Column: ‘Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore!’

My first literary exposure to a pig was “The Empress of Blandings,” first-place winner in the fat pig division at the local agricultural show; and owned by Lord Emsworth, Clarence the ninth Earl. She, along with the rest of a marvelous cast of characters, is the spectacular creation of P. G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse, master of words and wit, is the creator of hilarious stories filled with misadventures in and around Blandings castle. This stately pile is fictionally located in the picturesque Vale of Blandings in Shropshire, England. It is approximately two miles from the town of Market Blandings, which brags the presence of at least nine pubs, most notably the Emsworth Arms.

It is the 25th anniversary of Wodehouse’s death. Still considered the master of the absurd, readers are either discovering him for the first time or revisiting his novels for the sheer hilarity of the situations he creates. Wodehouse wrote mainly about a very laughable English upper class and their misadventures (comedies of manners/manors) during the era of pre- and post-World War I. For “Pig Have Wings,” our main character, other than The Empress, is Lord Emsworth. A frequently reoccurring personage in Wodehouse’s work, he is always genial and foggy — as well as obsessed about his pig. In this novel, he must endure all of his guests at Blandings as they fall hopelessly in love with one another.

We begin with a young lady of very respectable family who makes an unfortunate engagement to a totally inappropriate young man. They are separated by meddlesome aunts and yet both somehow wind up at Blandings castle. More star-crossed lovers converge on the place and then along comes Galahad, Lord Emsworth’s younger reprobate brother. Naturally a showgirl must also be involved, along with a neighboring lord who owns The Queen of Matchingham, contender for the fat pig title at the coming fair. The men try to steal each other’s pigs, while the jilted and heartbroken lovers (including the showgirl!) totter along their twisted paths to eventual happiness. Yes, as always with Wodehouse, everyone lives happily after. But the getting there is where the real fun lies. I laughed heartily in 1965 when I first read this book (it came out in 1952) and again two weeks ago when I revisited it in memory of Wodehouse’s passing.

While highly prolific as a writer, I suggest beginning with “Pigs Have Wings” as your first Wodehouse novel, with the understanding that you can be expected to laugh out loud throughout each and every page. Then read the rest of his works, which are just as funny.

How can one not want a pig? Of course up until recently, pig ownership was quite out of the question for those of us not on farms or estates, which is why I was so excited to discover teacup pigs. Unlike The Empress, the many advertisements I read touted breeders who have been able to develop a type of pig that quite literally fits into a teacup. How cool is that? Actually, it’s too cool to be true.

These adorable little porkers, although not destined to grow as large as The Empress, actually can eventually tip the scales up to 250 pounds. That would be some teacup. Unfortunately, Matt Whyman, an optimistic Englishman with Emma, his farm-enthusiast wife, and their small but highly excited children, actually fell for the same advertisements and got not one, but two teacup pigs — just in case there was a loneliness factor.

“Oink, My Life With Mini-Pigs” is Whyman’s detailed account of his irrational decision to install two teacup pigs in his backyard. Yes, he is another Englishman. And that may be the only way we really could account for what he was thinking as he could not rationalize the irrational, other than to blame it on his wife.

The couple obtained “Butch” and “Roxi,” two ostensibly sibling teacup pigs from a breeder who then mysteriously disappeared with their exorbitant adoption fee. At first, the little darlings were very cuddly and small, and fit on the couch, on laps and through the cat door. Then they began to grow. Teacup pigs, seen held by Hollywood stars and featured in magazines, do not look like Whyman’s hogs. Rather, Whyman’s little piglets grew at an absurd rate. How the Englishman dealt with this, along with altering his yard, lifestyle and writing regimen is the subject of the book.

Interspersed with the comic misadventures of pig ownership is a more personal narrative of a man who really begins to discover what he is made of. Whyman progressed from naïve London-to-the-suburbs transplant into a much deeper thinker who finally realized the value of both knowing where food really comes from as well as caring for animals in a humane way. The pigs were the first pets. However, something happened to him along the way and he would end up with a dog the size of a wolf, a cat with a serious personality disorder, and some very traumatized chickens from a dreadful battery. The chickens actually became pets with benefits in that he collected the eggs, but did not eat the hens.

I laughed a lot, cried a little for the factory chickens, and celebrated Whyman’s personal growth. We all should take this reflective journey and hopefully learn as much about ourselves as Whyman did. Just be careful what you adopt to get you there.

By now, teacup pigs have become very popular on this side of the Atlantic. Referred to as teacup pigs, micro-pigs, or mini-pigs, it is presumed that they will remain about the size of a chihuahua when they hit adulthood. Not true! These pigs, with a lifespan of up to 25 years, will wind up weighing 40 to 60 pounds. Even my slightly overfed chihuahua “Isabella” would never reach close to that weight.

I learned this and much more from Elliott Lang’s book “Teacup Pigs or Micro Pigs: The Complete Owner’s Guide.” Lang is very ethical; I wish the pig breeders were. Much like unethical dog breeders and puppy mill monsters, pig breeders have jumped on the micro bandwagon in hopes of a quick buck. This is not only detrimental to the pig breeds ,it is also putting even more animals in potentially miserable situations. Yes, Lang does spend some time trying to talk the reader out of buying a teacup pig. Good for him! While many people see vapid starlets hugging tiny pigs and think it is very cool, Lang points out that as soon as the fascination ends (these starlets usually have the attention span of a goldfish) or the pigs get too heavy to hold, the pig is dumped.

This is not the way to treat an intelligent and devoted animal. Pigs bond with people. They have feelings, are more intelligent than dogs (chihuahuas excepted, I am sure), and can be loving companions for a very long time. These pigs can, and in most instances, should be allowed to live indoors. This means having a room. They can be housebroken, taught to walk on a leash, obey hand signals, do tricks, and generally be good family members. But this takes work, a positive attitude, time and some expense; because all animals deserve a good home.

Micro-pigs can also get sick. They are prone to hypoglycemia, constipation, epilepsy, mites, ticks, intestinal blockages, pneumonia and salt poisoning.

You need a veterinarian with some solid pig skills. As Lang clearly points out, going into this without preparation is a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, Lang covers all of the possible issues with these little porkers. He is thorough, clear and passionate about the subject. If you are going to get a teacup pig, get Lang first and read carefully, first for your sake, but mostly for the pig’s.

My title, by the way, is from a delightful children’s book, “Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore!” by David McPhail. One minute, the narrator is quietly reading. The next, those mischievous pigs are descending on his house and head in every conceivable guise, by every available means, from every possible place. Begin a child’s pig adventure with one of McPhail’s pig books and prepare yourself for many laughs as well.

I like pigs either on the farm or in stories, it doesn’t matter which. Pigs, each with a unique personality, are smart, funny and entertaining. Start with a few pig books, and if you get carried away and do acquire a pig — be she Empress or teacup — be ready to encounter an animal who will enrich your life for a very long time.

Elaine Holden of Peterborough is a nationally recognized expert in the diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia. She is the director of The Reading Foundation and Senior Lecturer at Rivier College Graduate School of Education. She wants everyone reading.

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