Linthicum Days Of Swine And Roses


August 01, 1993|By ELISE ARMACOST

I had to order ribs.

It was a mistake. If you're going to talk to a couple of pig lovers, you ought to have better sense than to show up with the smell of barbecue sauce on your hands.

But it was too late. By the time I thought of washing off the tell-tale aroma, Linda Baker was already at her front door, crooning in loverly tones for "my Barney" to come in.

"Bar-r-r-rney! Bar-r-r-rney! Come on in, honey. Be nice," she said.

Barney trotted in, oinking and snorting his way straight over to me.

"If he snaps, don't get upset," said Ms. Baker, a 34-year-old registered nurse. "He won't hurt you."

Sure, I thought. He smells those ribs and has already marked me as the enemy. As if to show his displeasure, a foul odor shot through the living room.

"He did it! He did it!" chortled Ms. Baker's friend, Jennifer Thompson, 22.

You can guess what Barney did.

The two women were slightly embarrassed, but mostly they thought Barney's flatulence was adorable.

They think everything pigs do is adorable. Mrs. Thompson, who lives across Linthicum from Ms. Baker with "Olivia, my little fat girl," tried to put her feelings into words:

"I just love pigs. Pigs are just . . . pigs. They're precious."

"He's my child," said Ms. Baker, nodding at Barney as his wet little snout rooted at my shoes. "He sleeps on the couch with me. He watches TV with me, he gets belly rubs each night, he gets back scratches. 'Cause that's what he likes."

The message on Ms. Baker's answering machine goes like this: "I can't come to the phone right now. I'm bonding with Barney."

We are talking major devotion here. We are talking a commitment so deep it cannot be understood by those who think of pigs as a 4-H Fair attraction or the perfect accompaniment to two eggs over-easy and a side of home fries.

Pig people need each other.

Hence, "The Devine Swine Club," a support group for pig lovers set up by Ms. Baker and Crownsville compatriot Debra Schnier. Though the press release says the club is "for the protection and promotion of pot-bellied pigs," a Vietnamese species of which Barney and Olivia are members, "We love all pigs," Mrs. Thompson says.

Apparently, there is a real need for this service.

After just two months, the Devine Swines already include 15 pig-loving, dues-paying members who are coming from as far away as Hagerstown and the Eastern Shore to commune. Five more are expected to sign up.

Their first meeting made quite an impression on Ms. Baker's next-doorneighbor, County Councilman George Bachman. He walked outside that morning and thought his whole district was going to the hogs.

What goes on at a Devine Swine meeting? Just ordinary folks talking about the virtues of pigs, basic pet pig care and keeping sane in a world where pigs remain victimized by a stereotype of filth, gluttony and crudeness.

"Most of us who have pigs, nobody is supportive of us," Ms. Baker says. "It helps to have people who say, 'I understand.' "

I can understand how you get attached to a pig. We used to have a few when I was growing up in Carroll County.

We raised them to eat, but there was this one -- Sally -- we treated as a pet. Unlike the others, which we knew were destined for the dinner table, Sally was purchased for the purpose of having little piglets. We thought she'd be around for good.

After one litter, however, my father's heart turned to stone. Four little kids bawled their eyes out the day he took her to the butcher. We didn't speak to him for weeks.

So I get the pigs-as-pets part. But I must confess, I'm still confused about this concept of pigs in the house. Or pigs as children, which is the status Barney and Olivia enjoy.

If you've ever heard a couple of mothers talking in the lobby of a doctor's office, you understand how these pig people talk about their pigs.

Here's what I mean:

"When you have a pig," Ms. Baker says, "and it does certain things, you wonder if it's the only one. Then you talk to other people and find their pigs are doing the same thing! That's really good to know. It's really nice to hear you're raising a normal pig."

Well. We liked old Sally, sure, but we never worried about her mental health! Nor would we have thought of bringing her into the house with her own bed, litter box and toys -- all amenities that Barney and Olivia enjoy.

Granted, they're smaller and, since they're not wallowing in the mud all day, cleaner than old Sally -- cleaner than a lot of dogs, in fact.

And judging by the neat tricks Barney can do -- shake hands, do figure-eights, change the channels on the TV -- they're smarter, too.

Of course, come to think of it, the poor girl never got a chance to fulfill her potential before she was . . .

Never mind; that's all in the past.

L But I think I'll put away those chops I took out for dinner.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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