Animals, whether livestock or pets, provide one of the Agricultural Fair's biggest draws. It wouldn't be a day at the fair without the sight of dogs of many breeds and sizes or the opportunity to look a chicken in the eye.
Sitting near a picnic table near the fair entrance on Sunday afternoon, Shiloh, a four-year-old white collie, attracted attention from everyone who walked by with his regal good looks and the first place blue ribbon that fluttered from his collar.
Although Shiloh's head and muzzle are highlighted with the traditional collie colors, beige and black, the rest of him is predominantly white.
"He's a real show-stopper," agreed Susan Shanok of Chilmark, who accepted compliments for Shiloh while his other owner, her husband William (Bill), enjoyed the exhibit hall. Mrs. Shanok said the collie is a first for them, after owning a "flock of Shih Tzu's," at least two or three at a time, over the last 30 years. After the last one died, she said she broached the idea of going dog-less for awhile. "My husband told me, it's either a new dog or a new wife," she said with a laugh.
Mr. Shanok decided he'd like to get a collie this time around, because of fond memories of one he grew up with. "When I was born, my parents had a collie. I think they wanted the dog first and I was an afterthought," he joked.
After seeing some white collies, Mr. Shanok became interested in owning one and found Shiloh through a breeder in Pennsylvania. The handsome collie with a sweet temperament has earned ribbons at the Fair's dog show every year he has competed, three years in a row.
Shiloh placed second in his class two years ago, first last year, and first again this year, among eight contenders in the herding dog class. Mr. Shanok said he is working on his grandchildren to take on the role of showing Shiloh at next year's Fair.
In looking at other four-legged Fair contestants, it appeared there is a fine line between farm animal and house-pet. Over at the animal exhibits in the barn, Susan Schwoch of Oak Bluffs sat in a pen keeping blue-ribbon-winning potbellied pigs company. "We're famous - they've been coming here since they were babies," she said of Homer, age 6, and Wendy, age 8. The pigs have won seven blue ribbons each over the years.
Ms. Schwoch, who grew up in Edgartown, said she wanted a pig ever since she first saw one as a child at the Ag Fair. She got Wendy eight years ago, naming her after an aunt. Seeing how much fun she was having, her husband Dave wanted a pig of his own, so they got Homer, named after animated character Homer Simpson.
The two potbellies, who are housebroken, live in the house most of the time. In the spring, they spend afternoons outside. Contrary to negative publicity about potbellied pigs' destructiveness, Ms. Schwoch said her pets do not root indoors. They only root outside in the spring when they are looking for grubs, she added, stripping every blade of grass from their entire pen.
"We only had one incident with Wendy, when she was 11 months old," Ms. Schwoch recalled. "We left her at home alone, and when we came back, she had pushed all the living room furniture into the center of the room."
In the summer, when it is too hot for the pigs to stay outside, they go out for a few hours after dinner. In the winter, they stay indoors most of the time. They hate the rain, Ms. Schwoch said.
Wendy likes to accompany Ms. Schwoch to the mailbox every day. She barks like a dog - especially at UPS trucks. For some reason, the feisty female bristles at the sight of the brown fleet, Ms. Schwoch said. The first time Wendy saw a UPS truck drive up, she planted her hooves firmly in the driveway in a classic standoff pose as though ready to take it on, and chased the truck down the street as it drove off.
Avid animal lovers, the Schwoch's have opened their home to a menagerie that includes hamster, Opie, guinea pigs, LaVerne and Shirley, 16 cats, two ferrets, five chinchillas, a three-legged turtle, a snake, a lizard, and a flying squirrel.
However, it's clear that the pot-bellied pigs, at 80-something pounds each, occupy a larger presence in both the Schwochs' home and their hearts. Wendy and Homer will maintain their celebrity porcine presence at the Fair again next year, Ms. Schwoch said, adding, "We'll continue as long as we're able."