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Pets Large & Small

You know, sometimes you can find love in the strangest places

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(4/2012) The cynic in me just sighed loudly and rolled her eyes, but hang on a second. I swear I won't get all Danielle Steele on you. Trust me, I gave up believing in happy-ever-after a long time ago.

I’m actually talking about pigs.

Yeah, that likely didn't help, but don't turn the page yet, I swear I have a point.

A few years ago I saw a show on Animal Planet called ÒA Pet Story.Ó In it, people talked about tales of their animals – how they came to be included in their lives and what they mean to them. This episode talked about, of all things, a potbellied pig.

Now when I first saw this animal, I thought to myself, good heavens, what a mess. Its snout was big and wiggly. It snorted non-stop and quite frankly, what little hair covered its head looked rough and coarse. My initial reaction was, how could this be a pet?

But you want to know something? That little porker really did become a pet. The woman on the show talked about how she had always wanted an animal growing up, but was unfortunately allergic to dogs and cats. So, she set her sights on a pig. Her mother, as would stand to reason, said once she turned 18 and moved out of the house, she could fill her life with pigs, but until then, no dice.

Well, once the woman moved out of the house, she did, indeed, get herself a potbellied pig as a pet. And she really loved that little guy. Unfortunately, her allergies proved that it wasn’t just dogs and cats she had a problem with and eventually, she had to take her pig to a huge farm where he lives out his days with other pigs and appears quite happy.

And I have to tell you, as I watched this little pig follow people around – just like a number of canines at the shelter have done with me – I felt a little tug at my heart. The little guy was obviously happy to be around people and wanted to be loved.

When I told a volunteer about this story, she said to me, ÒOh sure, I could see how you could love a pig. I would be able to love anything that had feelings and would love me back.Ó

And you know what? She’s right.

I mean, can anyone out there read Charlotte’s Web and not tear-up at the end? Little Wilbur was one of the sweetest creatures in children’s literature and even Templeton, the rat, made the right choice by helping Charlotte at the end.

Seriously, though. Tell me you can read or hear "It is not often someone comes along that's a true friend and good writer. Charlotte was both." without sniffling a little.

That book really has some fantastic lessons for adult and children alike.

I had a similar learning experience at the shelter a few years ago. We had a Chihuahua here named Pedro. This dog was an absolute disaster. He was hairless (as in, not a strand) from his front shoulders to his little rump, but from his shoulders to his head, he was covered in an oddly textured black hair. To look at him, you’d think, my word, it’s a Gremlin. Dear Lord, don’t get him wet.

But the coolest thing about Pedro is that you could get him to smile at you. No joke. If you called his name in a firm tone, he would lift his lips, showing you his upper and lower teeth. He smiled. And it was hilarious.

And he loved just about everybody. He’d come tearing down the hall after you just to plant a sloppy Chihuahua kiss right on your mouth.

He was tough to housetrain, though. I took Pedro with me to one of the nursing homes and when I found a wet spot not two feet from him on the carpet, I looked at him and said, "Pedro did you do that?"

He made eye contact and grinned his special little smile at me.

It was so adorable, I had to pick him up for a snuggle. See? Not really proper house-training etiquette, but my word he was just so dear.

Well, as you could imagine, little Pedro became a favorite at the shelter, despite his bedraggled appearance. Indeed, once he got on a steady diet of good food, even some of his hair started to grow back.

On the day he got adopted, the staff agreed we would really miss that weird-looking little guy.

The lesson to be learned from the pet pig on Animal Planet; Charlotte, the spider; and Pedro is that you can find loyalty and dedication anywhere, no matter the outside package. The old adage "don't judge a book by its cover" is really appropriate here.

I know it's human nature to make snap decisions about what we initially see, but a lot of times, taking a deeper look will actually show us the true character of a person -- or even an animal.

Sometimes it’s the animals that make people go "What is that?" or "What were you thinking?" or "What in the world happened to him?" that can be the most faithful friend you’ll ever find. Indeed, a lot of the dogs that have had the roughest life will turn out to be the most dedicated pet for the right person.

Serious love and devotion is out there – even in places that may seem strange to others – and you can find it if you look with an open mind and an open heart.

Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., and can be reached at The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at (717) 263-5791 or visit the website

Read other articles by Jennifer Vanderau