"Hog it Up"

Steamboat - Hog It Up

Washington state-based act wows crowd with intelligence, tricks, showmanship

By Christine Metz, Staff Reporter, Steamboat Pilot and Tody

Friday, August 19, 2005

"Some Pig" is what Charlotte might have weaved into her web Thursday at the Routt County Fair.

The four Valentines Performing Pigs that appeared at the fairgrounds would give Charlotte's beloved Wilbur a run for his bacon in the tricks department.

The pigs wowed dozens of children as they dunked miniature basketballs, jumped through hoops, rode on a skateboard, rolled balls with their snouts and bowed to the audience with Hawaiian leis around their necks.

The show also was good for a few porcine jokes. Petunia rolled a pork barrel, and Nellie opened a mailbox and pulled out a letter urging the audience to eat beef. Nellie also took a pig ear and tossed it in a toy toilet and placed money into her piggy bank.

Hamming it up was the obvious pun of the day, beginning with the pigs wagging their tails to the song "Hog Wild."

Priscilla and Steve Valentine, from Gig Harbor, Wash., have been training pigs for more than 13 years. In the early 1990s, they adopted their first two pigs -- Wilbur and Nellie -- during the potbelly pig craze.

Priscilla Valentine said she found the pigs to be very smart and energetic animals that would find their way into trouble. To funnel their intelligence and energy, Valentine started teaching them tricks.

"They just love it, adore it. Better than food is the challenge of doing the trick," Valentine said.

Nellie, the star of the show, won the World Trick Championship and the $10,000 grand prize from an America's Funniest People competition. She has appeared on the Today Show, Animal Planet, The Late Show with David Letterman and The Discovery Channel.

Seven years ago, Priscilla, a freelance writer, and Steve, who was in the manufacturing business, quit their jobs and took their pig show on tour.

Now, they travel across the country to fairs and festivals. They have preformed at birthday parties and weddings. "We've done everything but funerals," Priscilla said.

After the Routt County Fair, the show moves on to the Colorado State Fair.

Priscilla uses treats to coax her pigs to perform. She uses popcorn for the easy tricks, cheese for the medium tricks and vegetarian pizza for the hardest ones.

One of the most difficult tricks in the pigs' repertoire is when Nellie uses toy letters to spell out words. When asked what kind of animal she is, Nellie pulls out the letters H-A-M.

"The hardest trick was to teach Nellie to get off the stage," Priscilla said, noting that they finally added an act in which Nellie would crawl into a suitcase to be carried off stage.

Valentine said she continues to be amazed by the pigs' intelligence and told the crowd Thursday that pigs are the world's third-smartest animals. Priscilla said pigs can remember tricks they have not practiced in 10 years.

"We've done it for so many years, I can't think of any new tricks," she said.

Along with smarts, she said her pigs are as affectionate as other house pets and love to cuddle. Five of the Valentine's nine pigs live in their house. She said each of the pigs takes a turn sleeping in their bed.

"They are like little kids. It's like having 2-year-olds for 15 years," she said.

To make sure the pigs stay trim, the Valentines stand in their country acreage outside of Seattle and call the pigs, which come running. They also go jogging.

Valentines Performing Pigs will show two times daily during the Routt County Fair today, Saturday and Sunday.

Ten-year-old Vicki Muhme of Hayden has two pigs in this year's fair. She was awed by Petunia walking up and down a teeter-totter.

"I thought it was amazing," Vicki said.