- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2015

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - You’ll find no bacon in the Whitney home. Nor will you find pork chops or a holiday ham.

Not since the young couple adopted the newest member of their family last December, a Juliana potbelly pig named Gatsby.

“We had him for a month and I said, ‘I’m not eating pork anymore, I’m only eating chicken,’” said Holly Whitney, Gatsby’s adoptive mother. “Then I went from there to being a pescatarian and now I’m a vegetarian.”

Kyle Whitney, Gatsby’s adoptive father, said he couldn’t go as far as cutting meat entirely out of his diet, but he has stopped eating pork.

“And I used to eat bacon all the time,” he laughs. “I’ll be honest with you, I do miss it, but we just can’t do it.”

Since the days of watching “Charlotte’s Web” as a young girl, Holly said, she always wanted a pet pig. Finally she was able to convince Kyle to take the plunge and adopt Gatsby from a breeder in Abilene.

Almost immediately, the couple was surprised by the piglet’s intelligence and surprising agility, they said.

“He was deceptively quick. It’s ridiculous how quick they are,” Kyle said. “I mean, he was no bigger than your shoe and he would jump on top of the laundry baskets we used to block off other rooms.”

Gatsby even took to training quicker than the couple’s two dogs, a puggle named Daisy Mae and a Shih Tzu named Zeus, they said.

“The first day we got him, I set him in the yard and he peed and that was it,” he said. “They’re that smart. There were no accidents. No six months of training. It was instant. And now he oinks at the back door when he’s got to go.”

Now Gatsby is just more than a year old and weighs about 50 pounds, Holly said.

“As a piglet, he was very hyper and very ornery, and now that he’s just getting older he knows what he can do and can’t do,” she said. “He knows which parent he can get away with things with.”

Kyle, a stay-at-home videographer, tends to lay down the law while Holly, a pharmacist, tends to be the one who sneaks table scraps, they agreed.

The couple needs to keep any mail and packages out of reach or else the cardboard-loving Gatsby might tear the parcels apart, they said. He can also make his way into their couch’s center console and sniff out any stray snacks or treats.

Not only did the Whitneys quickly learn of Gatsby’s intelligence, but they began to notice his personality. Typically the pig is friendly, clever and loves attention from his parents, they said. But when he doesn’t get his way, he’s not shy about making himself heard.

“He’ll snuggle with us and when he’s on the couch he has to be on us, otherwise he’ll get angry,” Holly said.

“When a dog is upset, it’s more that they pout and go into a corner and sulk,” Kyle added. “Gatsby throws a tantrum. He’ll make this grunt and squeal noise.”

The infrequent tantrums don’t bother the Whitneys too much, however. It’s all a part of the learning curve of having a pet pig. Pigs behave differently than dogs or cats and they require a bit more personal attention, the couple has learned.

“They do require a lot of attention, they don’t like to be cooped up,” Holly said. “They love their herd. Our dogs are his herd. We’re his herd.”

Fortunately, stay-at-home Kyle can give Gatsby the attention he needs throughout the day.

A sizeable portion of Gatsby’s day includes plopping himself on the Whitneys’ linoleum floor and soaking up sunbeams, Kyle said. The sliding glass door to the back yard opens to a magnetic screen that allows Gatsby to trot in and out of the house as a doggy door would.

The Lawrence Journal-World (https://bit.ly/1MV8ovQ ) reports that outside, Gatsby has a small pool he can stand in and keep cool. He also bobs for treats in the water, Kyle said.

One of Gatsby’s favorite activities, Kyle said, is rooting around in the yard. And although he enjoys playing with a bit of dirt, cleanliness is never an issue.

“He is extremely clean,” Holly said. “We maybe bathe him once a month. He is really, really clean and he’s never really wallowed in dirt to cool down because he’s able to go in and outside when he wants.”

Before too long, Holly noticed that Gatsby had a certain photogenic quality and began an Instagram account, posting photos and videos of Gatsby. Now Gatsby’s Instagram page has nearly 6,000 faithful online followers.

Not only does Gatsby get plenty of online attention, but Kyle said they run into so many interested people when they walk him that they need to carry Cheerios with them to make sure his new fans have something to feed him.

“It’s hard to get 5 feet without somebody stopping us,” he chuckles.

More often than not, Kyle said, people are mostly curious about what Gatsby eats. The answer is simple: He eats pig pellets bought from a local tractor supply store.

In recent years, pigs have become a more popular pet choice, said Kate Meghji, executive director for the Lawrence Humane Society. She estimates the shelter saw four or five pigs in the past year.

But the name “mini pig” or “teacup pig” is generally a misnomer because there’s no guarantee the pigs will stay small, Meghji said.

“I think that’s the biggest issue with the mini pigs or teacup pigs is there’s no actual breed like that,” she said. “Often the potbelly pigs you see in shelters are ones that people got and were little, but they got bigger than they expected.”

For anyone interested in adopting a pet pig, both the Whitneys and Meghji encourage a lot of research. Although the animals do make for excellent pets, they say, it’s not the same as caring for a dog or a cat.

“If you can’t give them the attention they need, they’re going to intentionally be bad pigs out of spite, but if you let them out and have them engaged, they’re as great if not better of a pet as dogs,” Holly said. “Make sure you do your research. If you feel like you can handle the workload, they’ll be rewarded.”

Despite any special or unique care Gatsby may require, the Whitneys say they wouldn’t trade him for the world. They’re quick to pick him up or pat him on the jowls as he exerts a satisfied grunt.

Gatsby has an expected life span of around 20 years - much longer than the average dog - and that sits just fine with the Whitneys, they say. In fact, sometime in the near future they’d like to buy a home with more open land and add a few more piglets to the herd. But for now it’s just husband, wife, dogs and Gatsby.

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, https://www.ljworld.com

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