WALLINGFORD — Lucy, Lily and Lulu are way better pets than cats and dogs, or so says their owners.
Take, for example, the subject of time.
Chuck Leiss and Amanda Zarabozo don’t believe that their three mixed-breed potbellied pigs can read a clock, but the couple swears that their pets have an unerring sense of exactly what time it is.
“They will eat at exactly the same time every day,” said Leiss, a 33-year-old waiter at Chili’s in Wallingford and a guitar teacher. “They could be sleeping but if it’s 3:30 in the afternoon, they get up and go to the door.”
That’s the constant challenge, and really the fun, of having mini-pigs as pets, said Zarabozo. A 35-year-old administrative aide at Colony Vision Care, she’s known as “the girl with the pigs.” It’s a title she wears with amusement and some pride, as part of her fame comes from social media.
Zarabozo’s two Instagram blogs, Lucy the pig land The girl with the pigs, have 37,000 followers. Animal lovers who wonder what the attraction is between the pigs and the couple need only see a video of Lucy slumbering in Zarabozo’s arms or a picture of the pigs wearing their hats. The pigs look delightful — safe, cuddly, soft, just adorable.
She also takes the pigs around town in a pet stroller. Zarabozo has put them on a leash, but their stubby legs make long walks tiresome, and they tend to eat the grass.
Amanda Zarabozo and fiancé Chuck Leiss have three pet pigs that they prefer to more traditional pets. | Courtesy Amanda Zarabozo
“People know them in Wallingford and even around the state,” Zarabozo said. “I was in a brewery in Connecticut and somebody said ‘Hey, I saw your pig in Maine last year.’ ”
Zarabozo was on vacation and dining at a Portland brewery with Lucy the year before, she said.
George Clooney likes them too
As pets go, pigs have been a part of the landscape for generations. The most famous pig owner is probably George Clooney, who owned a pot-bellied pig, Max, that died in 2006 at age 18. An obituary for Max in The Guardian, a British newspaper, suggested that Clooney loved Max at least as much as some of his girlfriends.
“Max has been blamed for bringing at least two of Clooney's relationships to an end (the model Celine Balitran apparently got the wrong answer when she issued an ‘It's me or the pig’ ultimatum). Clooney even took Max on a trip in John Travolta's private jet,” according to the story.
Zarabozo gets where Clooney was coming from. As a young girl, she wanted a pig for a pet. She was fascinated by them. They seem to strike a very deep, ticklish chord within her. When Zarabozo met Leiss at Chili’s five years ago, she made it clear that the pigs were part of the package.That, in turn, fascinated him, he said.
“I never had any pets. I had a fish once for, like, three months,” Leiss said. “The fact that she is totally obsessed and whacked out over pigs, I just find amazing.”
Leiss and his fiance warn that while they are very affectionate pets, pigs are very challenging as well. Lucy, Lily and Lulu have intricate personalities and a surprisingly wide set of emotions.
“They are a lot more work than you think,” Zarabozo said. “They are a lot smarter than you think. No matter what research you want to do, there isn’t a lot of ways you can prepare yourself for them.
“There is a lot of stress. There are very stressful times with owning them.”
That kitchen trash can is going down
Let us return, for a moment, to the subject of time.
The pigs’ sense of schedule is among the things that makes them challenging. If Leiss and Zarabozo aren’t at the door to let them out for their yard time and bathroom break, say because they’re in the living room instead of the kitchen, the potential for damage looms.
“They will try and challenge you every now and again,” Zarabozo said. “They might push you around. That’s just them finding a weakness in you to see if they can get away with stuff.”
With their short legs, snout and tusks, pigs are naturally pushy. It’s how they get things done. Leiss and Zarabozo know that if they hear a certain scraping sound, one of the pigs, probably Lucy, is angry and edging the kitchen garbage can toward the living-room stairs.
It’s a question of great interest to her owners. Will she actually dump the can down the staircase? She never has, because her owners have stopped her every time, so far.
