"Guest Appearance"

Performing pigs make a guest appearance at Bellevue Regional Library
by Doug Margeson - Journal Reporter
(taken from the East Side Journal)

Dancing pigs don't really dance. It's kinda tough to trip the light fantastic when your have to support a 100-pound body on eight-inch legs. Besides, they don't have toes.

They do, however, perform.

"But not for free. They aren't like dogs; they don't feel any particular need to please humans. They're too intelligent for that," said Priscilla Valentine, who brought her troupe of performing pigs to the Bellevue Regional Library last week.

You have to reward pigs if you want them to jump through a hoop, shoot a basketball or do any of the other tricks Valentine has taught them to do. Valentine's pigs --Wilbur, Pipsqueak and Nellie --get a piece of cheese for each trick. Not just any cheese will do. Only cheddar.

Despite their well-justified cynicism about humans, Valentine's pigs' friendly nature gets the best of them. Pigs wag their tails when they are happy. Around the kids in Bellevue, they wagged their tails a lot.

"They like children a lot better than adults," Valentine said. "They feel less threatened by them."

Kids like them back, although they concede the relationship has its inconsistencies.

"They do neat tricks," said Cameron Wynne, 9, of Auburn. "And they seem real friendly. But I still like bacon."

Valentine, of Gig Harbor, has been training pot-bellied Vietnamese pigs for six years. While it's difficult to compare intelligences between species -- a number of not-very-bright animals cope much better with certain situations that their smarter counterparts --pigs are probably slightly less intelligent than chimpanzees and considerably more astute than dogs, Valentine said.

Paradoxically, pigs' very intelligence makes them difficult to train, Valentine said. There has to be something in it for them.

Among the tricks Valentine has taught her pigs are skateboarding --front feet on the board, back feet do the pushing -- and shooting a basket. (They do it with their noses.) They also push a lawnmower, put money in a piggy bank, putt a golf ball --again with the nose -- and spell. Yes, spell. Valentine threw a bunch of big plastic letters on the floor and asked Nellie to tell the crowd what she was. She put three letters on an easel: HAM.

The value of it all, Valentine said, is to get kids away from the tube and out into the real world where they can be in contact with a real animal; an interesting animal, in its own way.

After the show was over, Valentine laid a trail of cheese in front of the kids and Nellie walked down the line, scarfing up the cheese and receiving pats on the back. For a pig, it just doesn't get any better.

The kids loved it.

"I've never seen one close up," said Riley Kidwell, 9, of Bellevue. "I'd like to have one, but I don't think mom and dad would agree."

Colby Wynne, 6, of Auburn thought the pigs had a lot of personality. They seemed happy, but not outgoing about it like a dog; dignified, in their way.

"I've never liked bacon," Wynne said. "Now I'm glad."

ANIMAL TRAINING PHOTO by Rick Schweinhart: Priscilla Valentine, who brought her performing pigs to the Bellevue Regional Library last week, said pigs don't feel the need to please humans. They have to be rewarded if you want them to do tricks.