The World's Smartest Pig and Her Friends Ham It Up

Performing Pigs go Hog Wild
The World's Smartest Pig and Her Friends Ham It Up

Wilbur Junior
Photos by Frank Varga / Skagit Valley Herald
Wilbur Junior, an 8-week-old potbellied pig with Valentines Performing Pigs, leaps over a hurdle Wednesday. The pigs, which play golf, dunk miniature basketballs, ride skateboards and dance, are among the attractions at the Skagit County Fair, which opened Wednesday and continues through Saturday.

MOUNT VERNON - With blond locks flying from her pink face and her straight tail wagging, Nellie, the World's Smartest Pig, pranced on the stage like the seasoned show-stopping swine she is.

The 14-year-old potbellied pig - that's 80 in people years - dances, golfs, bowls, checks the mail and spells - HAM, of course.

When Nellie of Valentines Performing Pigs took to the spotlight Wednesday at the Skagit County Fair, she carried what every diva needs, a baton accessorized with silver streamers.

Whether it was a musician singing about hog habits, a member of the color guard cautioning school children about the dangers of pig wrestling or potbellied performers such as Nellie, the first day of the fair seemed to swirl around swine.

Pigs aren't the only creature or feature of this fair. There are also birds of prey, including a bald eagle from Sardis Raptor Center, carnival rides, as well as 4-H members and other youths demonstrating how they trained or reared farm and domestic animals. There will be plenty of cows and horses at the rodeo Friday and Saturday evenings.

But for some, pigs are a passion. Just ask firefighter Jim Smith of Camano Island. He has 60 and brought his 700-pound porker, Sister Three, and her 12 piglets to the fair.

"I gotta have a hobby," Smith said and shrugged.

He blames his kids for his pastime - they joined 4-H. After buying a couple of pigs for his children to raise, Smith said he thought, why not try rearing them himself? As a firefighter in Issaquah, he has a lot of spare time between his 24-hour shifts.

"I liked it," Smith said.

So much, in fact, that he's traveled to Iowa for the World Pork Expo.

He said his ham hobby is expensive. Each month, his pigs eat three tons of specialty feed made of corn, soybeans and vitamins. But his pigs do bring home the bacon, so to speak, after they are sold for meat.

"They live the good life," he said. "They are pets with a purpose."

Smith said he doesn't have many qualms about raising them for eventual slaughter.

"When it's time for the ones to mature, I don't like it," he said. "The butcher comes to the house, and I walk away."

However, at the home in Gig Harbor where Nellie lives, pork is a four-letter world.

Her trainers, Priscilla and Steve Valentine, consider their nine pigs family. Nellie and her costars Petunia Pancake and Snort are litter box trained and have the run of the house.

But that freedom can be challenging for the Valentines. Pigs are the third-smartest mammal in the animal kingdom, following monkeys and whales.

"They use most of their intelligence to get food or to out-fox you," Priscilla Valentine said.

Eat Beef
Nellie, billed as the World's Smartest Pig, looks on approvingly at Priscilla Valentine's sign Wednesday at the Skagit County Fair.

She said she and her husband secure their refrigerator with a bungee cord to keep prospecting porkers from pigging out. Special treats, such as cheddar cheese or vegetarian pizza, motivate the pigs, which perform 300 shows a year.

But Nellie also works for the applause.

She's hammed things up on America's Funniest Home Videos, Good Morning America, Animal Planet's Pet Star and the Late Show with David Letterman.

Still, she may have an upand-coming rival for the spotlight. At 8 weeks old, Wilbur Junior seems like a natural ham.

Clad in a purple Hawaiian lei, the look that all the Valentines' pigs sport, the little porker twirled around the stage. He also, after a couple of attempts, jumped a hurdle made of white plastic pipe.

And if the rush of children to pet him after the show was any sign, Wilbur was a hit with the Skagit crowd.

Four-year-old Matthew Donaldson of LaCon - ner found an unique way to describe the soft bristles on Wilbur's back.

"Like a dinosaur," he said.

Marta Murvosh can be reached at 360-416-2149 or mmurvosh@skagitvalleyherald. com.

Frank Varga / Skagit Valley Herald
Kyle Jones, 10, prepares to catch a ball hog-apulted into the air by Nellie, the World's Smartest Pig, Wednesday during a performance of Valentines Performing Pigs at the Skagit County Fair. Kyle was with a group of children from the Mount Erie YMCA visiting the fair.