This little piggy rides hogs

Baby Banks, the biker pig from Anaheim, Calif., rides in the sidecar of her caretaker’s motorcycle as she experiences her fourth Sturgis Motorcycle Rally this year, seen here in front of the legendary Buffalo Chip sign. Courtesy photo

SPEARFISH — Pigs don’t ordinarily ride motorcycles, but this little piggy, whether she’s on her way to the market or squealing all the way home, she’s riding in style in the sidecar of her caretaker’s motorcycle.

At 5-months-old, Baby Banks began riding in the sidecar of Debra Jo Chiapuzio’s 2008 Harley Davidson Road King.

“God, is it fun having a biker pig,” Chiapuzio said.

The now 4-year-old, 150-pound Vietnamese miniature pot belly pig from Anaheim, Calif., currently in the midst of her fourth Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, became a biker pig by accident.

Chiapuzio, lovingly known as “the zookeeper,” said Baby Banks was first exposed to the noise of motorcycle engines at 5-weeks-old, and by the time she was 2-months-old, she regularly enjoyed play times in the sidecar, really just a convenient method of containment while Chiapuzio gardened in her front yard. Over time and acclimation to the sidecar, the hog riding a hog evolved naturally from there, and Baby Banks now has more than 5,000 miles under her hooves.

In addition to being a biker pig, Baby Banks is a spokespig for the Food Train — a nonprofit organization that helps supply animal rescue organizations with funding, with the prerequisite criteria of having at least one laboratory-saved animal at each location.

Chiapuzio said the mini-pig’s ever-growing popularity has rescue facilities overflowing due to undereducation prior to adopting a pig about the necessary care, in addition to  assuming that the pig will stay “mini.” The organization brings education and awareness to mini-pigs living in private homes and medical research and testing laboratories.

“I love the fact that I am in the position to speak to a number of people and tell you that she (Baby Banks) is a 24/7 job; that she will root up all of my flowers - as she has; that they (the pigs) are going to challenge you, even when they love you - because that is their nature; and that her 150-pound body is normal (for a mini-pig),” Chiapuzio said. “I love to tell people the challenges and the handfuls that they are.”

“The right pig with the right person is a good thing,” she said. “But that combination is probably a one out of 100.”

One hundred percent of the donations received by the Food Train goes straight to food to help feed pigs in shelters and those saved from laboratory facilities.

The Food Train is a subsidiary of the Emma Zen Foundation, also run by Chiapuzio, which raises funds for and donates pet oxygen masks to fire departments and other first responders. The masks are used to deliver oxygen to pets that suffer from smoke asphyxiation and other breathing issues due to medical emergencies such as house fires. The masks work for dogs, cats, birds, and other typical household-sized pets.

After receiving a number of donations from bikers throughout the last decade during the Rally, the organization equipped numerous local fire departments with the life saving kits, including - Spearfish, Whitewood, Deadwood, Rapid City, and a number of the smaller communities on Interstate 90 between Spearfish and Rapid City.

The organization, formed in 2007, has donated more than 2,500 of the $75 kits to Southern California fire personnel and as far away as Canada, Germany, and Japan.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” Chiapuzio said. “I didn’t set out to do any of this; I could never have even dreamt of it.”

“There’s an old African saying that I talk about sometimes when I do lectures about the foundation and how to get started that goes, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together,’ and I think that’s where I’m at,” she said.

For more information about mini-pigs, the Food Train or Emma Zen Foundation, or to donate to or follow Baby Banks and the Zen Zoo, visit https://www.facebook.com/TheZenZoo/home, http://www.thefoodtrain.org/, or http://www.emmazenfoundation.com/.

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