Rescue pigs Nina and Otis are Kunekune pigs, born in 2019, who are now living their best lives after finding a forever family in upstate New York.
Owner Craig Berndt admits he had no experience with pigs when he brought the pair home. His wife had a potbelly pig for a pet at home when she was younger. During the COVID-pandemic, the couple started watching live broadcasts from Arthur’s Acres Animal Sanctuary in the Catskills .
“We all kind of got sucked into the whole situation down there,” Berndt says.
Hoping to wash away the last lingering signs of cabin fever, Bernt bought his family a private tour of the farm for Christmas.
“They were about two and a half hours away and we visited and we met Todd and we met all the pigs and we met at our first Kunekune pigs,” Berndt says.
Kunekune pigs originate from New Zealand. They are known for being very friendly and intelligent, having been bred to live around people in villages.
With shorter snouts and flat pug-like faces, Kunekune pigs don’t root around as much as pot bellied pigs or mini pigs. They don’t do as much damage, Berndt says, and they’re very personable.
“They want human attention,” Berndt says.
That spring, the family was forced to say goodby to their family dog. Looking at all the time they had been putting into the dog’s care, the Berndt’s decided they needed another pet to fill that space.
“It was time to get some pigs because we were super into it,” Berndt says. “And we started learning fast.”
The Berndt family knew they wanted to rescue pigs. They had fell in love with a pot belly pig named Sullivan during their first visit to Arthur’s Acres, and later Kunekune pigs Moby, Billie and Hans. The Arthur’s Acres staff connected the Berndts to a Facebook group for rescue pigs in the area.
Berndt said, “we knew we had to rescue and rehab obese Kunekunes after seeing Sullivan’s recovery and falling in love with the kunekune personality.”
When they heard about later named Nina and Otis, their minds were already made up.
“We just waited for it to happen and It didn’t take long,” Berndt said.
“Nina and Otis spoke to us for some reason, as silly as that sounds,” he added.
The pigs were being kept in a garage in Kentucky, where someone had bought them as pets during the pandemic. As Berndt says, the previous owners may have had good intentions, but needed rescue help themselves. It took the better part of a month to find a transport company that would take the pigs to upstate New York.
“They were abandoned when somebody moved out,” Berndt says. “The neighbors took them into their garage and proceeded to overfeed them for two years, not caring for their hooves. They were massively overweight…could barely take 10 steps.”
Nina and Otis spent 12 and a half hours in a trailer climate controlled trailer before they arrived at the Berndt’s at around midnight in late June.
Berndt had to estimate each pig at around 450 pounds.
“They don’t make at home pig scales,” he says, “And we didn’t have a truck scale available. They were about 100 pounds heavier than we thought they were. And the ribs were significantly worse than we thought they were. So we had a mild panic attack and then got to it.”
The family knew this would be a difficult rescue, but they were up to the challenge.
Berndt set up the family barn to house his office on one side and Nina and Otis on the other.
Until the pigs could get down to a healthy weight, Berndt had to feed them in place and help them move to a corner to relieve themselves. The family worked with the staff at Arthur’s Acres Sanctuary and Four Hearts Farm and others to make sure the pigs’ food and care routines were on the right track.
Nina’s hooves were so long, “she looked like she had Genie shoes on,” Berndt says. “She could barely walk, and as a result her hooves are permanently deformed.”
Berndt said there was a concern for tendon or ligament damage from letting the hooves grow so long.
“We don’t believe she was moving much at all because of it,” he says.
Nina’s right front hoof is almost foundering, meaning it suffers from poor blood flow. Berndt says every picture he has seen of Nina shows her laying on her right side, possibly for so long that it actually deformed her hoof.
Through 6 months of intensive care, both pigs are down about 75 pounds, with another 100 to lose before they reach a healthy, average weight.
“These are pigs that couldn’t take 10 steps and now we’ll look out the window and notice them on the other side of the half acre area that they have available to them,” Berndt says. “Before that we had to prompt Otis every morning we would feed them. Nina would would kind of mosey around but Otis needed to be prompted to move. He would just go back to bed and sleep for 10 hours and be perfectly happy. Now they’re both happy, they’re self prompting and moving and exploring the space.”
Berndt says Nina and Otis were “mechanically blind” when they arrived at their new home, and still struggle with their vision, though the weight loss has helped relieve some of the fat around their eyes, which makes it easier.
“We’re starting to see a lot of head tilting and we thought that it was ear infections,” Berndt says. “It turns out that they’re getting some vision if they hold their head just right.”
Berndt says that other animals at their home are friendly with Nina and Otis, but over-eager dogs need to be held back.
“Dogs and pigs have to be watched together, no matter their size, because they speak different languages,” Berndt says. “Your dog’s saying to your pig ‘let’s let’s be friends and play’ with little nips and jumps. To a pig, that looks like ‘I want to you and kill you,’ even if that dog is 12 pounds and the pigs 400 pounds. The real fear we had was not the dogs hurting the pigs but the pigs hurting the dogs.”
Berndt bears a few scratches on his leg from the last time he rubbed Otis the wrong way. Still, he says the pigs are easy to get along with, and great family pets.
“They love the kids,” he says. “They always perk up when the kids come out.”
Learn more about Nina and Otis on their Instagram page, and in the video below!
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