by Kym Byrnes, photography by Phil Grout

A 17-year-old with chronic medical issues, Skye “Remy” Young spent much of last fall in the hospital and then at home recovering from illness and surgery. Taking classes online, she spent a lot of time alone, and was often feeling ill, exhausted and overwhelmed with the curveballs life has thrown her. But Skye found comfort and support in a remarkable place — her pet pig Sparky.

When most people think of pigs they think of livestock — troughs full of scraps and garbage, mud pits and loud grunting. But pet pigs are becoming more common, especially “mini-pigs,” also known as teacup pigs or pocket pigs.

“For me, it’s an emotional support,” Skye said of Sparky. “My friend said that when there’s a pig around, there’s never a sad day because they’re so funny, and they love to snuggle and make you happy.”

Skye is a self-proclaimed animal lover. She and her mother, a veterinary technician, also have a dog and several cats in addition to Sparky. Skye said she wanted a pig for a long time, having heard about the potbelly pig her mother had as a child. And finally, in 2016, Skye got her wish.

Skye said pigs are a lot more intelligent than dogs but are interested mostly in eating. She laughed that Sparky is always searching for food. He’s also a rather noisy housemate.

“Our house was very quiet and I suffered from migraines, so it took some getting used to because he was such a noisy animal,” Skye said. “He was very vocal; he would squeal really loud and run around and get crazy.”

But, she said, as Sparky has gotten older he’s become “more chill” and likes to cuddle and snuggle. She said his grunts and noises have quieted down and become regular background noise.

“He likes to cuddle up in blankets. His favorite is my blanket,” Skye said. “He gets in my lap and likes to snuggle into my neck. He loves to be scratched and have his tummy rubbed.”

And in return for the affection, Sparky helps Skye through tough times, much like a service animal.

“He does a lot for me, and most of it I didn’t teach him, he just does it,” Skye said. “I have a lot of anxiety sometimes and he can recognize that immediately and he’ll force me to let him lay on me and will get angry if I don’t comply. A lot of service dogs do this; it’s called deep pressure therapy, and it helps with anxiety.”

“He also knows when I’m sad, and if I don’t feel good he’ll nap with me and snuggle.”

Pigs make great pets, according to Skye, but they are not necessarily easy pets at first. Skye said pigs have poor eyesight, which takes some accommodation, because you have to move slower when approaching them. They have to be approached from the side because their eyes are set on the sides of their head. She also said that pigs are stubborn and, unlike dogs, do not live to please their owners. She said they are more like cats in that they have their own minds and are going to do what they want to do.

“They are very stubborn and that can lead to turmoil, which can stress them out and cause behavioral issues,” Skye said. “You have to be patient and kind to them and work with them.”

Sparky, who at three years old is fully grown, is crate-trained and goes to the bathroom outside. He knows how to do tricks — always for a treat — and is a sociable animal. Skye already considers Sparky a service pig and is going through the process to get him officially certified as a service animal. She said she wants to share the joy Sparky brings her by eventually taking him to visit sick children or senior citizens. Sparky even has his own Instagram page, where Skye likes to show him off.

When the Indoor Pig Becomes an Outdoor Pig

Manchester residents Todd and Carrie Santmyer went searching for a pet pig and eventually ended up with Leroy. Leroy lived inside the home for about a year and a half before the Santmyers said an indoor pet pig became too much to manage.

Leroy, who at 60 pounds lives in an outdoor pen at the Santmyers’ house, is as much a part of their family as Sherman, their Yorkie. Carrie said a pet pig was appealing because they are unusual and their lack of a furry coat makes them a good choice for people with allergies.

For the first year Leroy fared well inside. He was house-trained, slept on the couch and liked to be with his human family. Carrie said she wasn’t sure exactly how big she thought Leroy would get, but she said there was some confusion as he continued to grow, since they had purchased a “mini” pig.

Carrie said that, as Leroy grew, he became more difficult to manage in the house. His hooves would slip on the wooden floor and it became difficult to get him upstairs for baths. Todd said that Leroy’s curious nature also had him constantly turning over trash cans and bins of everything from firewood to toys.

“They’re not dirty animals, but they are messy,” Todd said. “He wanted to get into everything.”

Carrie said she suggested moving Leroy outside, which didn’t go over well with her kids at first. But in addition to a fenced area that gives him room to roam and a baby pool to play in, Leroy also has his own little house with hay, a heat lamp, blankets and toys.

Pigs make great pets, according to Carrie, but a family should really think about how much work they are willing to put in before getting one. She said pigs have great personalities, but they require a commitment. Todd added that you have to prepare like there will be a toddler in the house, with baby gates and locks, and all dangerous materials must be kept out of the pig’s reach.

The Santmyers and Skye all agree that education is key to being a successful pig owner. Pigs have their own psychology, which means owners have to understand how they think and what motivates them in order to successfully cohabitate with them. But once the pig is trained, it becomes a wonderful companion.

“Being ill, there have been a lot of bad days and a lot of days where I wasn’t very happy,” Skye said. “Since having [Sparky], I feel so much better — he always makes me smile.”