Media darling pig Chris P. Bacon hams it up before UF hernia operation
Published: Monday, June 10, 2013 at 1:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 10, 2013 at 3:59 p.m.
Chris P. Bacon, Florida's most famous potbellied pig, scooted around the grounds of the large-animal hospital at the University of Florida on Monday looking for palmetto berries to eat.
Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but the pig was about to have a hernia operation and needed to have an empty stomach for the general anesthesia.
"Fasting a pig is a challenge," said Dr. Len Lucero, the pig's owner, who gave Chris a couple of Cheerios — one of the pig's favorite foods — to keep him content.
About a month ago, Chris had a bulge in his groin, where his intestine had gotten stuck in his hernial ring. But the pig became a media darling — appearing on the "Today" show, Anderson Cooper, TMZ, Discovery and profiled in media outlets around the world — for another medical condition.
Born with deformed hind legs that are permanently in a "flex" position, he can't move his joints to stand up on them, so he uses a customized wheelchair to get around. And with his friendly and affectionate nature, the pig gets around plenty, said Lucero, who lives on a farm in Sumterville, west of Leesburg, where he also has his own large-animal vet practice.
That's where a young woman first brought the pig when he was one day old in December. He weighed one pound, and Lucero could hold him in the palm of his hand.
"He was full of life," Lucero said. "He had a good heart rate and the attitude of a normal pig."
But the pig stood on his front legs, with his butt in the air, Lucero said. And because of this deformity, his mother had rejected him, withholding milk — which is common among animals when their offspring are born deformed, Lucero said.
The woman who brought him was unable to care for him and considered getting him euthanized. That's when Lucero decided to adopt the pig, incubating him to keep him warm and isolating him for a while to prevent infections.
"He became more and more attached to me and to humans," said Lucero, who named the pig Chris P. Bacon after a character in the video game Banjo-Tooie, which Lucero played with his son.
Lucero made the pig his first wheelchair out of toys and posted a video of the pig in it on YouTube. That's when the pig "went viral," Lucero said.
Apart from his media stardom, the pig has participated in a muscular dystrophy walk in Maitland, and Lucero said he hopes to eventually take him to Veterans Affairs and children's hospitals around the country.
As for how the pig has influenced Lucero's life, he's quick to respond: "He's brightened it. He's part of the family."
The pig plays with Lucero's cat and two border collies, and he recognizes Lucero's wife as "the food lady."
Chris sleeps on a plush dog bed by the refrigerator, and he oinks whenever the door opens. Then he goes straight for the crisper, sucking the glass in anticipation of one of his favorites foods: grapes.
Lucero expects the pig, which now weighs 27 pounds, to grow to 75. He likely will need another wheelchair during his lifetime, Lucero said. The lifespan of potbellied pigs is 15-20 years.
Dr. Murray Brown, a professor at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine and the surgeon operating on Chris, said it is not uncommon for potbellied pigs to have hernia operations and that the hour-long procedure the pig underwent Monday afternoon was routine.
Brown added that the pig likely has not been in any pain because of the hernia.
"He probably doesn't even know it. He could care less," Brown said, watching the pig ham it up for television crews and photographers before his operation.
Lucero had driven Chris to the large-animal hospital in his truck, putting the pig in a crate up front on the passenger's side.
"He's a great traveler," Lucero said. "He just put his head on the pillow and didn't make a sound."
As for his hind legs, "He's adapted pretty well to his disability," Brown said, adding, "Potbellied pigs tend to be good-natured."
Lucero recently signed a three-book contract with Hay House Publishing Co., which publishes inspirational books, to write, along with a co-author, the story of Chris. The books will be targeted toward children ages 10 and under, and the first one comes out later this year.
"I think his story is multi-modal," Lucero said. "It's a story of compassion, overcoming obstacles, inspiration and perseverance."
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or email@example.com.
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