ATASCADERO — Marilu Elder, Atascadero resident of 25 years, and co-owner of K&M Mini Pot Belly Pig Rescue, has devoted her life to rescuing pigs, but she has her work cut out for her. Atascadero’s ordinances don’t recognize pot-bellied pigs as pets, and her neighbors are not too happy about the “farmy” smell coming from her property.
“Ever since we moved here it’s been one problem after another,” said Elder, who has started a petition on change.org to recognize mini pigs as pets so she can provide them a warm, loving home before adoption to educated pet seekers.
“We’ve had neighbors complain,” she said. “It’s not a complaint regarding us or the pigs necessarily – it’s just that they apparently don’t feel they belong here.”
The biggest hurdles of all are the 40-year-old ordinances that specify which animals can live in the city and which must follow the livestock regulations. She believes that her rescue pigs have been incorrectly classified as ‘livestock’ instead of ‘pets’ and wants the city to update its ordinances. “My main goal is to have these pets recognized for what they are,” she said. “They are just like my dogs.”
Elder said many cities, including Paso Robles, have changed their statutes to include mini pigs as pets, and she wants Atascadero to follow suit.
She said pigs are “extremely clean” and are not “dirty animals” as they have been portrayed in cartoons, books and television shows. She said they are intelligent and affectionate and as the “fourth smartest” animals in the world, she said they are not recreational animals or farm swine, but pets that can “be taught to sit, shake, spin, sit up and even ride skateboards.”
Elder said she would like to see people become aware of the differences in pigs. She said many people have no idea that mini potbelly pigs (also called mini pigs, micro pigs and teacup piglets) — all bred to be pets — will not stay little.
Since Paris Hilton, George Clooney, and other celebrities began having mini pigs and teacup piglets, a pet trend to adopt the adorable pigs began, but many have not stuck around for the pigs to grow like Hilton and Clooney did. Some blame the breeders, who may have released a misconception that the pigs would stay small. Regardless, many pot bellied pigs have been abandoned or given up to shelters.
Elder is on a mission to educate the community on the natural maturation of these pigs — which average between 50-150 pounds when grown — and only stay small if malnourished and unhealthy. In her experience misinformed pet owners will abandon the pigs once they find out the size potential of these pets, thus leading to about 40 pigs in K&M’s Mini Pot Belly Pig Rescue today.
Elder adopted her first mini pig from a local person.
“After buying him,” Elder said, “I felt the need for rescue was so huge I couldn’t say no to all the ones needing help.”
She moved her family to Atascadero from Paso Robles after some research on where to begin K&M, because she needed more space for her rescue business, which she and her partner plan to turn into a nonprofit, but the city she hoped would be accommodating to her cause actually referred her to code enforcement. She now is trying to find a way to run her rescue without violating zoning laws.
“They pay a good price for these pigs, let me tell ya,” said Elder, who said she plans to speak during public comment at upcoming City Council meeting on Jan. 23.
Elder said some people pay between $2,000 and $3,000 for these mini pigs.
“And they’re thinking they’re literally getting this tiny housepet,” she said. “What happens is they outgrow that 25 pounds, guaranteed, and they don’t want it anymore. It becomes a burden. A 50, 100 or 150 pound pet that nobody knows what to do with.”
She said the cost of housing one pot bellied pig (assuming it is healthy and one does not need to hire a veterinarian) averages about $60 per month between feed and hoof trimming.
“We’ve rescued on our own dime,” said Elder, adding that she loves her work and will continue to do it, but is weary that the city is not giving her any guarantees that she can continue her labor of love.
Elder cares for her rescues on a large, almost one acre lot. Her pigs are mostly housed in a pre-fab metal-style barn with hog wire fencing. She has raised several pigs in her home, including Jemima, a black pig with a pink nose, whom she bottle-fed back to life after a local couple found her wandering on their property, lethargic and malnourished. Elder’s vet estimated the neglected pig was no older than two-and-a-half weeks at the time.
