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The Mystery of Max

Local pot-bellied pig finds his own hog heaven in Stafford
by: Vern Uyetake, Hanging with horses is what Max loves to do best. In fact, Robbin Stewart says, “Max thinks he’s a horse.”

Max the Pot-Bellied Pig will never be mistaken for Frank Sinatra.

Yet the plucky porker has every right to share the same theme song as the late great Old Blue Eyes: My Way.

Yes, Max is 75 pounds worth of implacable determination to live life the way he wants to.

He left his happy home, he braved swimming the Tualatin River (probably), he encountered consternation from humans and outright rejection from his fellow animals; all to live the life of a wandering, horse-loving pig.

Today, Max is America's guest. At least the part of America on Johnson and Borland roads in the Stafford area.

Max hasn't achieved this status by kissing up to people or animals. Even folks who like him admit that Max is surly, churlish, boorish and antisocial. If there were a Dale Carnegie course for pigs, Max should be first in line to take it.

Also, even for a pig he seems to eat an incredible amount of food.

Max's great virtue is that he is there. He shows up and he stays. At first other living creatures don't know what to make of Max. But then they get used to him. After a while, amazingly, he even becomes ingratiating. How could you secretly not admire such nerve? A grudging admiration develops. Then a fondness. Somehow he grows on you.

How has Max done it? You find out by talking to the people who know him and have observed his odyssey with increasing interest.

Max is found

Pat Paulson was in the market for a pet pig. A lifelong resident of Wanker's Corner, Paulson, a contractor, has always been surrounded by animals at his family homestead, and one of them was a pot-bellied pig named Miss Wilbur, a friendly, socially well-adjusted pig.

But Miss Wilbur passed on, and Paulson desired a pig replacement. Then he saw a newspaper ad for a free pot-bellied pig by the name of Max.

'Pot-bellied pigs were a novelty pet for awhile,' Paulson said. 'They get bigger than you think. Max was here two years and he liked hanging around the horses, especially their hocks.

'One day Max got too close and Woody (a Morgan) kicked him for a loop. I worried about his health for awhile, but he turned out fine. Max was a wonderful pet. He caused no trouble. He ate food scraps and dog food and horse's oats and grain.'

Max was no Miss Wilbur in the sociability department, so Paulson figured he may have been abused when he was a piglet. But somehow Paulson's daughter Nicole was able to entice Max to attend one of her animal birthday parties. The family has a photo of Max wearing a cone-like birthday hat to prove it.

Max is lost

Max seemed to have a wonderful life at the farm at Wanker's Corner. Two horses and a Shetland pony to hang out with, lots of land to roam on, and an endless supply of food scraps. Yet he yearned for something more.

'One day he disappeared,' Paulson said. 'We drove up and down Borland Road trying to find him.'

Meanwhile, directly across the Tualatin River on Johnson Road at the horse-breeding farm of Mike and Robbin Stewart, Robbin heard a commotion in the corral. She saw her horses were all gathered together and appeared to be frightened. Then Stewart spotted the reason for this odd behavior: A pot-bellied pig was spooking them.

'People talked about him being my pig, and I told them, 'He's not my pig,' ' Stewart said. 'We put up signs describing him. From the crank calls we could tell that they weren't really his owners. I was afraid he would be turned into bacon. I called the zoo in Estacada.'

Max shows up

Three weeks after Max's sudden disappearance, Paulson and his daughter Nicole stopped at a little store in downtown Wanker's Corner and noticed a sign posted advertising a found pig.

'I thought, 'How many found pigs can there be?' I thought it might be Max,' Paulson said. 'I called the Stewarts and said, 'Hey, I think you have my pig. The description sounds like him.'

'Robbin sounded like such a nice lady. She told me, 'It's the craziest thing. I looked out in the pasture and there he was eating and hanging out with our horses.''

Max escapes

Elated that his prodigal pig had been found, Paulson got a big pet carrier and went to the Stewarts' horse farm. He managed to corner Max, get him in the carrier and take him back home.

Only Max didn't want to go back home.

