Pity the pig

Pattanadon Taesakul didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he had the bright idea of buying a miniature piglet. After coming across a booth selling baby pigs at an electronics expo in Muang Thong Thani, the 25-year-old tool shop owner was smitten by their cute and cuddly appearance. Promised that they wouldn’t grow any larger, he bought one for 3,000 baht and named her Junior.

Raising her in his home and tool shop in Nonthaburi, Pattanadon soon realised that he got more than he bargained for. From the size of a quarter of his pillow, Junior grew rapidly, eventually so gigantic to the point of occupying his whole bed. Posting pictures of Junior’s rapid expansion online, the story quickly went viral, making headlines and TV appearances due to the comical situation in addition to Junior’s cute costumes and bows.

Now 10 months old and weighing a hulking 150kg, Junior is probably the most famous sow in Thailand. With Junior becoming an overnight sensation, more and more Thais have been voicing their scam stories as well — turning the seemingly uncommon tale into something quite commonplace.

Surabot Leekpai, TV host and son of former prime minister Chuan Leekpai, posted his own gargantuous “miniature pig” on Instagram. Pantip user PaloKongProng (Daddy’s Palo) posted a long and detailed account of his own experience of being scammed by a Chatuchak vendor, claiming that the pig will only grow to the size of a Pomeranian. Luckily for these pigs, their owners have continued to raise them with love and care. However, it is unknown how many more pigs have been bought, sold, and eventually abandoned due to these scams.

Simply speaking, puppy-sized pigs do not exist. The term “micro-pig”, “teacup pig” or “pocket pig” has actually been a marketing fraud that’s been going on for the past two decades worldwide. The trend comes and goes, but the scam is so commonplace in countries like America to the point that pig shelters are open in several states to house the former tiny pets.

“Miniature pigs” though do exist — but not in the way that people expect. Miniature pigs consist of smaller pig breeds like Vietnamese pot bellied pigs, Choctaw hogs and kunekune. These breeds weigh between 50 to 80kg. It’s definitely not small, but it is technically “miniature” when compared to the average 300kg pig.

Pattanadon Taesakul shares his bed with little Junior. And later, with not-so-little Junior. Photos © www.facebook.com/Pigjuniorr/

“Even if they’re called miniature pigs, they can weigh up to 80kg,” said Panit Charoenkul, exotic pet veterinarian at iVet Animal Hospital. “From what I’ve experienced, 40% of people who bought miniature pigs got scammed. They say they bought a miniature pig, but if it’s over a hundred kilos, it’s not a miniature. In some cases though, the owner has an actual miniature pig, but they thought that they would be much smaller.”

Common sales tactics include simply telling gullible buyers that the pigs will grow to the size of a small dog, and that in order to keep them small they must limit the pig’s diet (which essentially starves them and causes a plethora of other problems). Additionally, the fact that all pig breeds are born tiny helps the scammers profit even further.

“When they’re small it’s almost impossible to tell them apart,” said Panit. “There aren’t any patterns that dictate which breeds are which like dogs. The only way to tell is if they’re fully grown, they don’t weigh more than 80kg.”

Therefore, buying from a trusted source is a must.

“The starting price of miniature pigs when they first got into the market was around 10,000 to 20,000 baht,” explained Panit. “So if you go to a market and see pigs being sold for 4,000 thousand baht, you can be pretty sure those are fake.”

Apart from finding a trusted source and breeder, asking to see the piglet’s parents could also help estimate their potential adult size. If sellers aren’t willing to show you their parents, it’s better to find someplace else to buy your new pet.

“With most of these ‘miniature’ labels, if they’re not imported, or they don’t have a certification of the breeding farm, again, they’re most probably fake,” said Panit.

But it’s not only pigs that’s been eluding expectations of buyers. Pet owners have been disappointed by so-called “miniature” rabbits, dogs, and cats as well. The words “miniature” and “micro” end up just being a business tactic, testing the gullibility of the consumer.

“The main problem now is how to stop having farm pigs being sold as miniature pigs,” added Kaset Sutchada, chief veterinarian of the avian and exotic pet clinic in Kasetsart University. “There are no laws regarding [scamming] in terms of selling pets. There’s no FDA equivalent for animals. The selling of animals is the agreement and contentment between the seller and the buyer.

“It’s like selling Buddhist amulets. They can sell it for however much they want. If you’re satisfied with it, then you buy it. If the product is of low quality, who can you report it to? No one. There are standards for animals we consume like pigs, cows and chicken, but pets do not have these standards.”

When asked how consumers can pick and choose the right type of pig, Kaset recommends people not raise them at all.

“You need knowledge, space, the ability to accept their personalities and live near a [speciality] vet,” he explained. “They’re a special type of animal with basic needs different to dogs. You have to trim their hooves, if it’s a male, you have to trim their tusks. Pigs can get sick easily. They can contract human diseases, dog diseases — all types of diseases.

“If there’s something wrong, where will you take it to? Most people don’t think that far ahead. They don’t see the full picture. They only want the pig. If you raise them and don’t like them, and you leave them, you’re throwing away a life. You shouldn’t raise them. They live very long, 12-15 years, and they’re very smart. I pity the pig.”

Thailand, unlike America, barely even has shelters for dogs, let alone shelters for pigs. The majority of the time, according to Kaset, pig owners would just simply sell it back to the vendor (if they can find them) or find a new owner to take them in. Panit even had one case where a client abandoned their pig at a temple.

“If you don’t think you can raise them, simply don’t,” emphasised Kaset. “There are many people who get tricked.”

And for those wanting to raise pets other than the common dog, cat or hamster — research, gain knowledge and look at the full picture before you bring it into your home.