“She followed us around like we were her momma,” Elder said, adding that she considers pigs as no different than her dogs, and more quiet since they don’t bark, only ‘oinking’ when hungry. “We weren’t sure she was going to make it, but with love and care and giving her the milk replacer, slowly getting her onto pellets and whatnot, she eventually started thriving,” Elder said.
Jemima is now four months old, but still considered the baby of the family.
“She’s just a doll,” Elder said. “We call her Mima-Jane. She’s just, oh gosh, the cutest doggone, little thing. She never leaves my side. She crawls right into your lap. She falls asleep on my arms… I know that she’s comfortable and happy. My heart is full when she’s with me. I probably can’t say enough. She completes me.”
Elder’s children, Graycee, age 14, and Liam, age 6, are a “huge” part of the rescue effort at the Elder house. Graycee helps clean stalls, works with the pigs and walks them with harnesses. Liam will be found scratching bellies.
“That’s his favorite thing to do,” Elder said. “They flop right over when scratched.”
Elder’s husband, Mylan Elder, was born and raised in Templeton and works in the Bay Area rebuilding foundations for homes.
“He spends hours on that doggone freeway,” said Elder, who said he loves the pigs equally. “He does that so we’re comfortable in doing what we do in saving the pigs. He’s allowed me to live out my dream.”
Both sides of Marilu and Mylan Elder’s families live locally and stay involved in K&M’s rescue by feeding and supporting the pigs. Elder’s father moved the family to North County from the Glendale area of Los Angeles 25 years ago for a “better way of living.” He worked in the motion picture industry and chose to commute until retirement. Elder said she’s grateful her father moved her family, and even bought her a horse at the time.
“That’s kind of what kept me involved in animals and how I developed such a passion for them,” she said.
The ‘M’ in K&M’s Mini Pot Belly Pig Rescue stands for Marilu, but the ‘K’ is for Kelly Knust, Marilu’s good friend, and the other half of the rescue. “Kelly is amazing. She’s my support. Besides my husband, she is my other half. She’s helped us through so much. She’s got quite a bigger barn and set-up there but she has her share of pigs that are forevers just because of the fact that they are not adoptable. They have health issues or permanent problems.”
Knust operates her end just outside the city limits in Paso Robles.
“She doesn’t have as many problems because Paso Robles recognized mini pigs as pets,” Elder said. “I just have to prove that point to Atascadero. That’s what’s kind of frustrating.”
Meanwhile a widower named John from the Bay Area just came to visit Elder’s property. His pot-bellied pig, Parker who he gave to K&M to care for after his wife Lorann passed away, is very happy living with the Elders. The pig had been his wife’s companion through cancer treatment. He didn’t have the heart to leave the pig home alone when he worked. His wife researched K&M before choosing to give up her beloved pet for adoption. John still visits often, and even spends whole weekends at the Elder’s home, reuniting with the animal that gave his wife love in her last days. The Elder’s named a barn stall after Lorann in her memory.
K&M Mini Pot Belly Pig Rescue will be providing a lecture on mini pot belly pigs at Woods Humane Society for a January children’s day camp as well as more educational sessions in the future. To learn more about K&M, visit https://www.facebook.com/kmminipigrescue/ on Facebook.
You may reach Reporter Beth Giuffre at [email protected] for questions and/or feedback.
Photos courtesy of Marilu Elder
Pictured in all the photos are Roscoe, Cletus, Parker, Stella, Mima Jane, Norton and Mo.
Jemima, or "Mima Jane" as the Elders call her (black pig with pink nose), was raised by the family since she was about two weeks old. She was extremely malnourished when rescued by K&M, but was bottle fed and cared for until healthy. Jemima is now a happy, thriving 4-month-old housepet. Among North County’s 40 K&M rescues, the Atascadero branches houses rescues Jemima, Roscoe, Cletus, Parker, Stella, Norton and Mo.
Parker (white pig with pink nose) came from the Bay Area, from a woman who was diagnosed and losing her battle with cancer. She reached out on a Facebook post through a mutual friend to desperately search for a home for Parker once she passed, so that her husband didn't have to worry about him being home all day alone while he worked.
Up close with Mylan and Marilu Elder and their children Liam, age 6, and Graycee, age 14.