There were several irresistible creatures in our “alterna-pet” category this year, including two super-cute tortoises, and a heart-tugging horse named Happy. But when it came to judging, Norman the pig won by a landslide. We’d say “a mudslide,” but Norman isn’t that kind of pig.
The 1-year-old Juliana pig — a spotted breed slightly larger than a pot-bellied pig — stops traffic wherever his owner, Misty Carter, takes him.
He’s a house pet who uses a doggie door and snuggles with two dog “brothers,” Jake the dachshund and Possum the blue heeler (he’s closer to Possum; Jake’s the jealous type).
He wags his tail like a dog, perhaps even more frequently, but he won’t greet you at the door when you come home like a dog will — and Carter, who works in Fort Worth but lives in Kemp, 80 miles to the southeast, has a long commute.
Carter says she has wanted a pig since about the time she married her husband, Shane, about 17 years ago.
“I think [it’s] because they’re different,” Carter says. “They require a lot of attention to be a good house piggie. I’m the type of person that likes the challenge of doing it, because if I’m going to do it, it’s going to be the best pig in the world.”
But Carter didn’t rush into this. She and her husband had long had four dogs, until around Christmas last year, when two died of old age. Down to two dogs, Jake and Possum, Carter thought it was time that she could take on the challenge of owning a pig. And she made sure she was prepared.
“All the pig parents that I talk to, when someone says, ‘I want one, they’re so cute,’ they’re like, ‘Wait a minute,’ ” Carter says. “The best way they describe it, they say is it’s like having a 2-year-old for the rest of your life.”
She had spent years doing research, finding out what kind of problems pigs might cause in a house, how to care for them — and how big they get.
“How big a pig gets is a mystery,” says Carter, who says that Norman is currently about 45 pounds — but he won’t stop growing till he’s 3.
“They say there are teacups or mini-pigs out there, but in reality, a normal pig gets up to 400 pounds. So a pig that’s 100 pounds is a mini-pig, but people don’t realize that. They think their pig is going to be 20 pounds forever.” (According to the Juliana Pig Association and Registry, most Julianas average 30 to 50 pounds and shouldn’t be larger than 65 pounds when fully mature.)
Carter followed pig groups on Facebook to find out about other issues.
“I would just read and read and read to make sure it was something I could take on,” Carter says. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, they’re tearing up my house.’ But my pig hasn’t done anything like that. I think it’s how you take care of them and pay attention to them.”
And Carter pays a lot of attention to Norman. So much that he’s learned 17 tricks: He sits and stays, but he also puts his toys back in a toy box and places shapes in their proper holes, using his mouth — which isn’t easy for a pig.
“Just to teach him how to pick [toys] up was a feat within itself,” Carter says. “Pigs push things, root. They push things to figure them out. They don’t put them in their mouths.”
Pigs eat a vegetarian diet (carrots, kale and the like), and need less annual care than dogs, Carter says, adding that it comes down to keeping their hooves trimmed and, when they’re old enough to have tusks, keeping the tusks trimmed as well. Norman’s biggest problem is dry skin, which Carter treats with coconut oil twice a day.
Carter bought Norman from a breeder near St. Louis. Most Julianas run in the thousands, Carter says, but because Norman was already 5 months old, the breeder sold him for $450. Bonding with her dream pet wasn’t immediate, Carter says, and although she knew that in advance, the first months were a little difficult.
“Pigs do not trust people,” Carter says. “It takes them months. It’s not like a dog where it can be within a day. Pigs, when you reach down to pet ’em, they’ll walk backwards, like no, no, no. I shed a few tears now and then: ‘He doesn’t love me!’ ” she says with a laugh. “My husband was like, ‘He’s a pig. He’s not a dog.’ ”
It took a few months, but Norman came around.
Now he sleeps with the Carters and goes on camping trips with them, and uses the doggie door along with Jake and Possum.
Another unusual thing about this year’s alternative pet winner: Norman enjoys something called “forking” — getting his skin scratched or rubbed with a fork.
“All pigs like it, believe it or not,” Carter says. “They go into this trance. You just poke ’em … and they’ll just fall over.”
During a photo shoot at our studios, Carter demonstrated this with an extra-long barbecue fork.
Norman stood patiently, enjoying his massage. Soon, his legs began to sway and buckle, and before long, he was in a heap on the floor in his happy trance.
It was a well-deserved break for this guy, who has also participated in Humane Society and Texas SPCA events, such as the SPCA’s “Strut your Mutt” 3K this year in Dallas’ Fair Park.
“Mom says being different is the most beautiful thing on Earth, so I wasn’t afraid to strut it [at the event],” Norman says in his Model Pet entry, which he “wrote.” But all the attention made it difficult to strut. People always want to stop and gaze, pet Norman’s coarse hair, and even snap his photo.
“I had a stroller; actually it was like a bicycle trailer for kids,” Carter says. “We put him in that for cover, because dogs know it’s not a dog. They’re very curious, so you have to watch out for dogs. … We could not walk one block without 20 people stopping us. What should’ve taken 30 minutes took us four hours.”
Just a day in the life of a Model Pet.