Stirring from a deep sleep within the shelter of numerous thick blankets, I become increasingly aware of the sound of clopping hooves on wooden floorboards just outside. A grunting, searching snout under the doorframe and a swinging tail accompanies this crescendo of impatience, and I soon recall what is going on. Behind that door is a 50kg pig complaining for his breakfast.
Ercci, a young black domestic 'mini pig', seems to fit perfectly in his home in Southern Finland, where he shares a space not only with his owner and their two children, but with a husky and a growing number of giant Newfoundland dogs. With his humans and dogs going away for a holiday, Ercci suddenly finds himself in charge of two inexperienced pigsitters for a few days, allowing him to carry himself about with all the swagger of a rowdy schoolchild lording themselves over frightened substitute teachers.
The first thing you have to know about pigs (though, granted, I have only met one pig, so this may just be Ercci), is that they do not behave like other pets. Ercci seems to look at everything through the lens of hierarchy. The rank of strangers must be challenged as soon as possible in a game of chicken, where he stares at you, comes close, and eventually bites you to see how you respond. Being a hefty animal and screeching loudly while he does it, these bites are frankly terrifying events. But as a pig, a prey animal, his oink is truly much worse than his bite. Respond to these challenges with strength and he submits, dropping his facade and trotting away. With his regular family, these challenges are now rare as there is already an established pecking order: the humans, then the husky, then him, followed usually by the rather shy Newfoundlands.
Armed with this knowledge myself, Ercci was still an absolute pain in the arse. He would protest his position by standing in the middle of the room and peeing on the floor, or by waiting near the toaster and attacking me when it pops up. He clearly saw weakness, and wanted to exploit it.
There is of course a warmer side to Ercci. He loves his tough belly being scratched with a kitchen fork, his snout being stroked, he chases apples being rolled and searches everywhere for food. He also goes on walks, though if he likes them he did a good job of hiding it from us. To protect Ercci from subzero winter temperatures, he first has to slip into his knitted jumper and then a walking harness, easy for this big strong male boar right?
The complaining sounds began as soon as I put my hands on him, the regular constant oinks rising steadily in pitch. I then had to quickly pull the jumper over his head or he would move to block it, then lift his hooves through each leg-hole. By this point, body held between my knees, holding one of his front legs up, he shrieked bloody murder at the top of his voice. His ringing screams were so loud I began to worry about what passersbys might have be thinking is going on. With both feet soon through the jumper (he seemed to have grown in the belly-area since it was made), and then the harness over, I stepped away. The howls immediately stopped and he returned to his regular content oinks. The biggest crybaby I have ever met.
Amongst the snow, Ercci loses his machismo. His oinks became less frequent and he follows without hassle, though every now and again he needed to be persuaded by some bread, which we carried out of view in our pockets.
The froth from his mouth, produced from his ceaseless chewing and eating, began to freeze over as he tunnelled through the ice. But he did not complain or show aggression, the disruptive schoolchild finally behaved himself.
Make no mistake though, Ercci's top speed was still nothing to write home about. We managed a small loop barely three streets wide in what felt like over an hour. I had also wrongly assumed that the neighbourhood would be accustomed to a great grey pig walking around, and would not require any additional explanation. Apparently this was not the case. but the questions did not require much translation, with "yes its a pig" seeming to satisfy most people as a reply.
When we returned, so did the complaining. A few more cries later and he was undressed, and allowed once again to stomp his hooves around the house and forage. We left our coats and shoes out of reach, as we did with all possessions we wanted to bring back intact, and prepared his dinner. A few apples and a mix of old vegetables, no complaints there∎