SFO recruits adorable therapy pig to soothe tense travelers

LiLou, the first known airport therapy pig in the US, joins the ranks of animals dedicated to making travel less stressful. But taking a pig home isn't for everyone.

Stressed travelers at San Francisco's International Airport have an adorable new outlet to sooth tensions: LiLou the pig, the latest addition to SFO's Wag Brigade. Her tricks, personality, and costumes are sure to distract and delight – but a pet pig may not be for everyone.

LiLou, a Juliana pig, and her owner, Tatyana Danilova, will be appearing at the airport – as well as area hospitals and senior centers – as part of the Animal Assisted therapy program at the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. LiLou has been trained and certified by the San Francisco SPCA to go into public places and interact with visitors, often wearing a vest that reads “Pet Me!” She might wave, stand up on her back hooves, or even play a toy piano for the crowds that assemble to meet her.

“It’s wonderful to witness the surprise and delight that LiLou brings to people during therapy visits,” Jennifer Henley, the San Francisco SPCA animal assisted therapy manager, said in a statement.

LiLou is one of more than 300 animal therapy teams in the San Francisco area alone. And therapy animals have become an increasingly common sight at airports across the country. Last May, miniature horses began surprising visitors to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport. They’ve been making regular visits ever since, USA Today reports.

Because LiLou is so adorable, many of those who meet her may come away dreaming of owning their own pet pig. But potential owners should be aware of the challenges of keeping a pig domestically, owners and sanctuaries say.

When Vietnamese potbellied pigs arrived in US zoos in the mid-1980s, they charmed Americans – and private breeders took notice, hoping to cash in on the phenomenon by breeding their potbellied pigs with other smaller breeds of pig, and underfeeding them in hopes of keeping them small. But many of these breeders used unscrupulous tactics to convince buyers that the pigs would remain tiny, resulting in thousands of pigs who can no longer be cared for in homes and end up in shelters as they grow larger. The smallest pig breed – Juliana pigs like LiLou – grow to between 50 and 75 pounds.

Domesticly bred farm animals, like pigs, can be companion animals, but only “where they may be kept legally and responsibly,” the ASPCA cautions. Because pigs are so smart – on par with a two-year-old human, according to the SPCA — Ms. Danilova had to baby-proof her house to keep LiLou from becoming destructive. To cut down on boredom that can lead to destructive behavior, pet pigs also need mental stimulation, which is different from that typically offered pet cats and dogs.

“Pig ownership is not for everyone. While pigs are cute and adorable, they do require extra time, consistent discipline, responsibility, and reasonable guardian expectations,” Danilova told the San Francisco SPCA in an interview.

If owning a pig isn’t for you, you can still keep up with LiLou! Find her in San Francisco, or follow her adventures on social media. Her Instagram account and the hashtag #sfpig provide regular doses of cuteness.

Other pigs have also taken to social media to promote awareness for pig sanctuaries, like Esther, whose unexpected growth prompted her owners to establish the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary.

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