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Potbellied Golda -- pig o' her heart Allergic woman finds dream pet


Debra Schnier has a kosher pig. A lettuce-eating, Vietnamese potbellied pig named Golda.

It roots. It makes a muffled honking sound. And it just loves salad.

"I go to nursing homes with my little girl, and she's very well-received," Ms. Schnier says of her pig, which she touts as the perfect pet. "They're quiet and very mellow. And they come litter-box trained."

From the size of those guts, it's a good thing. The pigs come in cream or black, with strong snouts and huge, hanging stomachs that scrape the ground.

Golda -- named for Golda Meir, the former Israeli prime minister -- looks as though she could hold a ton or two, but actually she eats only a cup of Purina Pig Chow a day, along with some salad makings and a little popcorn for treats.

Ms. Schnier, who has an 8-by-10 glossy of her heart's dearest on her desk at work, calls the popcorn "behavior modification."

That translates into teaching the 50-pound, 1-year-old female not to root in people's lawns. She gets the popcorn by not getting into people's lawns and shrubbery.

What attracted the 32-year-old Jewish social worker to a snuffling hunk of potential bacon?

Allergies, says Ms. Schnier. She's asthmatically allergic to cats, dogs and rabbits. Growing up, she and her allergic siblings were stuck with fish. "I wanted something that would greet me at the door. She sleeps in my bed. When I come home, she's all excited and jumps on my lap. She's very cuddly."

Still, when she told her parents about the prospect of adding a porker to the family, her father protested. She should at least ask the rabbi, he said.

"The rabbi said, 'As long as you don't eat it, you're OK. There's nothing forbidden about living with them.' " So Ms. Schnier brought a baby potbelly home to Bacon Ridge Road in Crownsville, named after a former pig farm.

The proud owner put a sign announcing "IT'S A PIG!" on her door and bought Golda a red-flowered headband called a "party harness." She also subscribed to three monthly potbellied pig magazines and collected blankets for her new pet to root in during the day.

Golda doesn't root during the night, Ms. Schnier adds, because the pig "stays warm under the blankets with me. She roots mostly to stay warm."

Now, Ms. Schnier wants to get together with other pig-owners, but the nearest club is located in the Delaware Valley. "There probably aren't a lot of owners, maybe a dozen in the Baltimore area," she says.

That would, however, be enough to form an official club, join the national association and maybe get an exhibit ready for the Anne Arundel County Fair this fall.

One thing Ms. Schnier hopes a club would do is generate positive feelings about the pets. In Washington, D.C., for example, they're classified as farm animals and prohibited in certain zoning areas.

"People don't realize how quiet they are, or how amiable," she says.

Certified potbellieds come with papers that trace their lineage back to their Vietnamese homeland, says Ms. Schnier. One journal comes from Tennessee, and the pigs are very popular in Texas. New Jersey has "a very big pig population," she says.

Around here, the pigs are so unusual that whenever Ms. Schnier takes her baby for a walk at Quiet Waters Park, people gawk, which she says can be tiresome.

"They say, 'Is that a pig?' And I say, 'No, it's a baby hippo.' "

But the animal is friendly, eating popcorn from Ms. Schnier's lips or rolling over and proffering that rounded belly for a rub.

While cats may claw and dogs may bark noisily, Ms. Schnier's pig, she says, is "the joy of my life."

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