Since the dawn of humanity, people have had animal companions. They typically tend to be either dogs or cats, maybe even a bird, but some in Boyle Heights are challenging the norm by adopting more unusual pets.
In this neighborhood –where hearing roosters and chickens along with dogs barking and stray cats meowing is a common occurrence– a teenager who adopted a goat and a couple who rescued a pig, have taken to social media to share their experiences raising such unique animals, and the hurdles and struggles that come with the responsibility.
The owner of the goat is a recent high school graduate named Miguel S. (he asked not to include his last name), who says he’s a big lover of animals. He has four dogs, a cat, two newts, and most recently a Pygmy goat, which he almost named Billy.
Instead, when he adopted her with his sister last November in Huntington Park, he decided to name her Birria, after the traditional goat dish from Jalisco, Mexico.
“Originally I wanted to get a dog,” Miguel said. “It was random. Nobody knew I was gonna get it. We went and I came back with a goat.”
It was different for Daniel Friedman, who had wanted a pig for a long time.
“I’ve done my research and know that they’re really intelligent and compassionate animals,” said Friedman, who finally rescued a male potbelly pig from a shelter in January. Henamed him Gumby after the claymation TV show character from the 1950s that has had several reboots since then.
“[I] just grew up with that,” Friedman said. “The claymation cartoon Gumby is in my heart and he seems like a Gumby, right?”.
Luckily, his partner Iran A. Gogo approved.
“I think he seems like a Gumby,” she said. “I was for Gumby, I felt like I had veto power over the name. And I’m like, ‘You know my mom only speaks Spanish but she can say Gumby.’ I wanted a name that she could pronounce”.
Friedman and Miguel S. had dissimilar struggles owning and raising what are typically considered farm animals.
For example, Miguel’s parents were originally shocked and displeased when Miguel came back home with Birria.
“It was a surprise for everybody,” he recalled. “I even surprised myself. I didn’t think I was gonna go through with it, but when I got home, [my mom’s] like, ‘Oh, your dad’s gonna be mad. Why would you get a goat? We already have pets.’ And, like, the next day, everybody loved her.”
Miguel attributes that to the fact that Birria the Goat has been nothing but a tame and well-behaved baby Pygmy goat who quite easily picked up potty training.
“She was pretty easy to train,” he said. “I got her when she was a day old, actually, and from that day, I put a pee pad to her nose so she could sniff it and she’s been potty trained since then.”
Miguel does keep Birria’s horns tucked into a small contraction he made out of a pool noodle and some tape so that when she plays with all the other animals in Miguel’s house none of them get accidentally hurt.
According to Friedman and Gogo, raising a Potbelly is a whole different challenge than raising a dog or cat.
“There is wisdom in what Churchill said, that a cat looks down on you,” he said. “A dog looks up to you, and pigs treat you like they’re your equal”.
Pigs are very intelligent animals with an IQ comparable to that of a three-year-old and are technically the smartest domestic animal. Gumby is also expected to grow to between 60-150 pounds.
Something Friedman and Gogo were surprised by was how pigs have no body odor.
“He doesn’t smell at all,” she said. “The only thing we have to worry about is just cleaning his mouth. He comes from the yard because he gets it all full of dirt, and then he wants to come in and put a snout on everything. But he’s not smelly… people think pigs are dirty, but he isn’t”
Gumby has had some behavioral issues, some that may be understood by the fact that pigs don’t typically live in a city. It takes some time for them to get used to the occasional loud passing car and the sometimes aggressive barks of the neighborhood dogs. Friedman and Gogo had to get Gumby a trainer because pigs are hierarchical animals, they prefer to live in herds, and piglets like Gumby waste no time trying to climb the social ladder.
”He wanted to challenge all [the] other herd mates for [their] positions,” she said. Luckily the issue has largely subsided. The couple no longer has to keep making sure that Gumby and Gogo’s dog, Coco, don’t get into conflict, and that the piglet is less apprehensive of the neighborhood dogs. Gumby is a very affectionate pet and he became potty trained very quickly at just four months.
But raising Gumby hasn’t been a walk in the park, even though he does walk the park regularly and gets plenty of exercise. Because Gumby is a growing pig, his family makes sure to keep him fit and well-fed, with up to three meals a day.
Birria too needs plenty of food and exercise, which Miguel gives her by taking her on daily walks at around 6:30 in the morning, along with his dogs. Birria’s and Gumby’s food are remarkably similar, both enjoying grass, fruits, veggies, and especially bananas. The big difference is that Gumby really enjoys lentils and Birria especially likes alfalfa grass.
Miguel said he gets his goat feed from Wes’s Pets and Feeds, a small family-owned store in El Monte.
Birria and Gumby both have Instagram pages, both of which gained some Boyle Heights notoriety when they were shared on the @BoyleHeights page. You can find Birria on Instagram by the handle @Birriathegoat_ and Gumby as @Boyleheightspig. There, you can see them being stylish: Birria sporting a cow onesie and Gumby celebrating Saint Patrick’s day as a leprechaun.
Birria came into the spotlight after tweets of people who had seen a guy walking his goat on a leash garnered attention.
“I just wanted to make a goat page for her,” Miguel said. “All my friends were like, ‘oh, you should make a page for [her].’ I mean, not everybody here has a goat.”
The idea for Gumby’s Instagram page was originally brought forward by a veterinarian friend that was interested in him. Gogo was originally reluctant but obliged. “I didn’t want to draw that attention,” she said. “But at the same time, he’s so cute”.
Boyle Heights has never been a stranger to the unorthodox, and even though Friedman and Miguel S. adopted nontraditional pets, they fit right into what many have come to love about the neighborhood: its rich culture, and the people and things in the community.
Questioned whether he would recommend adopting a goat, Miguel said: “Yeah, just be sure that you can take them out when they need to be taken out because they’re very energetic.”
Asked what she would recommend to a person looking to adopt a pig, Gogo said: “Don’t expect that it’s like a dog, because I really thought there’d be transferrable skills, there are some, but it’s very different. They’re very unique. Their personality and their complexity is just different”.