By Ed Brock

The pork in Denise Joyner's oven was not for eating, but for saving.

The swine in question, a Vietnamese potbellied pig, is named Jenny, and she suffered from an e-coli infection in her youth.

"E-coli destroys the digestive system like in humans. She was on a liquid diet for three months. I had to put her in the oven to regulate her body temperature," Joyner said. "Only on warm, of course."

Joyner loves her pigs, the five that belong to her and the three she has up for adoption through the Pigs as Pets Association to which she belongs.

Her 9-acre farm in the Ola community south of McDonough would put Old McDonald to shame, with a bark-bark from her three dogs here, a chirp-chirp from her cockatiels and parrots there and many an oink-oink from the cheerful pig herd in their backyard pen. There's even a quack-quack from Daffy the duck who patrols the pigpen, keeping them in line with affectionate pecks.

Her farm is dubbed the "Joyner Jungle."

"Come on, babies, come on, time to wake up," Joyner coos to the pigs that were once the pet of choice around the country.

In the 1970s a man named Keith Connell went to Europe to bring back some "sus scrofa domestica" (potbellied pigs) to put in Canadian zoos. By the mid-1980s everybody in the United States wanted one and the pigs were selling for upwards of $3,000. They came to be known as "Yuppy Puppies."

And they do make fine pets, Joyner said. They can be trained to walk on a leash or to use a litter box and people are generally not allergic to them.

The problem is a question of size. A potbellied pig, also known as "Canadian mini-pigs," can grow to be 90 to 125 pounds.

"People would get them when they're piglets. OK, they're cute. Then they grow up," Joyner said. "Because they're called miniature potbellied pigs people think they're going to stay small."

The term miniature applies because, compared to a standard livestock porker like the Yorkshire farm hog that can reach weights of 1,100 pounds, the potbellies are small. And some breeders who sell the pigs deceive their customers about how large the pigs get, Joyner said.

So Pigs as Pets members like Joyner make it their mission to rescue pigs from owners who can no longer keep the pets or just don't want them.

Joyner and other Pigs as Pets volunteers have rescued pigs that have been mauled by dogs (large dogs like to chew on the pigs' ears) or otherwise neglected.

Many of her rescues come from animal shelters around the state, Joyner said. Though Joyner has not gotten pigs from Clayton County Animal Control, they are frequently temporary inmates there.

"We had one last week," Animal Control Capt. Toni Tidwell said Friday. "Some of them are strays and some of them get turned in by their owners."

The pigs are usually sent to Noah's Ark wildlife rehabilitation center in Locust Grove, Tidwell said, after they are treated. The treatment costs $65 and Tidwell said it would be helpful if the pigs' owners would take care of the treatment before bringing them to animal control.

Joyner bought her first pig as a gift for her daughter, but when the daughter decided not to keep the pig it became Joyner's pet.

"I fell in love with them," Joyner said.

Along with taking in the animals when necessary, Pigs as Pets has also begun a program called "Helping Hoof" that is intended to help those who want to keep their pigs by building the right kind of pen or partly funding neutering or spaying for the animals.

Zoning can be a problem for pig owners, Joyner said, and she thinks the Henry County ordinance is no exception. It sets the weight limit for miniature pigs at 100 pounds, too low to include some full-grown potbellies.

So far nobody has mentioned that as a problem to the county's head of code enforcement, Charlie Tomlinson. Tomlinson said the weight limit was put in the ordinance some time ago and he doesn't know how it was determined.

"We're trying to keep them away from being farm animals. You have to keep them as pets," Tomlinson said.

Potbelly pig meat isn't very good for eating, anyway, Joyner said.

"It's almost all lard," she said.