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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Swine Made Small

To some people, pigs mean pork and a juicy bit of rump. But at Marina Kuzmenko's apartment, the hog is a faithful friend that bows its head in greeting and prefers sleeping in its owner's bed.

"When you get home, Tasya runs up to you and looks up at you, rubs herself against you. She's happy," said Kuzmenko, 41.

The economist is one of a small group of besotted Russians who've taken swine out of the farmyard and into their homes. While the agricultural variety can weigh more than 200 kilograms, these have been bred to weigh no more than 40 kilograms. Hence their name: minipigs.

"Historically, pigs were perceived like living, pre-assigned meat," said Konstantin Gurevich, president of Russia's only minipig club. "But as well as feeding the whole world, they can also be companions, defenders, security."

Costing upward of $600 and often thousands of dollars, minipigs are the latest exotic prestige pets to appear in the homes of affluent Russians, joining crocodiles, birds of prey, monkeys, turtles and penguins.

Russians favor them as they're small enough for high-rise apartments, though minipigs, like other recently domesticated pets, are nevertheless unsuited for living indoors, said Yelena Maruyeva, director of animal rights group Vita.

There's probably a psychological reason why people are attracted to small dogs and hogs, she said.

"There's a theory that miniature animals arouse associations of a small child. They arouse parental instincts in people," she said.

The pig club has registered about 500 minipigs across Russia. By comparison, there are about 800,000 domesticated dogs and 2.3 million cats in Moscow, meaning approximately every third Muscovite owns a dog or cat, said Irina Novozhilova, president of Vita.

Alastair Gee / MT
The not-so-mini Tasya eating out of Kuzmenko's hand. Tasya loves to chew shoelaces and screams when she is discontent.
Tasya is 3 1/2 -- some minipigs live to 30 -- and is spending the summer outdoors at Kuzmenko's dacha. Her stomach almost drags on the floor. She only stops sniffing for food when she collapses to sunbathe. If a visitor arrives, Tasya jumps up on her hind legs, her hooves flailing for a hold, while her nose leaves a slimy, dirty trail.

Her leathery skin is covered with coarse hair, and she constantly vocalizes -- a contented oink as she potters about, a drawn-out, gurgling scream if she's unhappy, a snotty wheeze when relaxing.

Once she escaped, and Kuzmenko feared she would be mistaken for a wild boar and end up as someone's dinner. Tasya now wears a blue string so it's clear she's domesticated.

"Tasya has this weakness -- she loves to chew shoelaces," Kuzmenko admitted a little sheepishly. She slurps at jeans and shoes, pushing trousers up with her nose and tugging at socks.

Owners advise taking a firm hand with minipigs from an early age.

"If the owner doesn't have the character of a leader, a minipig very quickly understands this, and considers himself in charge," Gurevich said. "A typical mistake is to consider that a minipig will be as sweet and tender as it was at the beginning."

They're quickly toilet-trained, and will use a litter tray or go outside. They need to be taken on one walk a day, for at least 15 minutes, and can be put on a leash. And they can do tricks like dogs, including sit, lie down, shake hands and fetch. Tasya learned how to open the fridge.

While some owners keep their pigs on diets so they don't become maxipigs, most feed them liberally on milk, cheese, fruit and boneless fish, though salt is forbidden.

Minipiglets in particular are susceptible to injury. The minipig living at the restaurant Slavyansky Bazar, Varvara (pictured page 11), died recently after breaking a leg and sweltering in a hot car on the way to a vet.

"Guests were made happier by her presence," said one waiter wistfully. "She was a very unusual animal, very tender."

Gurevich said he thought the minipig could become "the symbol of some kind of special division -- like paratroopers or marines."

"Their attributes include intelligence, dedication to his family, strength, bravery," he said.

Despite their devotion to their swine, not all owners have felt compelled to give up pork.

"If earlier the typical meal of a summer day was pork shashlik, now we've practically completely moved to chicken," Gurevich said. "Naturally we don't make a big problem of this, but if it's possible to avoid pork, we try to."

Russian Minipig Club,