Abigail crowned princess among porkers

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The Independent Online
Abigail, aged three, completed a rags-to-riches story yesterday when she won Britain's first pet-pig show. She beat off competition from 29 pigs from all over the country to become show champion.

Organisers had anticipated a big turn-out but had to print extra tickets after more than 3,000 people flocked to a Cheshire showground for what is destined to become an annual treat.

Onlookers at Liverpool University's Leahurst Veterinary School in Neston, Wirral, saw a variety of domesticated pigs trotted out by owners, with a display of party tricks by some of the competitors proving a particular delight.

Heather Powles, from Shildon, Co Durham, won the novelty section after Charlie and Roger, her eight-month-old Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, blew bugles, ran through a tunnel and sat on command.

"This is the biggest audience they have ever had and I had no idea if they would freeze on the big occasion - but they've been amazing," she said. "I've been keeping pigs for six years and I have five altogether. They are clean and intelligent and more responsive than a dog to train. I get my leg pulled by friends but I'm thick-skinned - you need a sense of humour when you keep pet pigs."

Experts were on hand to tell prospective owners about the pitfalls and little-known legal responsibilities of the hobby. Pet pigs have to be kept clear of farmland and a special licence is needed to take them for a walk, specifying the route they will follow.

Pigs also need plenty of space and although they will eat anything, must not be given meat, offal, eggs or bakery waste.

Abigail's owner, Sheila Franklin, keeps 16 pet pigs at her boarding kennels and cattery in Capenhurst, Wirral, most of them rescued from owners who could not cope when the animals started to grow. Her show champion, Abigail, was in a sorry state because of overfeeding until Ms Franklin stepped in to save her 18 months ago.

"She was owned by someone who knew nothing about it and was so bloated she was blind because of the fat around her face. We put her on a diet and slimmed her right down and now the judges say she is just right. I'm delighted!"

Judge Tony York said: "They have all been well handled and cared for and are obviously loved pigs who came here in very good condition. We have been pleased by the standard, especially considering this was the first time an event like this has ever been held - next year the number of entries will double."