Think of all the endearing swine in American history. Miss Piggy. Porky the Pig. The Three Little Pigs.
And, of course, there's Babe the pig -- the little porker who made many a tyke turn up their noses at bacon.
Dog as man's best friend? Hardly.
"I have four house pigs," said Lana Hollenback of Fort Myers. "I'd take a pig over a dog any day."
Hollenback, founder of the pigs as Pets Association, was one of 50 pig lovers who turned out Saturday for the Second Annual Florida Potbellied Pig Conference at the Radisson Inn.
Pig owners, pig rescuers and foremost experts on these portly pals swapped information and knowledge on domestic swine.
Dave DeBenedictis came from Harrisburg, Pa., with his wife to hear just about all there is to know about potbellied pigs. They own two pigs -- Francis and har-Lee.
"Where we're from most of the veterinarians don't know a lot about potbellied pigs," DeBenedictis said. "If you get around people who know and care for pigs, they can answer your questions."
The swine lovers discussed the many issues surrounding the pet pigs that became popular during the 1980s. Those issues included pig behavior, pig nutrition, zoning issues, pig anesthesia, and, yes, piggy litter boxes.
Participants cooed over pigs hamming it up at pig sanctuaries. The pigs were up for adoption after being abandoned by owners.
They entered a raffle in which they could win a pig tea kettle, pig pillow, pig blanket, pig wreath, pig calendars and a piggy bank.
But foremost on their minds was increasing awareness and education about the snout-nosed creatures.
"Our goal is to help educate," said Hollenback, wearing a pig T-shirt and pig earrings. "That's the only way to help their plight. I get calls all the time from people saying, 'I got this pig that weighed 45 pounds when I got it. Now it weighs 100.'"
Yes, those cute little creatures grow up to be very big creatures. Pig owners said they also grow in owners' hearts.
"They're gentle, loving, loyal," said Jenny Schroeck, a North Fort Myers resident who has a 150-pound porker and two smaller piglets.
Her pigs do tricks, and she dresses them in skirts and bonnets when she enters them in pet fairs and takes them to schools and nursing homes.
"(Pigs) have public opinion problems," Schroeck said. "People have a different attitude about pigs. They don't understand them. But a pig is more of a family member than a dog. The pig thinks he owns you."
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