Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pigs' pursuit of Oreos still brings smiles at fair

Reprinted from the Tampa Tribune
Feb. 18, 2010
By Geoff Fox

DADE CITY - If there's one thing a pig likes better than mud, it's an Oreo cookie.

Randy Ross has been telling people that — and that the famously filthy and intelligent animals have "no major sweat glands" — for 25 years.

In Ross's world, in fact, Oreos are to porkers what carrots are to rabbits. And his pigs have learned that the ability to race around a 150-foot track faster than your friends is rewarded with whole Oreos.

Losers get the crumbs.

"Just like in life," Ross said.

Ross operates Robinson's Racing Pigs at the Pasco County Fair with Sharon, his wife of 20 years. This week, a crowd of about 50 people, many of them newcomers to the sport of pig racing, stopped to watch the competition.

Dan and Beverly McKee of Lowell, Ind., had never heard of such a thing. With a laugh, Dan McKee said he was watching "for the novelty of it."

The McKees' friend, Betty Sparenberg of West Lafayette, Ind., said she was raised on a farm and knew a lot of pigs, but never met one that raced.

"I've just fed them and sold them," she said. "I've never trained any, but everyone I know who's ever worked with a pig always said they were very smart."

You couldn't persuade Ross otherwise. Besides racing around the track in about seven seconds, his pigs also have learned to swim a narrow stretch of water mid-race, hence the other name for his pigs: Robinson's Paddling Porkers.

The show was founded by the late Carlotta Robinson in 1985. Since then, the Florida-based attraction has entertained crowds at fairs across the United States and Canada, as far away as Japan, and on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

Larry Fuller of New Port Richey via Erie, Pa., had no idea what to expect.

"We were just here at the fair, wandered by and saw the sign," he said. "I've never heard of anything like this before."

He probably had never heard names like those Ross gave his pigs, either.

On Tuesday afternoon, "Hammy Faye-Bacon," "Rush Limb-hog," "Lindsay Lo-ham," "Britney Spare Ribs," "Arnold Schwarzen-hogger," "Dale Oink-heart Jr.," "Snoop Hoggy Hog" and others competed for the opportunity to devour an entire Oreo.

There's even a banjo-tinged theme song for the event, featuring the lyrics:

"These little piggies aren't sloppy like some pigs are

"Robinson's Racing Pigs! Robinson's Racing Pigs!"

After watching a few heats, Beverly McKee uncorked a laugh.

"It's cute," she said. "It could be a little warmer out here, but I'd come and see this again. I think it's fun."

Her husband said he appreciated how well the animals seemed to be treated.

"One of my favorite shows is 'Animal Planet,'" Dan McKee said. "You see how some people treat their pets, but these folks are running a business, and they're really taking care of the animals.''

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