In the most recent incident, the can “was just about to hang over the stairs. I said, ‘Lucy no!’ I moved it back,” Leiss said. “I think it’s like her way of saying, ‘Hey, if you don’t start paying attention to me, this is going down.’ ”
With their teeth and small tusks, Zarabozo’s pigs could cause damage, but they haven’t yet.
"They are a lot smarter than you think. No matter what research you want to do, there isn’t a lot of ways you can prepare yourself for them."
“They need attention and if they get bored, they look for trouble,” Zarabozo said. “They will remember things and they will learn how to open things. If they see food coming out of a cabinet, they will learn how to open it. They have an excellent memory. They learn quick.”
Sometimes their intelligence backfires. When Leiss brought home a Christmas tree last year, the pigs immediately recognized it as a sign of the outdoors.
“They were like,‘Hey. I guess this place is the back yard now. It’s a new outside world for us,’ ” Leiss said.
The pigs began going to the bathroom behind the tree. It was a real tree, after all, and the couple hadn’t yet hung any lights on it.
“There was some nasty business back there,” Leiss said.
Lulu was a sad pig
There’s no doubt that pigs are intelligent.
According to howstuffworks.com, pigs are Earth’s fifth-smartest animal, and most of its competitors are far from pet-worthy. The rat tops the list, followed by the octopus, pigeon and squirrel. Crows are sixth, with the elephant, orangutan, dolphin and chimpanzee after them.
Teaching pigs to follow commands is easy, Zarabozo said -- especially when Cheerios, vegetable-based dog treats or sweet fruits like bananas and blueberries are used as motivators. (Their regular food is Sharp's Mini Pig Food mixed with vegetables and fruits.) The also love Butterfinger Blizzards.
“And they go insane for peanut butter,” Leiss said. “I don’t know what it is. If I open the jar of peanut butter, they will come running from the other room.”
Therefore the pigs' sense of smell is excellent, Leiss said, although their eyesight seems mediocre. The pigs certainly listen well. They answer when called by their names and on command will twirl, sit, stay, stand at the gate to their playpen, and walk backwards, Leiss said.
They also play a toy piano. When Zarabozo says, "Lucy, play your piano," the pig bangs the keys with her snout.
“People don’t realize that pigs are very smart and very emotional,” Zarabozo said. “If you get a pig, you really have to understand what you are getting into. They get depressed. They get sad.”
Like most pigs, their youngest, 10-month-old Lulu, had a difficult time adjusting to her new home when she arrived two months ago. Zarabozo helped her acclimate by sitting near her and talking to her gently, always with food on-hand to sweeten the conversation, she said.
"They need attention and if they get bored, they look for trouble."
“At night she was shaking and she was sad,” Zarabozo said, “but she eventually warmed up to us.”
Another tempest recently abated: 2-year-old Lucy and Lilly now sleep in the same pen. The couple got Lilly in November 2019 to celebrate their engagement and Lucy, who had been an only pig up to that point, resented the intrusion, Zarabozo said.
“Lucy just did not want to accept her,” Zarabozo said. “Lucy would constantly attack her as part of the family even though they are social and herd animals who do better when they’re together.”
“I was told that one day that they will just click, and that’s what happened,” she added. “I was surprised. Having them share the same bed? They have never done that before.”
How big will they get?
At 65 pounds, Lucy is rather small for a full-grown mini-pig, and Zarabozo has been told that adult pigs of her breed can be expected to grow to be as much as 200 pounds, Zarabozo said.
She doesn’t believe that will happen.
“I don’t foresee her getting much bigger than she is now based on her frame but she probably has another year before I can tell she is full grown or not,” Zarabozo said.
The eventual size of the pigs is a mystery partly because they are a mixed breed and Zarabozo and Leiss don’t know exactly what’s in the mix.
Not that it matters. When the couple gets married later this spring, the pigs will be a part of the wedding Zarabozo is planning right now.
“I am keeping them no matter what size they get,” Zarabozo said. “If one turns out to be 600 pounds, I am going to have to rethink my living situation a bit. One hundred pounds versus 600 pounds is a big difference.”