His days of swine and roses

Melli-Sue was the love of John-Michael Cabot’s life until he got married. Now Melli can get in a snorting snit when wife Ivy is around. Still, it’s a happy home.

Photo by Bethany Reyes

Melli-Sue was the love of John-Michael Cabot’s life until he got married. Now Melli can get in a snorting snit when wife Ivy is around. Still, it’s a happy home.

Until he got married in December, John-Michael Cabot was sleeping with a pig.

She's a 60-pound swine named Melli-Sue. Cabot, a 25-year-old Tampa resident, bought the pig nearly two years ago from an Orlando breeder. He'd been looking for someone interesting to share his life, and he'd heard pigs were smarter than dogs, cheaper to feed and, surprisingly, clean.

Cabot bought Melli-Sue for $150 while dating his now-wife, Ivy, 22. At first the two "ladies" in his life got along. When Cabot got the piglet, then a fuzzy creature the size of a cat, she sat in Ivy's lap on the ride home. Ivy would paint the pig's nails pink to match the bandanna Melli wore when it could still fit around her neck. Melli's figure is not exactly girlish.

Regardless, when Melli isn't knocking over trash cans, she makes a good companion. She's housebroken. She likes getting her belly rubbed and curling up in Cabot's lap. Before the wedding, Melli was the lady of the house. But then Ivy moved in, with her silky blond hair and legs that are proportionate to her body. Melli was relegated to a crate downstairs. Melli still isn't fond of her step-mother. She'll nudge Ivy to show who's in charge. Her attitude was uglier before Cabot had her fixed.

Nor is Mellie-Sue fond of her new step-brother, Ivy's yellow lab, Randall. The two are kept apart by a baby gate.

Before Ivy moved in, Cabot and his roommates enjoyed watching Melli scarf down food pellets, and Melli revelled in the attention. Now, though, Cabot and his wife monitor Melli's intake. After she's eaten her four cups a day, she trolls for Randall's food.

This woman scorned self-medicates with more than just food. Recently, Cabot had an abscessed tooth that required a Vicodin prescription. He and Ivy were nearly asleep when they heard a noise. Cabot ran downstairs to find Melli-Sue with half of one pill. She'd eaten the other 19. Cabot called the vet, who told him to give Melli hydrogen peroxide. But she never did throw up. According to the vet, pigs have a high Vicodin tolerance. So Melli just wanted to get Cabot out of bed with his wife. Some women will do anything for attention.

Clearwater High 10th-grader Bethany Reyes contributed to this report.

Pigs make easy pets? Hogwash!

Pig trainer Priscilla Valentine have been working with miniature pigs for 17 years. With her husband, Steve, she breeds and trains pot-bellies in the Seattle area. Their talented animals have appeared on dozens of TV shows including Leno and Letterman. Valentine is also the author of Potbellied Pig Behavior and Training. In a call to tbt*, she offered these tips for would-be pig parents. Get more at valentinesperformingpigs.com.

Do your homework. According to Valentine, there's no such thing as a teacup pig. It's really just a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig that's still growing. "There's no difference at all," says Valentine, who expects 2-year-old Melli-Sue to eventually weigh 120 pounds. The breed grows until about age 4. Of course Robyne Meeker of Baby Farm Pets in Osteen, who sold Melli-Sue to Cabot, begs to differ. She says teacup pigs do exist, but many breeders try to pass off undernourished or still-growing pigs as teacups. According to Meeker, the best way to get an idea of how large your baby pig will get is to see the parents.

Chill out. Worried about swine flu? Don't be. You can't get it from pigs — or from eating pork, for that matter, according to Dr. Richard Besser, acting director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "What is described as swine flu, that's the origin of the strain," Besser said last week. "It is not a reflection on how the disease is spread."

Prepare for a commitment. Miniature pigs live about as long as dogs. "It's like having a 2-year-old for 15 years," Valentine says.

Make room. Pet pigs need a fenced-in yard where they can chew on grass and, in many cases, root for nutrients. In Tampa, pet pigs are legal, provided you have 1 acre per pig.

Avoid competition. Pigs love attention. They may be aggressive toward children and dogs, whom they view as their competition.

Keep them busy. Pigs are so smart that if you don't give them a challenge, they'll invent one — say, opening the kitchen cabinets or even the refrigerator — so give yours something constructive to do. Valentine says a pig can learn the same tricks as a dog, with the exception of rolling over (their legs are too short).

Practice tough love. Pigs live to eat, so monitor their food intake. Watch a video of Melli-Sue eating like a pig at tinyurl.com/cjwt2d.

His days of swine and roses 05/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 7, 2009 6:14pm]

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