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Everything’s Just Swine and Dandy

Northeast neighbors enjoy the antics of a family pet — Mooshe, the potbellied pig

Issue date: Tue, Dec 21, 2004
The Tribune

They flock from all over tony Irvington to see him. And why not? He’s macho, he’s single, and he’s just dropped 25 unsightly pounds — though he could certainly lose a few more.

But Mooshe isn’t just any porky playboy. The star of the neighborhood is a 14-year-old potbellied pig, whose good nature and unexpected residence have attracted legions of fans over the years.

Mooshe holds court from the verdant corner of a double lot owned by David and Jeanne Pace, who keep a small menagerie at their home at Northeast 18th Avenue and Tillamook Street, just blocks from bustling Northeast Broadway. Two beehives, exotic chickens, a dog and Mooshe call the lush lot home, though the number of fowl is diminishing.

“We’re down to four chickens now; a raccoon got one last night,” says David Pace, a retired pastor and Oregon Episcopal School teacher.

Mooshe’s early days were considerably easier.

“We got him from a breeder when he was just a wee, tiny thing,” Pace says, holding his hands about 10 inches apart to illustrate Mooshe’s piglet dimensions. “It was a big trend; everyone was getting them. He lived in the house for a while and was house-trained in nothing flat.

“But then — like everyone else who got a potbellied pig — we found out what a handful they are. They’re too smart, and food is very important to them.”
It became clear to the Paces that a clever brain and a dexterous snout are a volatile combination in the animals, which can live up to 20 years.

“One night, Mooshe opened a drawer and spilled a gallon of canola oil,” Pace recalls. “It was all over the kitchen and he had the runs for a week.”
The last straw in Mooshe’s indoor lifestyle came soon after.

“Potbellied pigs like to make nests: They tear stuff up and create what looks like a big eagle’s nest,” Pace says. “One night we came home and Mooshe had gotten into my wife’s briefcase, which was filled with faculty evaluations — she was a school principal at the time — and had torn everything up and made a nest of it. At that point, Mooshe became an outdoor pig.”

Pace, 62, is pleased to note that Mooshe since has risen to the occasion and become a good — if somewhat myopic — security device.

“Pigs are suspicious of strangers; they may bite your knees,” he says. “But once they get to know you they’re very affectionate.”

And contrary to popular belief, it is possible to teach an old pig new tricks: Mooshe can perform five of them.

“He’ll kiss you, he’ll go through your legs, he spins, he sits, and he’ll shake your hand,” Pace says. He notes that the repertoire is limited for visitors, who must view Mooshe from a safe distance.

“Spinning around is the only trick he’ll do from behind the fence. You have to make this motion” — Pace moves his finger in a horizontal circle — “but if you don’t give him any food, he won’t do it. He’s not that stupid.”

Pace doesn’t know how much Mooshe weighs, but plans to get him on the scale at his next visit to the vet, when Mooshe’s tusks and hooves are trimmed.

“He really porked out three or four years ago: A neighbor was feeding him Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,” Pace says. “We put up the sign that asks people to just give him celery and lettuce, and that’s helped. But he still gets heavier in the summer — when there are more visitors — and trims down in the winter.”

A cozy bungalow for Mooshe and a wooden bench for people make visits a year-round proposition for callers. These include little ones from an adjacent preschool as well as a kindergarten class from Irvington Elementary that makes an annual pig pilgrimage.
“City kids don’t often get to see a pig,” says Pace, theorizing about Mooshe’s enduring popularity. They have Wilbur, from “Charlotte’s Web,” to romanticize, he notes, “but Mooshe’s the real thing. He’s a lovely boy — in an odd kind of way.”


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