This article was originally published in August 2016.
In march of 2016, Pearland, Texas resident Candace Kliesing welcomed a new pet into her family of four, a small piglet they named "Wilburt." The piglet was sold to Kliesing's mother, Maggie McFarland as a gift for her grandkids. The Santa Fe Feed Store, where Wilburt was purchased, claimed the pig was a four-month-old micro pig.
Wilburt lived happily at the Kliesing house, playing with the children, and seemingly healthy, until Monday, March 21st, when he woke up listless and barely breathing. Concerned, Candace took the pig to a nearby vet who had some startling news.
In a Facebook post Kliesing stated that according to a veterinarian at the Animal Hospital of Santa Fe, the pig was not a mini pig or a micro pig, but in fact an infant pot-bellied pig. The vet informed Kliesing that the pig was only a few weeks old, and had been removed from his mother too soon. The veterinarian did all in his power to save the piglet, but sadly Wilburt died that same morning.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened. "Mini", "micro" and "teacup" piglet scams are increasingly common across the United States. Even hotel heiress Paris Hilton was misled to believe a pig she bought would never grow past 12 lbs. Pictures of the animal in 2012 prove that this was not the case.
How does the scam work?
According to Modern Farmer, the way the micro pig scam works is that breeders will claim to have mini pigs for sale that they guarantee won't grow past a certain weight (usually around 30 lbs). The breeders instruct buyers to give their pets a diet that essentially amounts to starvation, and the malnutrition of the diet keeps the pigs smaller than they would normally grow to be. Perhaps the cruelest part of the scam is that many pigs end up sick or dead because of these diets, fed to them by unsuspecting pet-owners who fully intended to provide the animals with a loving home.
In an effort to prove the pigs remain small, sometimes breeders will even show the parents of the pigs they are selling to the prospective pet owners. However, pot-bellied pigs can be bred at as young as eight weeks of age. Given that they have a lifespan of around 12-15 years, at eight weeks the "parents" are merely juveniles themselves, and not fully grown.
Are all mini pig breeders scammers?
No. There are legitimate breeds of miniature pigs that were bred specifically for laboratory research. The Göttingen mini pig, for example, is a breed developed about 30 years ago that is used by scientists in animal testing and research. An adult Göttingen mini pig will weigh around 80 lbs, and there are breeders who claim to sell Göttingen mini pigs. The problem with those claims is that the most people are not porcine experts, and may not be able to tell by looking at a pig if it is a Göttingen mini pig or a pot-bellied pig. Because animal genetics is just as complicated as human genetics, breeders, even of legitimate mini pigs, cannot guarantee at infancy that the offspring of two mini pigs will remain as small as its parents.
How big do pigs really get?
The answer to this question depends entirely on the pig. The Santa Fe breeder maintained her claim that the pigs she sold were mini pigs, and compared to farm pigs, pot-bellied pigs are indeed much smaller. Common farm pigs that are kept for breeding purposes can grow as large as 800 lbs. Fully grown Pot-Bellied pigs can still be anywhere from 100 to 300 lbs in weight. In a 2014 article, National Geographic claimed that because most pet owners do not have the land or home space to house such a large pet, many are ending up in pig rescues.
This information came too late to save Candace Kleising's beloved Wilburt, but it didn't stop her from fighting for the other animals at the facility where her pig was purchased.
"I don't want other families burned by them, or animals to be treated inhumanely."
At the urging of family and friends, she contacted the local authorities and news outlets. Bayou Animal Services and Houston Humane Society launched undercover operations at the Santa Fe Feed Store that brought to light animal mistreatment. Those stings resulted in the seizure of over 200 animals including cats, pigs, goats, donkeys, sheep and more.
"I'm sick to my stomach," Kleising told Houston's ABC 13 when the extent of the abuse came to light. In the same interview, Melvin Trover of Bayou Animal Services called the seizure "One of the worst once I've seen, personally."
According to a press release sent out by the Houston Humane Society, a settlement was reached in the amount of $7,500. The terms of the settlement included the forfeiture of over 100 of the animals from the store that will remain in the custody of the Humane Society. Over 100 animals were returned to the feed store owner, mostly of which were rodents.
We reached out to Assistant Criminal District Attorney Brent Haynes of the Galveston County DA's office for comment. Haynes informed us that "In animal cruelty cases, settlements must be made expediently because you're dealing with the welfare of living beings." The DA's office released a statement concerning the settlement in which it is stated, "This settlement concludes the civil forfeiture case based on animal cruelty allegations," in the phone interview Haynes clarified that a criminal investigation by the Santa Fe Police department is still ongoing in this case.
In the meantime, if you're looking for a pet and you don't live on a farm, then you might want to consider a dog or a cat.