LuLu the Pot-Bellied Pig Stops Traffic
Species: Vietnamese pot-bellied pig
Date: August 4, 1998
Location: Presque Isle, Pennsylvania
Situation: Woman suffering a heart attack
Who Was Saved: Jo Ann Altsman, 57-year-old wife and mother
Fame Meter: Hall-of-Famer
Quick: Which is smarter, a dog or a pig?
If you’re Jo Ann Altsman, or George Clooney for that matter, the answer is as simple as it is hard to miss. Pot-bellied pigs are the smartest, and you don’t need a bunch of scientific studies to prove it. Just listen to this:
In August 1998, Jo Ann and Jack Altsman were summer vacationing on Presque Isle, Pennsylvania, a beautiful sandy peninsula that juts into Lake Erie. The couple had brought along their American Eskimo dog, Bear, and their pet Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, LuLu. A type of miniature pig, LuLu then weighed about 150 pounds, about the average adult weight.
The Altsmans had originally purchased LuLu in 1997 as a fortieth birthday present for their daughter, Jackie. Imagine her surprise? Strangely enough, Jackie never got around to taking LuLu home, and as the four-pound piglet grew, so did the Altsmans’ love for her. They kept LuLu, and Jo Ann is eternally grateful they did.
On the morning of August 4, while her husband was fishing on Lake Erie, Jo Ann suffered a heart attack in their vacation home. It was her second heart attack in eighteen months, and she fell to the floor, gasping, and couldn’t get up. Jo Ann threw an alarm clock through the window, breaking it, and yelled for help, but no one heard her.
Meanwhile, her dog, Bear, was barking his fool head off, and LuLu “made sounds like she was crying,” Jo Ann said. “You know, they cry big, fat tears.”
Then LuLu decided to do something. She crashed through the trailer’s doggie door--breaking it open wider but cutting her stomach in the process--knocked open the enclosed yard’s gate, and ran to an adjacent road.
“I didn’t know that she knew that I was in dire trouble,” Jo Ann said. “I just kept telling her to go night-night.”
Once at the street, as witnesses described later, LuLu decided to play “dead piggy.” This was one of LuLu’s favorite games, one in which “she knows she’ll get attention,” Jo Ann said. LuLu lay down in the middle of the road, forcing cars to drive around her.
But no one would stop.
So, for the next forty-five minutes, LuLu kept returning to the trailer to check on Jo Ann, and then returning to the road to play “dead piggy” until she got someone’s attention.
What about Bear? The stupid dog just kept barking.
Finally, an anonymous man pulled over and got out of his car. Seeing the bloody injury on the animal’s flank, and concerned for her safety (and perhaps her sanity), he followed LuLu as the “little piggy” ran wee-wee-wee all the way home.
“I heard a man hollering through the door, ‘Lady, your pig’s in distress,” Jo Ann recounted. “I said, ‘I’m in distress, too. Please call an ambulance.’”
The man did, and Jo Ann was flown to a nearby medical center, where she had emergency open-heart surgery. Doctors told her that if another fifteen minutes had gone by, she probably would have died.
How do you thank a pig who saves your life?
“She got a jelly doughnut,” Jo Ann said.
LuLu Is Loved to Death
Tragically, LuLu’s story doesn’t end there.
As author E. B. White understood, when you have a terrific, radiant, humble pig, the whole world wants to meet them. Afterward, back at their Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, home, the Altsmans and LuLu were overwhelmed with media attention. The New York Times ran a front-page story. LuLu was featured in USA Today and People magazine. TV programs from Germany, Australia, Italy, and Japan came calling. National Geographic did a TV segment, and LuLu appeared on the Regis & Kathie Lee Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, and Oprah.
Each year, the story never got old. Ripley’s Believe It or Not showed up, as did Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, Good Morning America, and 20/20.
The highlight, though, was most certainly meeting George Clooney and his own beloved pot-bellied pig, Max, when LuLu received the 1999 “Trooper Award” from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It’s not clear whether LuLu and Max hit it off, but Clooney was smitten.
After all, Clooney’s infatuation with his pig Max was by then famous. He had been known to lose girlfriends over his pet, whom he called “a big part of my life.” Clooney once said, “You get a lot of grief from people when you sleep with a pig. I’ve had different reaction over the years. But I always say, ‘Love me, love my pig.’ What can I do?”
People certainly marveled at LuLu, and particularly at what her actions indicated about her intelligence and depth of feeling. Pigs have always been considered smart, but could a pig really understand what was at stake, respond creatively, and persist at it for nearly an hour? As Marc Bekoff said, “What LuLu did was amazing, but it would not be beyond the cognitive or intellectual power of a pig. She was on a mission.”
But also, with each passing year, LuLu kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Four years later, by 2002, she had grown dangerously obese, ballooning to 335 pounds.
“We put her on diets constantly,” Jo Ann said. But as LuLu had demonstrated, she was no dummy, and she liked to eat. “She’d sit at the gate and cry for people to feed her. Everyone thought they were the only ones.” Strangers fed her hamburgers, Pop-Tarts, ice cream, pizza, soda, candy--anything to thank this remarkable animal for what she’d done.
On January 30, 2003, LuLu died at home after suffering a heart attack, one that was most likely brought on by her weight. She died prematurely, at age five and half. Pot-bellied pigs have a life expectancy of twelve to twenty years.
“She was the smartest, most special pig,” Jo Ann said. She and her husband contemplated getting a new pig, but “whatever we do,” she said, “we’ll never have another LuLu.”