DES MOINES — A lowly yet crafty porker, apparently named Willie, has run amok since June through several blocks of an east side neighborhood here.
The city's animal control unit has been in hot pursuit for a couple of weeks. Some swear Willie has escaped from traps.
The sly swine has been nicknamed "Little Bulldozer" and less flattering — or just plain unprintable — names for the way he roots along driveways and fences. He shaves off grass and leaves more bare, churned earth than your average, uglier mole.
Neighbors, who have been knocking on doors on their streets to find the owner, have swapped pig tales in their driveways, cursing the beast, only to spot Willie plopped in the sun a mere 40 feet away as if mocking them. But he darts off as soon as a broom or rake can be grabbed in an effort to corral him.
"That pig is pretty darn smart," said Art King as he lingered in the swing in his driveway. "I've seen it several times today."
Art and Bonnie King's spacious yard stretches about 300 feet back to a creek that carves a tiny, shady path in the valley behind a dentist's office. That's where the city's animal control unit has positioned a giant trap that the Kings and their neighbors have helped bait with table scraps.
Some neighbors have talked of stalking Willie with a bow and arrow, but Dee Bowers wants to see the black-hided pot-bellied pig unharmed and captured before the chill of winter gives him pneumonia. She even paid to publish an ad this week in the lost-and-found listings.
Bonnie King, 83, who has lived on this street for more than 70 years, has been frustrated with the destruction, describing to Bowers how she felt her blood pressure rise one morning this week.
"I went to take an anxiety pill and thought, 'This is crazy,' " Bonnie King said. "It's just a pig!"
Next-door neighbor Merle Schieffer has gotten close enough to Willie to spy what looks like a tiny bell attached to its right ear — albeit a bell that doesn't jingle to herald his presence. (The former farmer also suspects that Willie is really a female.)
Schieffer grew up castrating pigs on a farm in northeast Nebraska and still has a couple agrarian brothers in Cornhusker country to lend advice. So he contributed crab apples from his backyard tree to the trap bait. Meanwhile, Bonnie King has scoured grocery stores in vain for off-season sweet corn.
Maryann Domarotsky, who lives next door to the dental clinic, spotted a man she assumes is the pig's owner: He is tall and slender with blond hair, probably in his 30s.
The man draped a tarp or blanket over the pig and walked away with it one day as the creature squealed. The young man didn't give a name but explained that he was trying to train the pig, she said. She sees Willie more often than his owner.
"He'll look at me, wag his tail and off he goes," she said of Willie. Domarotsky may be the only neighbor who has seen the alleged owner and heard him shout, "Willie! Willie!" during his search and seizure of the porker.
Meanwhile, the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, which has the animal control contract for the city, has been trying to capture Willie for several days.
"We don't want to do anything that's going to put the pig in danger," said Josh Colvin, the city's animal control services manager.
In other words, they're trying to save his bacon — or keep Willie from being stuffed and mounted as happened to a cougar shot in the city a year ago that ended up being exhibited at the Iowa State Fair.
If wily Willie is caught, his owner can reclaim him within a five-day window for $25, less than a cat or dog because no city licensing fees or rabies vaccinations are involved. If nobody were to claim Willie, he could be put up for adoption.
"You find out who owns this pig, you let me know," Bowers said.