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Gay Balliet '91, '94G: The things you can learn from a pig

Gay Balliet with her potbelly pig, Lowell.

Gay Balliet '91, Ph.D. '94 doesn't have to go to a library to research her books. Balliet's life is her research. She lives on a farm in Northampton County, Pa., with four horses, 20 cats, and 12 potbellied pigs... oh, and her veterinarian husband, Edgar.

When she's not writing, Balliet assists Edgar in his large animal veterinary practice. All of this leads to some very interesting material.

While studying for both her M.A. and Ph.D. in English at Lehigh, Balliet learned a variety of philosophical theories. One of those theories, existentialism, inspired her first book, Lowell: The True Story of an Existential Pig. Balliet describes Lowell, and all pigs, as being, "quick-thinking, not gluttonous, and clean."

Lowell was chosen as the book's topic because he was Balliet's first potbellied pig, and the $50 she spent to buy him as a baby was definitely money well spent. "He quickly became my dear, constant friend here on the farm," she says.

The more time Balliet spent with Lowell, the more she discovered that he did not behave in the way people mythologize pigs.

"He wasn't dirty, smelly, gluttonous, or stupid; rather he -- and all the other pigs I have known of to this day -- is clean, quick on his feet, stops eating when he is full, is social and curious, and has the intelligence of a 3-year-old child."

Balliet's latest book, Lions & Tigers & Mares... Oh My!, is a sequel to her 1999 book, Touched by All Creatures: Doctoring in Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

"Both books are about the funny and hair-raising experiences my veterinarian husband and I, his assistant, have while treating animals," she says. "Though most of the tales are about horses, Lions includes stories about treating elephants, tigers, lions, bats, wolves, and other animals that don't typically walk into a vet's office."

Balliet's writing has been compared to that of James Herriott, the creator of All Creatures Great and Small. When asked how she feels about the comparison, Balliet says she is "flattered and complimented, but would never presume to be compared to James Herriott."

The writer/animal lover is currently working on a third volume of the series with the working title There's a Bear in the Basement, which continues the adventures of treating animals on farms and in zoos around the Lehigh Valley, this time with encouragement for readers to share time with animals in order to foster the child within.

Balliet describes the upcoming book as "another sequel of hair-raising and horrendous experiences tending animals."

--Mary S. Mesaros

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Spring 2005

Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2005

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