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This Little Piggy Went to Heaven

Debbie & pig
Robert Scheer

Living High on Pork Avenue: Debbie Walsh says her fun-loving swine, Boris, enjoys bath time, mud-frolicking and especially the dinner hour.

Potbelly's pal Debbie Walsh believes that if you can't eat 'em, join 'em

By Sarah Phelan

DEBBIE WALSH NEVER planned on having a pig in her life, but that was before she met Bronson. Not Charles Bronson, of course, but a potbellied piglet who was equally entertaining, what with his chubby good looks and roly-poly ways. All it took was one look into his obsidian eyes, and Walsh was hopelessly in love.

But Bronson belonged to the woman next door.

Each time Walsh visited her neighbors, she wooed her secret love with freshly pruned walnut leaves or slices of juicy red apple. Pretty soon, she had him eating out of her hand. But despite his piggish appetite, Bronson was hungering for more than just tasty morsels--he also wanted love and attention. And that was unfortunate, because his owner was single and often out.

But Walsh wasn't. A regular homebody, she'd already raised goats and chickens, not to mention a couple of teenagers, so the thought of taking care of a pig was no big deal. Consequently, when her neighbor moved to a pig-free zone, she jumped at the chance to adopt Bronson.

The first thing she did was change his name, because, as she explains, "Bronson sounded way too macho." She christened him Boris instead. It's an intoxicating name, for though regal in tone, it seems infused with the anarchistic spirit of vodka-soused Cossacks wildly whirling to the beat of gypsy tambourines. As such, it was perfect. Though the Pig Formerly Known as Bronson had a slightly lordly air, he looked as if he could pirouette quite nicely, if only his trotters were a little pointier and his tummy weren't so stout.

But the truth is that far from getting daintier, puppy-sized piglets like Bronson rapidly morph into 90-pound behemoths. And, unlike dogs, they much prefer to please themselves. True, they can be housetrained, but if left unchecked they have the potential to become royal brats--just ask anyone who's ever tried to evict a pig from what it considered to be its sofa. Worse yet, they like to root, spelling certain death for linoleum and rugs.

Luckily, Walsh knew these sobering facts, so she didn't let Boris dominate her house. Instead, she gave him the run of her yard--until he started to root for good things to eat in her flowerbeds and lawn.

Not wishing to sunbathe in the middle of a muddy minefield, she fenced in a section that encompassed sun and shade, several fruit trees, a lean-to house and Boris' private mud hole.

In short, she gave him hog heaven.

Pig Tales

IT'S HERE IN THIS DAPPLED enclosure that Boris is rooting around for old black walnuts, "particularly delicious because they've been in the ground for several seasons and have juice," Walsh says with a knowing wink. But juicy or not, the point is that walnuts are food--and that's what really counts.

"Ever since Boris was neutered, he lives to eat. And now when I pull up in the car, I hear this loud-pitched squeal because in Boris' eyes, I'm the food machine," Walsh explains, handing him a fistful of apple leaves.

Although Boris is a pig, both literally and metaphorically, Walsh never feeds him junk, because even potbellied pigs need to watch their weight.

All the same, this myopic pig is constantly testing the wind for delightful and unusual aromas with his incredibly sensitive snout. And when Walsh comes into the yard, bearing slices of fleshy yellow mango, he trots forward, squealing and snorting excitedly, having scented the tangy treat long before it appeared on the horizon.

Yet Boris' snout is more than just an outsized olfactory organ, as Walsh discovered when she gave her little piggy a bale of hay. For though she'd heard the story of The Three Little Pigs a hundred times, she was amazed to discover that pigs really do build houses out of straw, and that they use their snouts to do it. Wonderstruck, she watched as Boris carried the bale, one slab at a time, into his lean-to hut, then with his snout "spun" a cocoon, complete with a hole in the center and an entrance door at the front.

That night he burrowed into his nest at sundown, then turned around, until only his snout was sticking out like a snorkel. And that's where he stays every night until sunrise--unless there's a whiff of food in the air and someone softly calls "Bo-ris!" That's when he explodes out of his nest like a porcine cannonball.

While Boris may be the stereotype of a greedy pig, when it comes to dirt, he's nothing if not fastidious: As Walsh explains enthusiastically, "The only thing that's messy about Boris is that he roots and he's got big turds. But he always does his poo-poo thing in one corner, so we just cover it with grass clippings, and it makes great compost."

Superior compost notwithstanding, the best reason for having a pig, figures Walsh, is the "pure entertainment value." Walsh could sell tickets for Boris' bath time, so richly is this ritual steeped in mud and mirth.

First, Walsh fills up the mudhole with water while Boris waits excitedly, his snout quivering in anticipation. Only when the spot is thoroughly flooded does he make his approach, slowly snuffling his snout deep into the lovely, sticky, oozing black mud.

He pauses, as if to say, "How refreshing, how yummy, how oinkingly pigtastic!"

Then he turns and backs himself in butt-first, purposefully wiggling first to the left, then to the right, until the mud is smoothed in equal parts over his bottom. Next, he hoists himself to his feet, trots a short distance away, then turns and hurls himself sideways into the mud--quite the achievement for such a barrel-shaped animal.

And there he remains, flopping around orgiastically, until he gets up to scratch those impossible-to-reach places against the water trough. Finally, he towels off by rolling joyously in the grass, so that his body is coated with a muddy thatch of twigs and little bits of straw.

Oh, Boris! You're such a pig!

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From the July 2-9, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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