FAIR-GOING KIDS DIG PIGS' GIG
The 10-and-under crowd is going hogwild over the tail-wagging antics of three little pigs at the Tanana Valley State Fair.
Trained squealers--Snort, Petunia and Nellie--ham it up three times a day on the Ferguson Field Stage, accompanied by a narrated stream of porcine puns.
"Pork is a four-letter word in our home," said Priscilla Valentine, who with her husband Steve, train and travel five months a year with their troupe of miniature Asian pigs.
With their little pushed-up snouts, cheerful dispositions and straight tails that never stop wagging, the small swine are real crowd pleasers.
The star of the show, 11-year-old Nellie, has been bringing home the bacon ever since the Valentines filmed "Jurassic Pork," a homemade video, featuring a nubile Nellie running amok among miniature trees on the Valentines' rural Washington property.
It was a $10,000 winner on "America's Funniest Home Videos," and Nellie became an overnight sensation. The talented porker has been a featured guest on David Letterman, "The Today Show," "Animal Planet" and other national TV shows.
Snort opens the show, running through a variety of athletic feats from fetching a Frisbee, rooting through utensils to come up with proper Asian eating tools--chopsticks--and leaping through a paper-covered hoop.
Nine-week-old Petunia, weighing only 8 pounds, already is dancing in circles and jumping over a miniature hurdle.
Petite Petunia stole the audience's heart Monday afternoon when she pressed her small snout, trance-like, into the Astroturf, savoring the scent of her cheese treat for several long seconds.
Priscilla considers Petunia an understudy for Nellie, who has a vast repertoire of tricks and has already surpassed her predicted length of performance by several years.
The life span of miniature pigs is 10 to 15 years.
Crowd control was an issue several times during the show as youngsters inched forward onto the edge of the stage to get a closer look at the miniature Asian porkers. At the end of the half-hour show, all were allowed to pet the pigs.
The Valentines treat their brood, currently around 10, as family, and they all live together in the Valentines' home.
"There's never a boring moment working or living with pigs," Priscilla said.
One memorable scene of pig pandemonium occurred in a Las Vegas casino. The Valentines were staying on the ninth floor and Nellie had ridden the elevator up with no signs of anxiety. But the ride down later proved catastrophic. As soon as the elevator doors opened she leaped free of Priscilla's arms and raced screaming and squealing into the casino proper, tearing under blackjack and crap tables and up and down aisles of slot machines before being corralled.
Priscilla has been passionate about pigs since she was 3 and collected hundreds of pig figurines for years. But it wasn't until she and Steve bought several of the miniature pigs about a dozen years ago that she realized how intelligent pigs are.
Priscilla noticed that Nellie acted bored. To give her some mental stimulation, Priscilla started teaching Nellie some dog tricks.
"Nellie took my life in a different direction," said Priscilla, a former high school English teacher.
"I had epilepsy and couldn't work. But after Nellie, I never had a another seizure. ... My previous seizures were uncontrolled by medicine."
Priscilla entered young Nellie in a pig competition and came away with a first-place ribbon in the trick category.
"That was the beginning of the whole thing, showing off my baby. ... It started off a new career and I've never looked back.
Within five years, Steve quit his job in order to fulfill the growing pig troupe's entertainment obligations at state fairs, malls, schools, etc.
They also raise a couple of broods for sale each year.
Pig-proofing their home is a challenge the Valentines have met. It means clearing everything off the bottom two shelves of the refrigerator since their pigs have figured out how to open the refrigerator door.
Pigs are easily trained to use a litter box indoors and, when they are older, they can be trained to ring a bell and ask to go outside, Priscilla said.
The Valentines carefully watch their pigs' weight and jog with them daily. At a freeway rest stop, jogging with pigs, Priscilla said, can cause a stir.
"That's what pigs are. They're all about having fun."
Mary Beth Smetzer can be reached at msmetzer@newsminer.-com or 459-7546.