The Heartbreaking Truth Behind 'Mini' Pigs

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little girl plays with small young pigs in green grass on a farm

Bethany Petrik / Getty Images

When Kara Burrow welcomed the first pigs to her farm in southwestern Ontario, she had idea how big a hoof print they would leave.

Up until 2010, Ralphy's Retreat had rescued countless horses and ponies and donkeys.

Then a couple of brothers — cast-off pigs from a family that couldn't care for them any more — showed up and changed everything.

"We had no idea what was going on in the pig world," she tells MNN. "We actually stopped rescuing all other animals and only work with pot-bellied pigs now."

And from there, the pigs — the orphans, the downtrodden, the abandoned — just kept streaming into the scenic refuge in Norfolk County.

A young pig being held.
Pigs soon outgrow the 'mini' phase of their lives — and often tip the scales at more than 200 pounds.

Courtesy of Ralphy's Retreat

In fact, even as Burrow describes the overwhelming number of pigs that have washed up at her door, there's a telltale snort in the background.

Someone needs attention.

"It is overwhelming," she explains, as she prepares to feed the animals. "I'm not going to lie. We are full to the brim."

And she isn't alone.

'There are no teeny-weeny pigs that are going to stay small'

Animals shelters across Canada and the United States are seeing a massive influx of pigs, most of them surrendered by families who bought into the fiction that there is such a thing as a "mini pig."

"There are no teeny-weeny pigs that are going to stay small," Georgenia Murray, who bought a pig for her pleading daughter, tells the New York Post. "It's all untrue."

Murray says she spent thousands on a pig, after surrendering to her daughter's pleas to get one as a pet. After all, Ariana Grande has one. Why can't everyone else?

But as their "pet" grew to more than 200 pounds, the Murrays had to make the heartbreaking decision to re-home the animal.

Burrow has been at the other end of that heartbreak all too many times.

In fact, just last week, she had to take on 15 pigs who had outgrown their old home. The week before, it was 18.

Pig and dog cuddling on bed.
Lily was sold as a teacup pig. She now weighs more than 200 pounds.

Courtesy of Ralphy's Retreat

"Unfortunately, people want to believe that there is this tiny pig," she says. "There is no such thing as a tiny pig. I have tiny pigs here. But they're months old."

"Your adult 'mini pig' is probably anywhere from 150 to 250 pounds. And sometimes, a good 350 to 400 pounds."

Not only that, but pigs have the personalities to match.

"They're actually extremely demanding," she adds. "Like toddler-type demanding. They're very misunderstood animals."

A Kunekune pig looking over a fence.
Charlotte was sold as a Kunekune, a small domestic pig that's native to New Zealand.

Courtesy of Ralphy's Retreat

Breeders who sell pigs as pets — often peddling sweet fictions about their size — are not helping.

"There's no control over the breeder. It's so frustrating. Because they're livestock, anyone can churn them out."

The trouble is most cities don't allow people to keep pigs as pets. As a result, the vast majority of calls Burrow gets are from people who are forced by local authorities to give up the pigs.

She doesn't want to change the laws. In fact, she agrees they don't belong in the city at all.

"They're so much happier when they're outside doing pig things," she says. "Even in this weather that we've had they're happier out there with their friends being pigs than they are in the house."

Pig smiling at camera.
Pigs are so sensitive, Burrow says they can die of a broken heart.

Courtesy of Ralphy's Retreat

That should come as no surprise considering the reputation of pigs as intensely social and sensitive animals.

And that very sensitivity only adds to the heartbreak.

A former school teacher, Burrow sees striking similarities between pigs and children.

"They're very, very sensitive," she says. "They're very demanding. They have really strong feelings. And it's absolutely devastating to them when they lose their home."

"People do not realize what they're doing to them. They can die of a broken heart."