Marc Morrone Newsday columnist Marc Morrone

Marc Morrone was born in 1960 in the Bronx and, when he was 2, his family moved to

Q: My daughter wants to get a baby potbellied pig for a pet. We do have a large house with two friendly dogs. These pigs seem very cute and smart. However I have never actually seen one kept as a house pet. What advice could you give us about them before we actually get one? You seem to have kept every single kind of animal. --Roger Davison, Dix Hills

A: Yes, I was one of the first to keep potbellied pigs when they were initially imported into the United States in the late '70s and I have kept many as pets. However they can only be considered good pets for people who can provide what is needed for the pigs' natural life.

First, be sure that keeping a pig is legal in your town. Second, pigs need regular veterinary care. You have to vaccinate them and have their hooves trimmed regularly. Seek out a vet who can do this in your area before you get the animal. Also, when you go on vacation it is not easy to find a place to board a pig. Your vehicle must be large enough for a giant-sized dog carrier to move the pig about in. Few pigs can climb up into a car and sit on the backseat as a dog can.

Pigs are indeed very smart. Many scientists consider them to be the smartest domesticated animal. By the way, their reputation for being dirty is only because we keep pigs destined to be eaten in such horrible conditions that they have no choice but to be dirty.

Too many people buy baby pigs as pets only to give them up when they grow up. There are only so many sanctuaries for pet pigs and they are all overflowing with grown pigs that once belonged to well intentioned families.

Q: Are dog walks better than letting a dog run around in a fenced backyard? I don't have 30 minutes three times a day to stroll around my neighborhood.

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Why does anybody even walk their dog?

If I had a choice between sitting on a cozy couch (or multi-tasking chores at home) and donning a coat and walking around outside in the snow, rain, cold, etc., I can't imagine even big "puppy eyes" would win. I am not lazy -- it's just that I give up a lot more important things during my day than that.

What happens to a dog if you skip a walk here and there? Go crazy? Get depressed? I see people outside walking their dogs at all hours and in the worst weather. What could possibly be that important? --Jen Kessler, Baldwin

A: Well a dog can get enough exercise running around a fenced backyard with a potty area. My own dogs did that for many years. Many small dogs live in apartments in the city and use a wee wee pad to eliminate and do get enough exercise just running around an apartment. However dogs do differ just as people do. There are dogs that prefer to sleep on the couch all day only to wake up and toddle over to their backyard potty area three times a day and then go back to sleep. Others seem to enjoy running back and forth in the backyard chasing clouds moving across the sky. The former certainly do need to be forced into physical activity by being taken for walks.

The main issue here is that taking a dog for a walk provides the mental stimulation that it needs that cannot be provided when a dog never leaves a fenced-in backyard or apartment. A dog on a walk smells everything and gleans knowledge from it all.

We humans can never understand what an animal experiences from smell -- it is like describing color to a blind person -- but it must be a whole world of information that dogs crave and need.

The best analogy I can give is this: Imagine how frustrated you would feel if you had no access to TV, newspapers, the Internet or even other humans to talk with -- as if you were on a spaceship with kind aliens attending to your every need. This is how a dog that is confined always to a house and fenced-in backyard must feel. It may be satisfied but not truly happy.

I clearly remember the dogs in my neighborhood when I was a child. There were no fenced-in backyards. (None of our dads could afford a fence and it would have been considered rude to put one up.) So all the families' dogs would be loose in the neighborhood all day long. Each family had only one car and Dad took it to work, so there was no traffic in the streets to hurt the dogs. They had their own cliques just as people do. I clearly remember what dogs hung out with each other and what they did all day long. They almost had their own culture and it fascinated me. I've never had the opportunity to observe dogs interacting like that ever again. Even today's dog parks cannot compare. It is the responsibility of today's dog owners to do their best to recreate such situations for their dogs with daily walks and visits to a dog park if at all possible.