuddly, fun, intelligent creatures who for many are left abandoned.
According to an article from the National Geographic Society, the novelty of petite pigs in the U.S. began in 1986, when a few dozen Vietnamese potbellied pigs were imported to American zoos. Private breeders took notice. Some began to breed (or inbreed) and underfeed their potbellies and other small-breed lines, such as New Zealand's kunekune and the state of Georgia's Spanish-descended Ossabaw Island pigs.
These strategies produced pigs much smaller than, say, a thousand-pound farm hog (455 kilograms). But they're never the size of a Chihuahua, as some breeders promise. And their weight is impossible to predict.
Until now, the mini-pig trade in North America—and to a lesser extent Europe—has been a hazy, unregulated industry, with few if any rules. But some individuals and nascent organizations are trying to change that.
The recently established American Mini Pig Association comprises 250 breeders across the country working to create a strict code of ethics and height-based breed classifications.
Recently, Lindsay Fraley Van Vleet of Tyner took time from her busy schedule to talk with us about the animal rescue she, and her husband run with their children.
A local child posing at a Piggy Party in Tyner held with many of the rescue pigs over the weekend. The Van Vleet family along with animal rescuer Cindy Eastman are trying to raise awareness for the pig rescue cause.
"I just said goodbye to our visitors for the day. We do guided visits by appointment and today was Chicagoland Pig Rescue who is a dedicated group of vegan folks."
I asked her how serious is the problem with pig abandonment?
Lindsay replied, "Many of our pigs were purchased by their former owners as piglets on impulse. Piglets are fun! But people quickly find out that it's a lot more work than a puppy or kitten."
"Pig rescue is becoming more of a need now then in years past. Cute ads and videos on social media of baby "micro teacup" pigs are circulating around and have created a huge spike in impulse buys. Breeders are using misleading words such as Micro extreme and guarantee a certain small size. Many times they use pictures of piglets only days old to lure people in further. Prices range from $200 to several thousand dollars."
Next, I asked, what is the difference between a mini-pig and a farm pig? She said, "A mini-pig is defined as any breed or mix of pig that as an adult is under 300 pounds."
"All of our current Sanctuary residents are "mini" pigs but they range in size from 300 pounds to about 50 pounds. A pig is not considered a mature adult until age 5, so many breeders will show pictures of the piglets parents who may only be a year old themselves. Pigs are highly social and intelligent. They not only need another pig to be with, but require mental stimulation and plenty of exercise. Pigs can easily be housebroken or litter box trained but, they still must have a safe fenced-in-yard to play everyday."
"Pigs who aren't allowed outdoors quickly become destructive, they will literally eat floors, walls cabinets etc. They can also get highly aggressive and pig bites can be very nasty."
According to the "Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs" some aspects of the urban environment are not compatible with keeping pet pigs. “People often expect owning a pet pig to be similar to that of owning a dog,” says Leiki Salumets, Manager of Equine and Farm Animal Care for the SPCA. While, in some ways, pigs are similar to dogs they can be house-trained, for instance, they have other needs that are difficult to meet in a home setting.
“Pigs are very curious animals, and enjoy an environment where they can explore, root around with their snouts and manipulate objects. Some dog toys are not an appropriate choice for pigs, as pigs can often easily destroy and consume them, which poses a risk to their health. Other objects in your home may be the target of their curiosities as well."
Suitable pig toys include anything that can be manipulated but not easily destructible, safe if consumed, and provides a challenge or results in a reward (e.g. a food treat) when the pig plays with it.
Without opportunities to perform normal pig behaviours, pigs will become bored and create their own fun in the house, often by rooting through cupboards, tearing apart couches and knocking over tables. Pigs are best suited to an outdoor environment that provides them with lots of space to carry out these activities safely.
I asked Lindsay about some local scenarios she has dealt with?
"Several pigs in our care came in as young adults who had gone from a cuddly, fun piglet to wall destroying, guest charging, even biting their owners and in some cases owners required stitches from massive bites."
