Joy, a 4-year-old mini pig, is a celebrity in Newton, where she is the mascot for the Capitol II Theatre. Joy greets guests and does tricks for them after shows. Kelsey Kremer/The Register
Move over, Wilbur!
Joy — the American Mini Spokes-Pig for the Capitol II Theatre in Newton — really is “some pig.”
Just ask the adjudicators at Guinness World Records.
Appearing for her close-up in the 2020 edition of the famous record book (out now), Joy has been officially named the fastest trick porker in the universe. Her feat, overseen by two judges (aka Newton’s mayor and the city’s chief of police), was successfully completing 13 tricks, each initiated by a different command, in under one minute.
After a yearslong application process and a nail-biter of a win — breaking the record on her third and final try — Joy and her family are happy as a pig in, well, you know.
“I never thought I would own a pig that broke world records, but Joy’s whole life is basically never knowing what I am getting myself into,” said Dawn Bleeker, owner of both Joy and the movie theater she represents. “To me, she’s still just my beloved pet.”
While that may be true, Joy is far from your average hog.
A ham in more ways than one, Joy is a local celebrity and performer with her own dressing room at the theater — a peek-a-boo window lets visitors steal a gander of her from the street. And Joy is always red-carpet ready, of course, complete with painted toenails and her favorite dress, a resplendent taffeta number emblazoned with cartoon popcorn buckets (her favorite food).
Today, 7-year-old Joy is a fixture as important to the theater’s daily operations as one of its projectors and the candy counter — and she’s dear enough to her family that when the stairs in their split foyer home became too much for the swine, they moved to a ranch. (Yes, they moved for their pig.)
But the relocation is just one of the many ups and downs (and costume changes) in this porcine prodigy’s romantic comedy-esque journey — and the Bleekers, themselves, have had to weather their share of setbacks before getting their Hollywood ending.
Back before their truest Joy was realized, the Bleekers had to petition Newton, Iowa, to allow pigs as pets.
In 2011, the city code declared “all swine dangerous,” and the Bleekers thought adding “with the exception of miniature pigs” would be a fairly anodyne request.
But after they were rebuffed, town gossip circled that Bleeker was jeopardizing her children’s safety with a “mean, aggressive pig,” according to previous Register reporting. A monthslong goodwill campaign helped lower neighborhood pitchforks, and the City Council swung their way in a subsequent vote.
“Pigs aren’t born social, so you have to work with them,” said Bleeker, who paid a puppy trainer for three training sessions when Joy first arrived in central Iowa.
Soon after, the family purchased the recently-shuttered local movie theater, putting in a few weeks of early mornings and late nights to refurbish and restore the picture house.
Considering Joy was just a petite piglet, the family brought her along.
When the theater opened in fall 2012, the late nights and early mornings didn’t stop, so once again, Joy regularly tagged along.
Wearing a little magenta usher’s uniform, complete with a pillbox hat, Joy used to greet patrons. Although she was almost always leashed, Joy walked all around the theater’s lobby and screening rooms, seeking out popcorn kernels wherever and whenever she could.
Her popularity, paired with strong community support, helped the small cinema bounce out of bankruptcy and into the black, the family said.
But a pig in a movie theater wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals received an anonymous complaint a few months after the Capitol opened that “a pig was running loose in a theater,” Dave Werning, then-spokesman for the department, told the Register in 2016.
The responding inspector told Bleeker to keep Joy at home until she could obtain a special dispensation from the department.
“This is, to my knowledge, the first (variance) we’ve issued for a pig in a movie theater,” Werning said.
Breaking a record
Although Joy is a “total diva,” Bleeker said, she didn’t seek out the record’s limelight.
In late 2017, a rumor circulated in miniature pig circles (yep, those) that Guinness was looking for swine with special abilities. Joy had been performing in front of the Capitol Theatre’s crowds for years, so, Bleeker figured, “Why not?”
She had to apply with what record they were trying to break — pig tricks in a minute, naturally — and Guinness had to approve specific tricks and attempt circumstances.
Once endorsed, the attempt was set for January 2018 at Newton High School. Guinness recommends two government officials — in this case, the mayor and chief of police — be on hand as objective observers, along with two timekeepers, a photographer, a videographer and a letter from Joy’s vet certifying she was good to go.
Animals can only attempt a record break three times in a 24-hour period, so it was make-it-or-bacon-it time for Joy.
“I probably goofed up the first two. I was a nervous wreck,” Bleeker said. “Seconds into the first try, I screwed it up.”
But the porker prevailed and, for more than a year, the Bleekers have kept their swine star a secret. Since her reveal in earlier October, Joy has been asked to appear on “American’s Got Talent” and to break her record live on Italian TV — the family declined international travel because transporting a pig on commercial airlines presented quite the customs issue.
Although the sheer number of tricks dogs can do in a minute makes Joy look “pokey,” Bleeker said part of the issue is that “pigs — especially older ones — do things on their own time.”
“When she was younger, she could do things faster,” she said. “Now, she’s like, ‘OK, I’ll get to it when I get to it.’”
Just like a true diva.
Courtney Crowder, the Register’s Iowa Columnist, traverses the state’s 99 counties telling Iowans’ stories. She wrote more words about Chris Soules on “The Bachelor” than anyone in journalism school prepared her for. Please read her other work before emailing that “this isn’t news.” Reach her at [email protected] or 515-284-8360. Follow her on Twitter @courtneycare.
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