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Database Makes the Treating of Pet Pigs Less Perplexing
2/15/2000 11:39:52 AM

by: Wes Alwan, Staff Writer,

As the internet grows by leaps and bounds, so too does an interest in everything previously inaccessible and exotic. That includes exotic pets.

But with this new trend in companion animals comes new responsibilities. Tellingly, the trade in exotic pets frequently has led to dangerous encounters, disappointment, and abandoned pets. It is also leaving many veterinarians confused as to how to care for animals for which there are few case histories, little research, and no veterinary specialties.

Potbellied pigs are one example of this predicament: veterinarians usually are at a loss as to how to deal with the health problems of these animals. Despite the fact that there are many experienced swine practitioners, the primary goal of these veterinarians is to maximize pork production. So when it comes to serious ailments requiring surgery or other interventions, many owners will find themselves confronting tragedy with few available resources.

Barbara Baker found that out the hard way when her Duchess of Pork, a two-year-old purebred potbellied pig, died of liver disease after suffering from seizures during the last year of her life. Duchess’ diagnostic work and postmortem raised more questions than answers.

That’s why Ms. Baker founded the Duchess Fund, a medical database of potbellied pig medical case histories, available on the web, and compiled with the cooperation of universities nationwide.

“I founded it right after the death of my Duchess of Pork,” she explained. “She had the best veterinary care that money can buy-she had a board-certified internal medicine specialist-but still did not respond to treatment.”

Veterinarians could do nothing for Duchess, despite redoubled efforts and all the technology of small animal medicine at their fingertips.

“That’s a perfect example of why the Duchess Fund needed to be started,” Ms. Baker said. “There is just not enough medical information on treating potbellied pigs-a veterinarian just has to use his best guess, walking into an unknown area.”

After just a year, the Fund has seen incredible growth. While Ms. Baker was secretary of the North American Potbellied Pig Association since 1994, for the last year she has devoted most of her time to the Fund, which until recently was a charitable project under the Association. In fact, the Duchess Fund is growing so quickly that Ms. Baker just announced its incorporation as a separate nonprofit charity.

“When I founded the Duchess Fund last year, I had no idea that the growth would be this rapid,” Ms Baker said. “We are now in a position to create committees for the Duchess Fund, such as a fundraising committee, public relations committee, and other to further enhance our operation.”

The Duchess Fund also recently announced the cooperation of Purdue University, which will be providing the Fund with all of its medical records on potbellied pigs. Currently Cornell University, the University of Georgia, Ohio State University, Washington State University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Florida also are participants in the Fund.

The Fund also has seen a notable increase in publicity: the cable channel Animal Planet recently taped a profile of the organization. Ms. Baker is happy about the publicity, hoping that her growing medical database will allow veterinarians to help potbellied pig owners avoid misfortunes similar to that which she went through with her own pet.

“I’m hoping that this is going to better equip veterinarians, and give them something to work with,” Ms. Baker said. “If they’re treating a disease and they can pull up case histories to see if there’s something helpful, that’s certainly a start in the right direction.”

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