Cody and Wilbur: a young man's dream to show a pig at the fair becomes reality

In the process, money is raised for Miracle League of the Lakeshore

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer

Cody Otto-Stahl began collecting pig figurines after he watched Charlotte's Web and fell in love with pigs. A little over a year ago, he decided he wanted to show a pig at the Manitowoc County Fair. His parents didn't think he was serious. He was.

Cody, 15, watched his brothers show animals at the fair for years. He watched his friend Ann Marie Schoenberger show her animals, yet, when Cody asked if he could show a pig, his mom, Joy, was worried how it would work.

Cody Otto, 15, works with his pig, Wilbur, before the Manitowoc County Fair.

Joy said they didn't think it would be possible for Cody to show a pig since he was in a manual wheelchair most of the time because he has Muscular Dystrophy. But last summer, they bought Cody a motorized scooter, however they weren't sure how it would work in the wood shavings of the show ring.

"We asked a friend of ours whose children were exhibiting pigs at the fair, if we could try having Cody walk the pig in the show ring with the motorized scooter to see if it would possibly work," Joy said in an email. "Cody did really well with the pig and he really enjoyed the experience. From there, he was asking to show a pig at the fair almost daily."

Still, Joy had her reservations. They knew nothing about pigs. Cody has autism and can get very anxious in large crowds, "so I was concerned just how he would react to the pressure of showing."

Even though Joy grew up on a dairy farm and her two older sons have shown dairy and beef cattle for years, this would be a "new venture" for their family. 

Swine superintendent Tricia Tienor suggested a special exhibition class with other exhibitors and a judge in the ring to give Cody "the full experience of showing a pig at the fair," Joy explained. However, the day fair entries were due, the Ottos didn't have a pig yet — until Joy saw a Facebook post of a show pig for sale. 

Cody Otto, 15, leads his pig, Wilbur around the ring in an exhibition class at the Manitowoc County Fair on Aug. 22. An online auction for the pig raised $1,250, which was donated to Miracle League of Lakeshore.

Despite the pig being a sow, Cody named her Wilbur, after his favorite character in the movie. 

"Cody walked Wilbur daily and was also responsible for feeding and watering her and he did so everyday without complaint. Wilbur quickly became accustomed to Cody's scooter as he walked her and Cody and I worked together to learn to navigate the scooter while teaching Wilbur to walk with him," Joy explained. "Wilbur quickly became more of a pet than a fair animal. Everyone in the family loved her, even our dogs and she was always excited to see all of us, but especially Cody."

Joy decided to have a private, silent auction on Facebook to auction off Wilbur, with the money raised going to Miracle League of the Lakeshore, where Cody has played baseball for the past three years. 

Cody Otto is pictured with his friend Ann Marie. Both showed pigs at the Manitowoc County Fair and donated funds from the auction to Miracle League of the Lakeshore.

"This was a way for Cody to do something he loved while giving back to an organization that has given Cody a great opportunity to play a sport and be a part of something very special," said Joy.

With everything in place, Joy was still worried about how Cody would handle the show,

"Being a mom I also wanted to give my child an opportunity he deserved, so I would do what it took to make it happen for him," Joy said in a Facebook post. "You see when you have a child with special needs almost everything is a fight. You fight to help them. You fight to get the care and services they need. You fight for them to have opportunities. You fight for acceptance. The fight can be utterly exhausting and it is never ending."

Special needs teen raises money for Miracle League of the Lakeshore baseball league

While there was support from most people to make Cody's dream come true, there was doubt from others. Doubt that Wilbur would cooperate or that Cody would cooperate or even like showing the pig. Yet, Joy kept fighting for this "simple opportunity, no matter how it turned out."

When show day arrived, Cody entered the ring with Wilbur with a huge crowd watching, a television camera aimed at his every move and a huge smile on his face. In the ring with him were eight other exhibitors and his friend Ann Marie, a young girl with Down's Syndrome, who brought her pig back in the ring to support Cody.

"I am so beyond grateful to everyone that helped make this happen for Cody," said Joy. "It was something he and our family will never forget."

Cody Otto, 15, has played baseball for the past three years with Miracle League of the Lakeshore. Cody decided to donate money raised from the sale of his pig, Wilbur, to Miracle League.

Meanwhile, the online auction had taken off and A&J Mobility of Valders won Wilbur with a bid of $1,250, which was donated to Miracle League. Inspired by Cody, Anne Marie decided to donate half of what her Grand Champion 260 pound hog sold for, at $20 per pound, to Miracle League also, Joy said.

Joy's final message to parents of children with special needs — the fight, the worry, the work, was worth this moment for Cody, a moment in the ring at the county fair that many take for granted.

"This moment was pure happiness, joy, pride and love and it will never be forgotten," Joy said in her Facebook post.