A man battles the city over whether the pot-bellied pig is livestock or an emotional support pet

CANAJOHARIE, NY (AP) — Ellie the pot-bellied pig cuddles up to Wyverne Flatt when he watches TV and sometimes turns around to let him stroke her belly. The 110-pound pig is “family,” says Flatt, an emotional support animal that helped him through a divorce and the death of his mother.

Officials in his village in northern Canajoharie state see him very differently. For them, the pig is a farm animal that Flatt illegally lodges in the village.

The case could soon head to a criminal trial. But it has already caught the attention of pig proponents who believe the animals should be respected more as companions rather than just a source of food.

“I could never dream of giving someone my family,” Flatt recently said as he patted the pig in his kitchen. ” She is very intelligent. She’s smarter than my dogs. I think she can kind of focus on you when you’re feeling down because she’ll want to come in and snuggle up to you.

Ellie is a knee-high Vietnamese pig with black fur and hooves that slap on the floor as she comes out of her kitchen dish. Flatt was living in South Carolina when he got the pig in 2018, when she was “about as big as a shoe.”

She came north with Flatt in 2019 when he moved to Canajoharie, a modest village on the Mohawk River dominated by the bark of the old Beech-Nut food factory.

Flatt, 54, bought a repairman near the village business center with the intention of renovating it and possibly opening a restaurant on part of the ground floor. He also has two dogs and two cats.

A village code officer told Flatt he was illegally harboring Ellie in October 2019 during a visit to apply for a building permit. When the village noticed that Ellie was still there six months later, Flatt was officially notified that he was violating the local code prohibiting farm animals in the village. Violating a zoning code is a misdemeanor under state law, according to court documents.

Both sides have dug in since then.

Flatt says the village is going after his pig, which he says is clean and smart. Several of her neighbors have signed affidavits saying they love Ellie.

Village Mayor Jeff Baker said council had no comment while the matter was pending. But a village lawyer wrote in a court filing that the pig is a potential danger to public health. She argued that if “every citizen openly flouted the village’s zoning codes…we would be living in a lawless society”.

Ellie’s fate could hinge on federal housing guidelines that say municipalities must provide “reasonable accommodation” when a person can demonstrate that an animal provides emotional support for a disability-related need. Flatt’s attorney argues that his client passes this test, claiming that Ellie allowed Flatt to come off his medication and deal with his anxiety.

The village argued in court that it was willing to make reasonable accommodations, but that Flatt never met the standard.

A note from a nurse practitioner saying Ellie helped Flatt get off medication is disputed. And while he keeps a plastic card in his wallet with a picture of Ellie saying she’s a ‘registered emotional support animal’, the village lawyer says it was obtained online through costs without formal legal proceedings.

“The defendant has provided no legitimate evidence that he is a disabled person, and no evidence that his disability was corrected by having an emotional support animal, nor that the particular animal – a pig – was the only remedy. appropriate for her condition,” attorney Kirsten said. Dunn wrote in a filing last year.

A trial was due to start on March 22, but was delayed. If found guilty, Flatt could face jail time or have the pig taken away, according to his attorney.

Emotional support animals have become common over the past few decades. After years of passengers carrying pigs, rabbits, birds and other animals on planes, federal transportation officials said in 2020 airlines no longer had to accommodate emotional support animals.

And Flatt isn’t the first pig owner to seek emotional support for breaking local housing laws.

In 2019, a family in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst were not allowed to keep a pot-bellied pig, named Pork Chop, which they said was an emotional support animal for their daughter-in-law. An Indiana woman was told in 2018 to get rid of her emotional support pig for similar reasons.

Although people in the United States have kept little pigs as pets for decades, their supporters say they are still seen by some people as little more than livestock.

“There is a disconnect in most people’s minds that even though these animals were originally imported as pets, they were never intended to be food. There are still a lot of people who make this equation: Pork = food,” said Kathy Stevens, founder of the Catskill Animal Sanctuary for rescued farm animals and supporter of Flatt.

Still, many municipalities across the country allow residents to keep pigs as pets. According to information from the North American Pet Pig Association, some local rules specify that pet pigs must be under a certain weight or only allow flat-bellied pigs.

Canajoharie approved a new law in January clarifying its animal custody laws, citing an increase in violations. Farm animals are still prohibited under the law, which sets out the rules for residents seeking reasonable accommodation.

Flatt said he had received offers from people to house Ellie outside the village, but wanted to fight to keep her.

“I hope this sets a precedent for people to start understanding that these are pets,” he said. “It’s not something you go home and slaughter and eat.”


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