Goats, rats, gerbils, cats, dogs and a skink that seems to hate me have all been my pets at one time or another, but I’ve never had a pig.

I may have dated a few, but I’ve never had one as a pet.

Actually, using the term “pig” as a putdown is quite rude—to the pig.

“Pigs really do deserve more respect,” says Marana’s Taryn Ashley, who has four pigs of her own at home, and more than 500 at her job at the Ironwood Pig Sanctuary, a pig-rescue haven near the Red Rock exit on Interstate 10. She’s always been a dog person, but once she started working with pigs, she was amazed at the bond they create with their owners.

“As you need to care for them and be there for them, it seems they also understand that they need to be there for you,” she explains. “They can read people very well and are great at responding to your actions.”

Tucson’s Cerise Wilson, who has two pet pigs at her midtown home, adds that pigs are smart, funny—and emotional. “Pigs are very sensitive,” she says. “They get their feelings hurt.”

I officially withdraw my pig putdown.

Tucson is loaded with pigs, thanks to people breeding them “like mad,” says Ashley, and foreclosures that leave them, with dogs and cats, out in the dust.

Although pigs may be left in the dust—or even callously dumped in yards—it does not mean they are dirty. Wilson and Ashley say pigs are very clean. And that’s not the only pig myth these animal-lovers put to rest.

For starters, pigs don’t “oink,” Ashley says. They grunt and bark. They don’t stink. And they don’t just sit around wallowing in mud. Each has its own distinct personality, some of which are endearingly goofy.

Ashley’s pig Ziggy is a gentle giant. Her pig Katie rules the roost with a slight stubborn streak. “Karma is a doll,” and “Rudy is a love bug.”

Wilson’s pig Guinness loves to lie at her feet, while pig Opie enjoys the crisp, refreshing taste of Altoids. Opie first chews up the peppermint, then makes sucking inhalations through his mouth to enjoy the brisk bursts of air.

Opie also used to sleep near Wilson’s feet on her bed. “He would hop on the bed and be my little heater.” When he expanded to 135 pounds, however, her little heater instead became a giant bed hog. “I had to make my bed too tall for him to hop onto.”

Bed-hogging aside, the biggest issue with pet pigs is integrating them into a home that has existing pigs or other pets. One of Wilson’s first pet pigs was killed by a foster dog. She had to pull a pit bull off another.

“Small foster dogs only” was her answer, and her home is currently stocked with a mix of foster animals and her own five dogs and eight cats. “Pigs want to be the boss,” she says. “There is a definite pecking order.”

Ashley’s two pugs have come to adore her pigs, with dog Jack especially fond of Ziggy. “(Jack) smells him, and Ziggy immediately goes down for a belly rub, so Jack continues to rub his nose on him.”

Pigs even outdo dogs as pets, in at least one respect: cleanup time.

Wilson pointed to a neat pile of little morsels in her yard, explaining that was the extent of the pig poop. She said it makes wonderful fertilizer for the garden—as long as she gets to it before her dogs do. “The dogs think it’s a treat,” she says, “and the pig is a fresh-treat machine.”

Pigs are always up for treats themselves since they eat like, well, pigs. People tend to over-feed them or give them large chunks of food on which they can easily choke. “You can’t just give them a big gob of food and walk away,” warns Ashley, who chops up produce into bite-sized piggy pieces.

Any toil is worth it, the two agree, as pigs make terrific pets. Although there is a downside: really dumb remarks.

“It never fails,” Ashley says. “When people hear where I work, they ask, ‘Do you have any to eat?’ or, ‘Do you slaughter them?’ I don’t think people understand what the words ‘rescue’ and ‘sanctuary’ mean.”

Wilson adds, “If I had a dollar for every ham or bacon remark I’ve heard, I would be rich.”

Or perhaps we should say she’d be high on the hog.

This column originally appeared in the June 16, 2011, issue of Tucson Weekly.

Photos feature Cerise Wilson and her two pigs Guinness (black) and Opie (white)/Photos Ryn Gargulinski