Genius Pig

By John Kaiser
Journal Reporter

Nellie can spell, shoot hoops and play the piano, but her shot clock is running out.

The celebrated pot-bellied pig has only a year, maybe two, to dazzle audiences with her repertoire of more than 70 tricks.

Earning up to $800 a day, it's Nellie who brings home the bacon for "mama," her owner, Priscilla Valentine, a former high school English teacher. But Nellie will soon be past her prime and the search is on for her successor.

"I've been trying to find another one as smart as her," Valentine said. "I'd give anything for another Nellie."

Although Nellie, now 3, might live to be 10, her legs may enable her to play soccer and bowl only until she's 5.

Finding another pig who can spell PIG is hard enough. Finding a pig who wants to is even tougher.

"The other pigs would just rather have their belly scratched," Valentine said.

Yet the word is out to breeders across the land: A smart pig is a ticket to fame.

Nellie appeared as the star in Jurassic Park, a five-minute video that featured her wreaking havoc in a miniature world. It was shot in the Valentine's back yard on Kent's East Hill. The spoof, which appeared on ABC's Funniest Home Videos last year, won a $10,000 award - "Nellie's first big break," Valentine said.

That led to an invitation to the Donohue Show last November and a call back in March after producers rated her the show's sexiest female in 1994.

Unlike most pigs, Nellie is white. Her nose is long, her hair is rough. While performing, she wears a flashy necklace.

Valentine said she refused a $25,000 offer to buy the animal. She takes Nellie and Little Al, a younger pig, to private shows for birthday and office parties, charging $150 for a half-hour.

"I think there will be other pigs that can do what Nellie does, but I don't think there will ever be another Nellie," said Phyllis Batoe, who judges pedigree pig shows. "She enjoys what she does. That's hard to find even with humans."

Nellie can fetch mail from a mailbox, close the red flag on the side of the box and close the door.

And she works cheap. She raises her nose, squints and seems to smile before earning her reward - some popcorn or a tortilla chip.

But she'll hold out for a thick slice of hot pizza, before doing her toughest tricks, like climbing a ladder.

Veterinarian Dan Kennedy said he thinks there are probably other pigs as smart as Nellie out there somewhere.

"I would say (Nellie's tricks) are probably much more related to what Mrs. Valentine has done with Nellie," he said. "They're extremely intelligent. If people put in even a little time to train they can teach them to do tremendous things."

What separates Nellie from other pigs is her drive and determination, said Valentine's husband, Steve.

By almost every account, Nellie remains in a class of her own.

Nellie has her own upstairs room in the immaculately clean three bedroom home. Adorned with posters of herself, a ceramic pig face and a rocking pig taken from a carousel, it's mostly for show. Nellie sleeps with the Valentines - in their bed - almost every night.

Noting the pigs are five degrees warmer than humans, "She can almost drive you out of the bed with her heat," Steve Valentine said.