"Porcine Performers Draw Crowd"

By Terria Smith, Ventura County Star

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Three times a day during the Ventura County Fair four little pigs do tricks jumping through hoops, balancing rolling barrels, dancing and even spelling for a crowd of children and families.

"The crowds here just adore the pigs," said Priscilla Valentine, trainer for Valentines Performing Pigs.

Children gather as close to the stage as they can, while the bleachers are filled with adults.

The performance features four Vietnamese pot-belly pigs: Nellie, Nellie-Bell, Petunia Pancake and Snort.

Each pig is brought out one at a time to perform, with Valentine prompting and encouraging each all the way through. At the end of the show, she takes Nellie-Bell around the front of the stage on a leash so that audience members can pet her.

JoAnn Hammer of Winnetka brought her family to see the pigs' performance. She said she loved the show. So did her 4-year-old daughter, Emma. They both said their favorite part was when the pigs jumped through hoops. Emma's favorite pig was "the baby," Nellie-Bell.

The pigs are all trained by Valentine and her husband, Steve, from Gig Harbor, Wash. The Valentines have been training pigs for 16 years starting with Nellie, the star of the show and the biggest at 50 pounds. Priscilla Valentine said Nellie earned the title of "The World's Smartest Pig" because of her spelling trick. Valentine drops a bag full of block letters and Nellie picks up the letters in the order that a word is spelled.

"She can spell pig, ham, yes and no," Valentine said.

She started training Nellie at 6 weeks old as a distraction. As a baby pig, Nellie would root up carpet in the house and grass in the yard.

Valentine said she started the training with a piece of cheese. "She would do anything for it," she said. With the cheese, Nellie would get up on her hind legs, "begging like a dog," a trick now performed by Petunia Pancake. She then moved on to other tricks. The pigs are even housebroken and use a litter box.

"The hardest trick to teach a pig is to leave the stage," Valentine said.

She has loved pigs since she was 3. Some of the pigs the couple owns were rescued from euthanasia. Nellie-Bell, the youngest of the performing pigs, is one of them.

The pigs have appeared on television more than 100 times including the "Late Show with David Letterman," "Good Morning America" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

"The pigs never get tired of performing. It amazes us. We get tired, but the pigs are always ready to do one more trick," Valentine said.

The couple's pigs perform at 10 fairs across the country every year. The fairs are their biggest venue. This is the first year the porkers have taken the stage at the Ventura County Fair, pleasing fairgoers.

"It was fun, it was exciting," said Tracy Holladay from Castaic. "I liked Snort; he was hilarious with all the sports he played. And of course the famous Nellie."

The fair has also made a lasting impression on the Valentines.

"This is the most beautiful fair we've ever done. To be right by the ocean with all the palm trees is just wonderful," Priscilla Valentine said.

Valentines Performing Pigs will perform at Porker Flat today at 12:30, 2:30, and 5 p.m.