'He screamed all the way,' Stewart said. 'It was hard to contain him because he got so savvy.'

No sooner did Max get home than he escaped to the Stewart place, whether by water or land. Again, Paulson came to take him home. Again, Max broke away and went back to the Stewart farm.

'I cornered him, but a week or two later he disappeared,' Paulson said. 'I thought, 'If he likes it that well, I'll leave it at that.' '

Robbin Stewart had a pig on her hands, whether or not she wanted one.

Max's method

How did Max the Pot-Bellied Pig escape from Paulson's place and get to the other side of the river? That is just as big a mystery as to why Max wanted to do it in the first place. Obviously, as Stewart observed, Max is one savvy swine.

'He would have had to cross over the fields and walked over the bridge, and I doubt if Max would do that because he's not a very social animal,' Paulson said. 'He's standoffish. He wouldn't have liked the traffic on the bridge.

'Or he would have crossed the river. I'm almost positive that's what he did because I don't think he would have crossed the bridge. That's the thing that puzzles me the most. I would really like to know how he got over there.'

'He either swims or crosses the bridge,' Stewart said. 'No one has seen how he gets across.'

Did Max fly? At this time, that is not receiving serious consideration.

A period of adjustment

Robbin Stewart has never known an animal like Max.

'He thinks he's a horse,' Stewart said. 'He is just so insistent on being with the horses. The other animals he just tolerates. He just loves horses.'

Since Stewart's breeding farm has 23 horses, it is just the kind of place for Max.

Max's love for horses can take amazing forms. One time Stewart brought in a veterinarian to treat one of her limping horses. Then she looked over and saw that Max was limping, too.

'I thought, 'Oh, for crying out loud,' ' Stewart said. ' 'Are those sympathy pains?' '

Early on, however, Max tried to get too friendly too quickly with the horses and he paid the price.

'They kicked him and he just rolled like a rock,' Stewart said. 'He just got up and kept going.'

As he proved before, Max can take a kick and keep on ticking.

Now, Max is one of the gang. Mainly due to Stewart's forbearance.

'Actually, Max is low maintenance,' Stewart said. 'The worst thing he does is tip the water buckets, which muddies the stalls after I just get them clean. I don't need his help. He's just insistent on drinking from things too tall to reach. He puts his feet up on them and drags them over.

'He's something you put up with. There are all kinds of things I tolerate.'

A community icon

Still, there is evidence that Stewart's feelings for Max go beyond toleration. One time, during an ice storm, she spotted a round mound on the ground, and she said, 'Please, don't let it be Max.'

It wasn't. It was a pile of manure.

Other times when Stewart thought that Max had met his demise it actually turned out to be a bump on the road and a black plastic bag of garbage.

Max does disappear from the Stewart farm from time to time, but it is only to make the rounds at other homes on Johnson Road. He shows up expecting to be fed and that is what usually happens.

'They all feed him,' Stewart said. 'He suckers everybody. He manipulates them. We talk about him at neighborhood meetings. He's become the central character of the Stafford Triangle.

'Sometimes I go out and Max is sitting under a tree like Ferdinand the Bull. Other times I see him flat on his side in a corral, basking in the sun.'

An almost entirely happy ending

What do you give the pig who has everything? Nothing. Max lives just the way he wants. He has achieved the American pot-bellied pig dream, pig paradise, hog heaven on earth.

It's a heart-warming success story. But not for everybody. What about Pat Paulson, the man who gave Max a happy home? He has goats, chickens, cats, dogs, and horses, but no pet pig, and it's just not right.

'I have seen Max walking down the road a couple times,' Paulson said. 'One time the heating and cooling guys who work for me said they saw a black pig walking down the road. I told them, 'That's Max.' My feelings are kind of hurt that he's never come back over here.

'I miss him. He was the craziest pig I've ever seen.'

Still, while there may never be another Max, Paulson may find another pot-bellied pig. Maybe a friendlier pig. And one with a little gratitude.

'If I see one for free, I would consider getting it,' Paulson said. 'He would have a perfect situation here. Lots of room to roam, lots of food scraps. Pigs are great!'