Two years ago, a brief encounter with an autistic child at the Dodge County Fair altered Kaitlin Neu’s life for good. Today, she’s working with a dedicated team to bring the Pig Pals Swine Spectacular, a pig show for youth with disabilities, to the Dodge County Fair swine and sheep barn on Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019, at 10:30 a.m.

On the day that started it all, Kaitlin Neu, Ixonia, County Line 4-H, was sitting with her pig in the swine barn at the Dodge County Fair. She was allowing visitors to feed her pig marshmallow treats. “A Mom and her son walked up. I asked him if he’d like to feed my pig a marshmallow. His Mom said, ‘he’s autistic, nonverbal, and doesn’t show any emotion, so I’m not sure he’ll do it.’ I asked if I could try. The boy took the marshmallow, fed it to my pig, and proceeded to turn around and smile at his Mom. She immediately started crying and told me, ‘that was the first time he’s smiled in about two years.’ “

Tears from one person can cause a ripple effect, and that is exactly what happened to Neu. “I got emotional. It was such a cool bonding experience and really opened my eyes to this other side of youth, who don’t have the opportunity to do things I can do, like show pigs.”

Fast forward two years, and now the Dodge County Fair will officially be hosting the Pig Pals Swine Spectacular. “Pig pals is meant to incorporate youth with disabilities in showing swine,” commented Neu. “It will give them an opportunity to work with an animal and see what we do as 4-H youth. We also hope this will establish a connection between special-needs youth and 4-H youth who are showing pigs.”

Neu is only 18 years old. She’s been a certified nursing assistant (CNA) for nine months, already. By the time county fair starts this year, she’ll be an emergency medical technician (EMT). Also on the Pig Pals committee is Mary Pat Boschert, Beaver Dam, who’s a special-education teacher in Dodge County. Her son, Andy Boschert, Beaver Dam, is also on the committee. He shows pigs, as well, and has participated in Wisconsin State Fair’s version of this special-needs program. All three will be on hand the day of the show to make sure the special-needs youth have a safe and enjoyable experience.

Due to space requirements, there are a limited number of spots available for youth with disabilities. “There is no cost to participate, and we still have openings,” said Neu. “Our main target is the youth in 7th to 12th grade with intellectual disabilities like autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, sensory-processing disorder, etc.” Each participant will be given a t-shirt and an award ribbon. Registrations must be postmarked by July 31, 2019.

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Written by Dori Lichty — farm wife, 4-H Mom, and full-time communicator