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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: When I saw the letter from "Petunia the Pig," apologizing for her wild streak, I had to write. You've been snookered again!

Wild (feral) domestic pigs in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are responsible for a tremendous amount of damage to vegetation because of their rooting up and eating roots, plants, etc. (Check it out with the National Park Service.) I suspect that, given the opportunity, Petunia's feeding habits are little different from feral pigs. I guess it's a sad day for Petunia, because pigs do love many roots as well as vegetables.

Armadillos (on whom Petunia tried earnestly to lay the blame) do NOT normally eat vegetation. They may cause some minimal damage to vegetation because of rooting or digging in open areas, rather then under plants. I quote from "The Mammals of Texas" by William B. Davis, page 268:

"A study of their food habits by examination of more than 800 stomachs revealed that no fewer than 488 different foods are eaten. Ninety-three percent (by volume) of their food is animal matter, chiefly insects and other invertebrates."

From the above, it is apparent that armadillos are very unlikely to be the cause of the neighborhood plant damage and the pig was most likely the cause.

Petunia owes the Dasypus novemcinctus Linnaeus (nine-banded armadillo) an apology for false accusations. -- JAY EMRIE, SAN ANTONIO

DEAR JAY: You may be the first person to have squealed on a pig, but rest assured -- if Petunia weren't still incarcerated, I'm sure I'd have had another letter from the neighbors.

Since I first heard about Petunia, I have learned more about potbellied pigs than I ever wanted to know. According to an article written for the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the original pigs, brought in through Canada in 1985, matured at more than 200 pounds. Today, the majority of adults average 125 pounds. They shed at least once -- and often twice -- a year and, because of their inborn herd mentality, can become belligerent, aggressive and territorial as they mature.

Originally praised for being small, docile and virtually maintenance-free by promoters of the species, it turns out that many disappointed potbellied pig owners turn to humane societies when they find their pet charges at guests, and at about two years of age, starts challenging the people by whom it was raised to see who will be "top pig."

Rooting is also a natural instinct for pigs. Not only do they root in order to eat acorns, truffles, worms and grubs, they do it to obtain necessary vitamins and minerals from the ground. Because pigs do not sweat, they require a pool or puddle to regulate their temperature in hot weather. And in winter they must have a heated sleeping area.

These insights were generously provided to me by Dale Riffle, director of PIGS, a sanctuary, P.O. Box 629, Charles Town, W.Va. 25414, which currently provides a safe haven for more than 200 potbellied pigs. The sanctuary works with shelter employees and has a guide available to aid shelters should they have to deal with homeless pigs. For cities considering zoning to permit potbellied pigs as pets, Mr. Riffle advises they have a plan in place for dealing with homeless pigs before permitting them in their cities. That sounds like good advice to me.

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