Kirstyn Northrop Cobb would adopt Thelma Lou the potbellied pig if she could, but Cobb already has a full house, what with a half dozen dogs and her own 10-month-old pig, named Ernest.
"If I didn't have six dogs I would bring her home. But I have six dogs," she says. "My daughter complains that they take up a lot of the couch. Hogging the couch."
Thelma Lou enjoys a snack of some plain pasta. Photo credit: Arin Greenwood
It's not entirely clear what Thelma Lou's life was like before a couple of weeks ago, when her owners left her at an animal shelter in the Maryland suburbs, saying she'd grown much bigger than expected -- and, at 10 months old and about 70 pounds, had become too large for their apartment.
The owners, according to shelter records, said they thought that they were buying a so-called "teacup pig." These are really tiny pigs that have been something of a craze since 2009, spurred by their association with celebrities like Paris Hilton, who has a pet named Princess Pigelette.
Or, rather, they are initially really tiny. If properly fed, teacups will grow to at least 45 pounds, and possibly much more than that. Like, much, much more. Here's Esther the Wonder Pig, a two-year-old porcine Internet celebrity who was sold to her owners as a micro-pig and now weighs 500 pounds:
Esther, despite her size, remains a beloved house pet. But it's often at the point where the teacup runneth over, so to speak, that people like Cobb, an adoptions counselor for the Humane Society of Calvert County, Maryland, will find themselves with an oversized animal -- let's call them Big Gulp pigs -- on their hands.
Many animal welfare groups have long encouraged potential pig purchasers not to buy teacups, despite how appealing their small initial size and celebrity tie might make them seem.
Even Princess Piglette got large. But still, the word hasn't quite gotten out. Cobb says that her small shelter has ended up with three potbellies in the last two years, one of whom gave birth to Ernest.
Thelma Lou is the latest. Cobb says she's house trained, "super social" and loves the dogs who reside at the shelter. Like all pigs, she's also very smart and needs a lot of mental stimulation. (Cobb, for example, takes Ernest to agility classes to keep his body tired and his mind occupied, important since pet pigs can be destructive if they're bored. He learns to do athletic things like navigate obstacles and walk across balance beams, though "some of the jumps are a little bit extreme for him," Cobb says.)
Thelma Lou's also easy-going, knows how to sit on command and did not complain when the shelter staff recently painted her toenails purple.
On a hot day, she enjoys lying around in the kiddie pool that's been set up in her grassy enclosure, which also features a big brown pillow between two lawn chairs where she can relax while the humans -- some of whom have adopted a vegan diet, in addition to taking home animals -- rub her belly.
"Pigs love belly rubs. All pigs, all the time," says Cobb, reaching down to scratch Thelma Lou's tummy, again.
Thelma Lou relaxes in the pool. Photo credit: Arin Greenwood
Thelma Lou is due to be spayed on Friday. After that, she'll be available to the right home: one where she can spend time inside and outside, with owners who are ready to make a 14-16 year commitment to the bright, affectionate, charming pig who got too big for her previous family, but just the right size for her species.
"The good news is volunteers are saying they can't eat bacon anymore," says Cobb. "But the goal is to find homes for pigs. Not to change the eating habits of our volunteers."
Find out more about Thelma Lou from the Humane Society of Calvert County. And get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you've got an animal story to share!