It was a match made in hog heaven when Jerry and Melissa Cooper met on an internet chatroom in 1998 and married a month later. Melissa, who started driving trucks in the early 1990s at age 19, taught Jerry how to drive a big rig in 2005. The pair now spend their days on the road together with their three dogs and their 1-year-old Juliana mini pig, which the pair named Jake Brake.
“The funny thing is it started out to be Jake — just regular Jake,” Jerry said. “Then, when we took him out to go use the restroom, get exercise or whatever be the case, we’d say, ‘Come on, Jake, let’s go back to the truck, let’s go see Mommy.’ He’d lean back and dig his front feet into the ground, just like a Jake brake does on a truck to stop it, because he didn’t want to go. That’s how ‘Jake Brake’ came about.”
Jake is the couple’s third pig, he said, adding that they adopted their first pig, Charlie, three years ago to fulfill Melissa’s long-standing dream of having a pet pig.
“I fell in love,” she said. “After Charlie passed away, it broke my heart.”
The couple soon found a second pig, Frankie, but had to donate him to a rescue because he became too large to fit in their truck. At about 85 pounds, Jake is a good fit for the rig, a 2016 Volvo VNL 560 equipped with a 156-inch custom ARI Legacy sleeper, Jerry said. A pet gate divides the sleeper from the cab, and the couple covered the linoleum floors with carpet because of Jake’s hooves.
“It’s kind of funny to watch him ‘skateboard’ — you know, slide around on the floor,” Jerry said with a chuckle. “(But) it’s not too fun when you’ve got to stop and you’re doing 65 or 70 miles an hour.”
He added that his favorite thing about pigs is their intelligence.
“As a matter of fact, Jake Brake has got the mentality of a 5- to 7-year-old kid,” he said. “You can actually teach them to do tricks.”
Jake can sit on command, and close drawers and doors in the sleeper, and he also goes outside on a leash. Melissa said potty training and leash training a pig is easier than training a dog.
“When we first got him … he had his accidents because he didn’t know what to do,” she said, adding that he quickly learned from the couple’s “boys” — their three dogs. “He noticed that when we were putting harnesses on the boys, the boys would go over to the passenger door. He started watching, and he started to move toward the passenger side. He was like, ‘I want to go,’ so we put his harness on and he just automatically trained himself.”
The couple takes Jake out three or four times a day to ensure he gets plenty of exercise. It is a sight that brings joy to most everyone Jake meets.
“His picture’s been taken so many times by other truck drivers, it’s unreal. People fall in love with him,” Jerry said. “They ask me what breed he is, how big he’ll get. ‘What does he eat?’ is the biggest question. I tell them the list of foods he won’t eat is longer than the foods he will eat.”
Since Jake will not eat his pig feed plain, the couple dresses his food up with powdered peanut butter, collagen supplements and vegetable supplements. Jake also enjoys making spitballs, Jerry said.
“One thing with pigs that you’ve got to watch out for is, if you ever let them tear paper (they discover) it’s soothing for them,” he said. “They will find any piece of paper — doesn’t matter what it is — and shred it because it calms them down.”
Because pigs need constant companionship, it is usually best to get two, Melissa said, adding that it is important to supervise relationships between pigs and dogs, who may view pigs as prey.
Oliver, the couple’s 11-year-old Italian greyhound, is the leader of the pack, she said. Also on the truck are Fred, a 6-year-old miniature dachshund, and Earl, a 5-year-old basset hound and dachshund mix.
“Jake and Earl are best friends,” she added. “When Jake and Earl are back here by themselves — you know when two little siblings are fighting in the back seat and picking on each other? That’s what it’s like. We’re like, ‘Would you knock it off?’ Nine times out of 10, it’s Earl sleeping in Jake’s bed on the floor, and Jake wants him to move.”
While a pig may seem like an unusual road companion, Jerry said he knows several truckers that have pigs, including two teams who have 300- to 350-pound potbellied pigs that use a ramp to get in and out of the trucks.
“If you’re going to get a pig for the truck, be sure to check out the pig’s parents,” he added. “That way, you’ll know what size they’re going to (be).”
Melissa also emphasized the need for prospective pig parents to research the pets’ needs before adopting.
“Be prepared that once you get one, you’re in it for the long haul,” she said. “They can live up to 20 years, and they can be very demanding.”
Although caring for Jake and his brothers is a full-time job, the pets make life on the road more enjoyable. Jerry said the critters notice when he and Melissa get stressed, and will often chase each other to break the tension. Sometimes Jake will pick up his food bowl and bang it against the gate, “like he’s in piggy prison,” Jerry said.
“It’s very stressful out here on the road when you’re going full time, because you’re going to different places, different environments, and having a pet just helps with your mentality,” Melissa said. “It helps because a lot of drivers are out here by themselves, and pets are just reassuring that everything’s OK.”
Sarah DeClerk is a multiskilled journalist who specializes in features writing. She has written articles for The Trucker, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas Flag and Banner’s Brave magazine and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Forum. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mass communication from UA-Little Rock in 2013. She has been a board member of the Arkansas Society of Professional Journalists since 2017 and currently serves as chapter president. Her interests include hiking, traveling and the arts.