Dead at 6: a ‘watchpig’ who scared off intruders and became a neighborhood hero
Stevens Square resident Becky Moyer was startled awake the morning of June 15 by a dream that her famous and beloved pet, Arnold, had died. As if by prophecy, the neighborhood mascot dubbed "the crime-fighting pig" died of congestive heart failure at noon that same day.
Even more oddly, Moyer opened her mailbox two hours later to discover a Texas author’s finished draft of the children’s book about the wonder pig.
Despite the fact that Arnold was never guaranteed a long lifetime and Moyer is a mortician, she didn’t see the 6-year-old pig’s death coming. "He was supposed to be immortal," she said affectionately in her kitchen amid several pig figurines, a pile of news clippings and Arnold photos.
The beer-bellied, part-Vietnamese, part-Yorkshire pig was originally a birthday gift from boyfriend Mike Sjoberg; Arnold came with a companion pig, Axel. Axel succumbed to the same condition as Arnold one year earlier.
Sjoberg paid $179 apiece for Arnold and Axel. Both were both blind and sickly; Arnold suffered from ulcers and Axel was plagued by tumors, which constantly landed both in the animal hospital. They brought Moyer and Sjoberg a lot of medical expenses, but the couple didn’t see the pigs as burdens.
Arnold was considered special to humans and to other animals. He gained an international reputation in the summer of 2001 as a crime-stopper after he bit a burglar’s leg in Moyer’s home. Between the bite and the absurd sight of a pig, the man ran away screaming, Moyer said. From then on, Arnold was known a defender of justice (while a fearful Axel hid).
Moyer wasn’t the only one who felt safer with Arnold around. On another occasion, the pig/bouncer prevented a break-in at a neighbor’s house by employing his earlier trick – he bit the trespasser on the man’s backside. When a homeless mother deserted her two babies in Moyer’s yard, Arnold and Axel used their snouts to sculpt their numerous blankets into a soft insulated layer around the youngsters.
Although Arnold and Axel weighed 450 and 433 pounds respectively, they didn’t crush the children, Moyer said. They were gentle with the kids. Moyer didn’t even discover the babies until she noticed miniature human pinkies peeking out of the pigs’ blankets.
Said Moyer, "I really believe that I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Arnold. He was a protective pig. I sure do miss my pal."
Moyer believes that Arnold was the first to know of her skin cancer last year because he wouldn’t allow her to touch him without gloves. She thinks he was be trying to tell her something as he just sniffed her hands, well before any doctor’s diagnosis.
After Moyer got home from three-evenings-a-week radiation, she and Arnold often napped side-by-side.
Just as Arnold impressed during life, Moyer is overwhelmed by the community response to his death. So far she said she’s received 243 e-mails, many phone calls, cards, flowers and curios conveying messages of love and support.
Gifts include pig memorabilia, such as a whimsical piggy cookie jar, while neighborhood children crafted trinkets including the pig-shaped wooden cutout that Moyer placed atop a potbelly stove on her porch. On one side, it reads, "Where’s the beef?"
Perfect strangers approach her on the street or at the store to inquire about Arnold. Of the porcine pal she didn’t expect to exceed 40 pounds, she said, "I had no idea that one pig could reach such a big community."
Wild in the city
The Stevens Square Community Organization (SSCO) honored Arnold as a symbol of safety in 2001. He was popular with police (who enjoyed having a real pig fighting crime). Countless newspapers, magazines and other publications told of his heroic acts. Arnold graced the pages of "People" and "National Geographic" and did star turns on TV talk shows, including "Sally Jessy Raphael" and "Montel Williams."
Once, a photographer from a French newspaper was sent from France to shoot the pig. An English songwriter called Jack the Sailor penned lyrics about Arnold, and the pig has entered many local elementary school kids’ curriculum.
Arnold could play diva better than many a Hollywood legend. For a BBC show called "Miracle Pets," Arnold was filmed at home. When he tired of filming, he bit a cord and ended the session.
Moyer said that though Arnold loved to mingle with people, he didn’t like to do so under false pretenses. He loved being touched, petted and having his belly rubbed (or general attention), but he never wanted to be filmed. Ironically, the less-photographed Axel loved the camera. ("Axel was a rascal in a middle child sort of way. But he always stood behind Arnold," Moyer said.) Still, she spent much of the last six years preparing Arnold for camera crews. There was always a reporter afoot, and the phone rang for two years, she said.
The logistics of Arnold and Axel were daunting. Moyer said her yard grew into a neighborhood petting zoo. Neighbors from near and far, children and seniors alike, dropped by to visit the patrol pig. Later, the community rallied for Arnold when city authorities questioned the legality of having a farm animal in an urban area.
Her house was a regular roadside attraction, with a continuous line of cars that stopped to look at the pigs (they often hung around outdoors).
Neighbor Judy Austin said that at one point, she’d jokingly suggested that a statue of Arnold go in Stevens Square, but she doesn’t know what ever happened to that idea.
Dee Tvedt, an active member of Stevens Square Community Organization, said, "Arnold wasn’t the most attractive pet in the neighborhood, but he was a very well-loved character. I think we’re kind of stunned to find that he was putting us on the map internationally."
Then again, a pet reflects the owner. "We’ve always kind of had the impression that Becky [Moyer] is larger than life whether as a minister, mortician or operatic singer," added Tvedt.
She said that Moyer is one of the most energetic and enthusiastic SSCO volunteers: "She is generous, a peacekeeper with a big heart."
Moyer never thought it was weird to have a pig because she grew up in Willmar, Minn. surrounded by pets, including goats, chickens and rabbits. As a result, her yard has become a sanctuary for wildlife. "We have all of these wild animals. It’s kind of a touch of the wild in the city," she said.
When Arnold died, the rest of the animal kingdom noticed, Moyer said. Pigeons flew back and forth with anxiety as Arnold struggled. In the end, after Arnold stopped breathing, a host of birds assembled on the fence to grieve for him. There, they uttered high-pitched crying noises, she recalled.
A little later, three raccoons that routinely visited Arnold’s corn bin – always stopping to scratch Arnold’s head on the way out – stared forlornly for a while at the spot where they socialized with the pig. They waited, but there was no Arnold.
This time, the raccoons ambled reluctantly to Arnold’s corn bin. They chomped slowly and continued to gaze at Arnold’s usual place as they roamed.
Life with Arnold
At first the pigs lived in the house, like most domestic pets. That is, until they outgrew it. Eventually, they couldn’t walk around without everything in their path flying up.
Arnold ate two or three oversized dog dishes of food a day, plus anything he could mooch off of anyone. Moyer fed the pigs corn chow, though they were most fond of Little Debbie snacks, shrimp and beer. Neither pig learned to eat independently, so Moyer and Sjoberg fed them from a spoon and bottle.
Fortunately, Axel and Arnold were potty-trained – though they wouldn’t step inside their litter box without an escort. Their regular regimen that included feeding, bathing and rubbing the pigs’ bellies took six hours daily. "It was hard to leave them or go anywhere. You have to love your pig," Moyer said.
Without her buddies around, Moyer is left with 110 blankets and six pillows. Since neither pig would put up with a dirty blanket, the wear-and-tear of washing that many blankets wore out one washing machine, she said.
Moyer donated most of the blankets to local shelters. Already, Arnold and Axel’s air-conditioned room, attached to the garage, has been converted into a tool shed. Previously, it contained Arnold and Axel’s king-sized bed that rested on the floor, two dressers and a TV that was always on because Arnold liked the background noise. He was especially fond "Martha Stewart," Moyer noted.
Although she still has eight birds and a cat, Moyer declared, "There’ll never be another Arnold."