Good morning. It’s Tuesday. We’ll meet the mascot of a Brooklyn firehouse. She’s small and pinkish-white, and she doesn’t have spots like a Dalmatian.
Firefighter Aron Shamayev opened the door at Engine Company 239 in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn. He knew whom I was looking for. “She’s in the rig right now,” he said.
She was. She was nosing around in the cabin behind the driver’s seat of a fire truck — rooting around on the metal floor, really. She does that. Sometimes she noses around the fire pole.
She is a pig — Penny the Fire Pig or Fire Pig Penny, as she is known, a teacup pig. She is the unofficial mascot of Engine Company 239. And she is not only a presence at the firehouse; she is also a presence on social media, with more than 17,000 followers on Instagram.
Darren Harris, a firefighter who adopted her from a farm in Virginia in 2021, takes her to work on his twice-a-week, 24-hour shifts — the rest of the time, she cavorts on the deck and in the backyard at his house in Middletown, N.Y.
She was “something different” at Engine Company 239. “We don’t have a dog,” he said. “We don’t have a cat.” Penny proved to be “a great thing for the neighborhood,” said Firefighter Sean Mulligan. “Kids passing by, they love seeing the pig” — and snapping photos of Penny on the bumper of the fire truck.
But Mulligan added that there is a downside to having a pig as a pet. “You know,” he said, “obviously, they smell a little bit. You’ve got to deal with that.”
Engine Company 239 has had to deal with something else. Having a pig on the premises changed the menu. “No more pork,” Harris said.
Penny’s routine at the firehouse has not changed much. She does not go to fires and never will. When a call comes in, the firefighters put her in her carrier in a back room.
But she has been taking advantage of the fame that comes with having an Instagram following. She headlined a benefit at a yoga studio in Manhattan early in May and flew to Hollywood for the taping of a television program. Whitney Berger, who owns the yoga studio, said she had discovered Penny on Instagram — “I’ve always wanted a mini pig. Obviously I live in New York City. Not going to happen for me.” — and messaged Harris about doing a fund-raiser at her studio, WhitFit.
Penny turned out to be “about the size of my dachshund,” Berger said, adding that she had assumed that even small pigs “grew to be ginormous, but she’s actually mini.”
Also, Berger said, “she’s a Cheerios addict.” Sure enough, at the firehouse, Penny snorted down several handfuls that Harris gave me to offer to her. I asked if she wanted more. She grunted and walked away, so I didn’t get to ask if she had read “The Te of Piglet,” a 1990s best seller that explained Taoist philosophy through a certain character in A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh.” Or what she had thought of Wilbur, in “Charlotte’s Web.” Or who is her Kermit.
“She swam in my pool,” Firefighter James McCourt told me. It happened at his house in Mill Basin, Brooklyn, during a picnic for Engine Company 239. “She went up the steps and got out,” he said, pulling out his smartphone and playing a video that showed Penny doing just that.
“Everybody thinks pigs are dirty,” McCourt added. “She’s clean and smart.” Harris concurred: “Their brain capacity, they get up to a 4-year-old or 5-year-old’s level in intelligence,” he said, “so they’re smarter than dogs, a lot of people say.”
McCourt also said she was easily trained. “Easier to train her than a dog,” he said, describing a routine that involved a bowl of Cheerios in the firehouse kitchen. “If we were going out on a run,” he said, “I’d bang the bowl and she’d come in.”
Harris adopted her for his daughter, Aspen, now 7. “I wanted to have an animal around so you could learn about caring for animals,” he said, but Aspen was scared of dogs. She liked pigs, thanks to Peppa, the pale-pink protagonist of a cartoon series.
“She was like, ‘pigs are friendly,’” he said. “She’s been around cats, and she’s actually coming around on dogs now, but I guess she made that connection of seeing the cartoon with a pig and she was like, ‘Yeah, I can handle this as a pet.’” There was also a disciplinary element. “If she was acting up, it was like, ‘No, you can’t see Penny,’” he said. When she was good, Penny was hers to play with.
Before long, he was taking her to work.
Berger, the yoga instructor, said that she was mesmerized by Penny, so much so that she had thought about kidnapping her. She said she had asked Harris if she could at least “pig-sit” Penny.
“But no,” she said, and maybe it was just as well. “I think she’s a little high maintenance, as she would be, being that cute.”
Expect some patchy fog or smoke on a mostly sunny day near the mid-70s. The evening is partly cloudy, with temps dropping to the high 50s.
In effect until June 19 (Juneteenth).
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Usually I walk the 12 blocks to my gym, but my knee had been hurting, so I took the M31 bus at 79th Street and York Avenue to 91st Street.
I had gotten my hair cut that morning and I was on my way to a yoga class. It wasn’t that cold out, so I put my hat in my jacket pocket in case I got cold while waiting for the bus home. I did not want to squash my newly cut hair.
When I got off the bus, I immediately realized that my hat had fallen out of my pocket. I liked the hat. It had a rose on the side made out of the hat fabric. I was upset and annoyed with myself.
After class, I waited to take the bus home. When it came, a neighborhood friend got on when I did, and we sat together near the front of the bus.
“Did you lose a white hat?” a woman sitting across from us said.
How did she know? There it was, under my seat on the same bus two hours later. I never would have seen it. I thanked her profusely.
— Janet Dash
Glad we could get together here. I’m taking the next few days off. Dodai Stewart, Lola Fadulu and Katherine Rosman will write New York Today while I’m gone. — J.B.