She's no Babe, but beneath that rough
exterior lies a lovable pig
|Georgia, the pot-bellied pig,
poses for the camera in her yard on Durango’s
west side on Monday./Photo by Todd Newcomer.
This is the routine: I squat eye level with the pig outside
of her split-rail fence, pushing broccoli peelings through
the spaces between splintered boards. Georgia pulls on
the vegetable scraps from her side of the fence, and with
a motion that involves gums, lips, frothy saliva and a
few weathered teeth, the broccoli stalk systematically
begins to disappear. In pure mastication nirvana, her
mouth hangs open like a hatch door. I lean forward to
study her face, and her breath hits me like a grassy meadow.
Georgia is a pig of the pot-bellied variety. She’s
not pink and white with a soft, squishy belly. She’s
a big, bristly, black hog with industrial strength nipples
that hang from her chest like a mother’s badge of
pride. In winter, her wiry hair stands up in a bouffant
around her head in a style nostalgically reminiscent of
Elvis. And here’s the kicker: She lives in town,
near Needham Elementary School, amongst blazing street
lights and traffic crossing guards. And though there are
numerous animals in the neighborhood – cats prowling
fence lines, dogs barking from back yards and even deer
and bear who leave sign in her dirt alleyway – Georgia
seems sorely out of place.
It was summer when I first discovered Georgia lounging
in the hard pan of a drought year. She stood as I cautiously
approached, heaving her girth up off the dirt and letting
it settle on four delicate legs, anchored to the ground
by her fanciful hooves.
It wasn’t long before my husband, who spent his
first five years on a farm, started saving vegetable scraps
in a mason jar in the fridge. “For the pig,”
he explained, an act that held great significance in my
mind as a portent of future child nurturing. And so, once
a week, mason jar full of carrot tops, culled kale leaves
and the peelings of broccoli stalks, we’d set out
to feed the pig.
It is Georgia’s snout that fascinates me most.
It seems all her senses are distilled into this muddy
proboscis, flexing and relaxing as it constantly nudges
the air in front of her. Her dark soulful eyes are tiny
pebbles nestled in folds of tough skin, peering out above
colonies of dirt barnacles lodged onto her snout. The
snout inhales slimy spinach leaves, and when I run out
of food she throws her weight up against the fence in
who is now 6, was adopted by a Durango resident
for $1 at the Sale Barn in Aztec two years ago./Photo
by Todd Newcomer.
The summer we met Georgia, we continued to fill the mason
jars with scraps, sneaking up to her fence via dirt alleyway
and feeding her surreptitiously. One summer evening we
brought our friend Ben down to observe the neighborhood
oddity. With overflowing mason jar in hand, we came upon
a backyard barbeque at Georgia’s house. We had to
Georgia has history; her known story can be traced back
two years ago, when her guardian Lynette bought her at
the Sale Barn in Aztec and saved her from being put down.
The bidding began at $1 and ended at $1, with Georgia
riding home in Lynette’s horse trailer to Lynette’s
mother’s house in town. Lynette, her husband, Kyle,
and her mom, Loretta, have occupied the house while in
the slender backyard roams Georgia. For months, Lynette
rubbed healing oil into the pig’s then-hairless
skin and took her on walks in the neighborhood. The city
allows this on the distinction that Georgia is a pet,
rather than livestock. However, this pet isn’t quite
like the family golden retriever.
“She’s ornery,” Lynette warned us.
“She’ll charge you.”
“I don’t go into the backyard,” Loretta
corroborated, “she tried to take my hand off once.”
It was all perfectly believable coming from this mud
crusted mass of snout and backside with soulful eyes;
both sweet hearted and dangerous.
We continued to feed her, always from behind the fence.
This all went well until the Thanksgiving Day Debacle.
Festivities began early with David mixing Bloody Marys
at noon. The ubiquitous mason jar was full, so a party
of four set out to give Georgia the Thanksgiving meal
she deserved. Chris noticed that Georgia’s water
was frozen solid in her bowl, and despite discouragement
from the others, he jumped the fence. Georgia placidly
ate while Chris liberated her water, not seeming to notice
the 6-foot, 180-pound man in her yard. Task complete,
this would have been a fine time to exit the hog trough,
but curiosity got the better of him. Chris asked: “I
wonder if pigs are like dogs. If you touch ’em while
they’re eating will they go after you?” Chris,
a rural Southern boy with plenty of years’ experience
around animals, had been well warned about Georgiaaggressive
ways. Whether he was bolstered by the Bloody Marys or
the audience on the other side of the fence (one member
was rumored to have said, “I’d love to see
you get chased by that pig – it’d make my
day”) is all speculation. Chris leaned forward and
gave Georgia a pat on her generous rear. In a fury of
stubbly blackness, the hog turned and latched her teeth
onto Chris’s left leg, breaking through his working-man’s
overalls to delicate human skin beneath. When all was
said and done, Georgia had left a 6-inch gash.
Pot-bellied pigs had a wave of popularity in the ’90s
that ended with thousands of neglected and abandoned animals.
Cute and tiny as infants, pigs would grow up to destroy
people’s houses and often become aggressive. Like
dogs, pigs have a complex social structure and need a
lot of attention and affection. When they aren’t
properly socialized and exercised, they can become territorial
and mean. The average lifespan for a pot-bellied pig is
12 to18 years (Georgia is 6), and they are considered
the fourth-most intelligent animal, after humans, primates
by Todd Newcomer
These winter days, I see Georgia in the mornings mostly,
en route to work. It’s 9 a.m. when I stand in the
frozen shadow of Loretta’s ranch style house, a
bag of broccoli stalk peelings in hand. Georgia is slow
to rise, and for a moment, I stand at the fence shaking
my bag of scraps like a tambourine, whistling with all
my might to project my voice to the dog igloo in which
she sleeps at the far end of the yard. Suddenly something
snaps in her pig brain, and she is up and snorting. It
seems to boil down to: Food. Over there. Mine. She shimmies
out of her igloo and comes running toward me, sniffing
and spitting hot air like a geyser through that mud-covered
opening in her face.
Lately I find Georgia waiting for me by the fence, and
a feeling of pride in our growing friendship makes me
all the more dedicated to
our morning time together. “Feed Pig” has
entered my to-do lists, and our household broccoli consumption
has increased while offerings for our compost pile steadily
shrinks. As Georgia nibbles on cabbage cores, I resist
the urge to scratch her bristled bouffant, reminding myself
that all good relationships have some boundaries.