She added, "Pigs with these histories often become some of our favorites because they get here and learn to be a pig."
"They make pig friends, they can play in the dirt, swim in the ponds or pools, make messes, etc. Those pigs literally go from an angry, depressed lump to a bright eyed, tail wagging ball of love."
Lindsay Fraley Van Vleet works with her family in Tyner. "Our rescue is home based and mainly operated by myself and my 17 year old daughter. My husband does any major work when asked, such as new fencing, building etc."
"We have worked hard to set everything up to make it fairly easy to manage." The Van Fleet's are experts. They have taken all safety and health measures meant to protect.
"We have over 50 pigs here split into 3 main herds and a few pairs in separate pens. No pig is kept alone except, for an initial quarantine when they first arrive."
"This allows us to attend to any medical needs such as neutering and vaccines and allows them to acclimate to us and their new surroundings. After a few weeks we choose the herd they will be best suited for based on size, temperament and age." I asked Lindsay about the pig diets at the Tyner rescue, "We purchase our feed from Belstra milling in Kouts which is fairly local."
"We easily feed over 500lbs. a week of fresh milled feed plus every Thursday we have fruit day!"
"We teamed up with Edible arrangements in South Bend who graciously donates all their fruit scraps for our pigs. We have great neighbors who also like to surprise us with extra veggies from their gardens. Fresh Veggies are always a welcome need here."
She added, " the pig rescue is a relatively special niche and we don't have as many options for grant's or financial donations like most dog & cat rescues."
"We try to run fundraisers often for feed by having people call our feed mill directly or donating through paypal. However, we still pay out of pocket for most of our feed. Veterinary expenses are a big part of our fundraising efforts. Spaying a female pig is $500 alone. Purdue University will allow us to bring multiple pigs at once which will lower the cost to around $350 per pig."
"Mini pig females are prone to uterine cancers and aggressive behavior if not spayed so it is something we try to accomplish. Male pigs are neutered at a lower cost and more vets are willing to neuter males than spay females as it's less invasive and complicated." Lindsay worries about the conditions these beautiful creatures have endured before they arrive at her rescue. She said, "Another ugly breeder trick is telling people to feed a very minimal amount of food which ultimately stunts the bone growth."
"However, the internal organs will continue to grow and drastically reduces their life span. Many times a stunted pig wont live past 3-5 years."
The Van Vleet's have a passion for what they do. "We spend most of our free time with the pigs."
"Each one has a unique personality and while, some pay a cable bill to watch TV we skip that and watch our pigs."
Lindsay proclaimed, "There is something very rewarding watching a pig literally come to life out here."
"Ones that have never had a pig friend, or a pond, or even just freedom to be a pig."
The Van Vleet family try to keep up with philanthropy. "We are invited to several events a year with our 'spokespig' Bubbles."
"She is a almost 4 year old 150 pound female who has been with us since she was 5 weeks old. She loves people and especially children."
Bubbles is a regional media sensation.
"From a young age she was put through hours of desensitizing training, everything from balloon popping and fireworks to loud crowds and running children. She gives families a hands on experience with a mini pig who may have never seen a pig in person. We strive to educate as many people as possible about mini pigs and their needs and even potentially large sizes to hopefully slow the impulse buys of a tiny piglet."
It is unfortunate according to Lindsay. She said, "Sanctuaries across the country are filling up to capacity with situations of impulse buys, animal shelter drop offs, and city codes not allowing pigs in city limits."
"Our goal here is to provide the best life we can for our residents, and continue education to the public."
Van Vleet added, "Between our Sanctuary and our sister sanctuary, Smiggis Safe Haven, we have over 100 pigs."
"I know other sanctuaries in the state are also at capacity. Each have between 40 an 70 pigs. It really has become a big problem in recent years."
**If you would like to donate for the Tyner pig rescue please go to this GoFundMe link: https://gf.me/u/ypzi5x