Panel split on Little Rock's pot-bellied pig problem | Arkansas Blog

Panel split on Little Rock's pot-bellied pig problem



PIG POLITICS: W.P. Sooie and its owner Jyll Latham started a city debate that remains unresolved.
  • PIG POLITICS: W.P. Sooie and its owner Jyll Latham started a city debate that remains unresolved.

A subcommittee meant to work out a solution on keeping of pot-bellied pigs in the city of Little Rock was as split last night as the ambiguous ordinances on the question. Some want the swine outlawed; some don't.

David Koon put this story in play in the Times back in May.

The question will wind up in the City Board of Directors' laps, perhaps in the form of two separate ordinances — one pro-pet pig, the other against. Don't know yet if the chamber of commerce has a hog in this hunt.

Update from David Koon, who was there for last night's meeting, on the jump...

The butcher knife of Damocles still hangs over the head of W.P. Sooie, a small Vietnamese pot-bellied pig who has been threatened with eviction by the city, after a meeting of the City of Little Rock Animal Services Advisory Board subcommittee deadlocked 2-2 last night and failed to come up with a draft ordinance to settle the issue of pig-pets in Little Rock. Little Rock Animal Services manager Tracy Roark will now draft two opposing ordinances to present to the full Animal Services Advisory Board, which will make a decision and present the ordinance to the full city board.

One of those draft ordinances, Roark and the board decided, would allow pot-bellied pigs to stay in the city and regard them in fundamentally the same way as pet dogs and cats, establishing licensing and care restrictions and creating a registration list. The other draft ordinance will ban pot-bellied pigs from the city unless the can be kept 300 feet from the nearest neighbor, with no "grandfathering clause" to allow current owners to keep their pets. If that draft is accepted, owners of pot-bellied pigs who live in the city now would have a time limit to come into compliance, meaning either they'll have to move, get rid of their pig, or find a place to house the animal that is in compliance.

Last night's meeting was about as contentious as a meeting of an animal services subcommittee can get. The knives didn't come out, but there was some squealing about the finer points of the law. Committee members Joe Ghormley and Keith Canfield came down squarely against allowing "livestock" to stay within the city limits, with Ghormley saying there are fundamental differences between dogs and pigs, and Canfield asking the committee whether they would be okay with allowing the same number of pot-bellied pigs in Little Rock as there are dogs. Canfield likened keeping a pig as a pet to a television program he'd seen where a family treated a horse as a pet, allowing it to roam their house. "Just becomes somebody treats it as a pet," he said, "doesn't mean it's suitable." Ghormley later said the committee shouldn't "romanticize" the keeping of pigs too much, given that pet pigs will live in residential neighborhoods. With a pig of any size, Ghormley said, "its waste has a distinctive odor."

Coming down on the pro-porker side were commissioners Leslie Copeland and John Dugan. Dugan said that he had originally been "adamantly" opposed to allowing pot-bellied pigs to stay in the city, but recently sought out a pot bellied pig and its owner in preparation for the vote. He said the visit swayed him. Dugan said that while he saw some droppings in the yard where the pig was allowed to roam, it wasn't excessive and there was no significant odor. The pig itself, he said, was no larger than a medium sized dog, and was as clean, as odorless and better behaved than the owner's dogs. He later stopped in for an unannounced visit with the owner, and found the yard still relatively free of droppings. Dugan suggested the board should allow pigs to stay as pets, but should address care and sanitation issues. "It's more about the ownership and care of the pig," he said.

After discussing the difficulties of grandfathering in existing pig-pets — including registration, licensing, microchipping or DNA testing to make sure an owner doesn't simply switch in a new pig for an old one after the first pig goes to hog heaven, and funds to make it all happen — the committee discussed what would happen if there was no grandfathering clause, with Dugan pointing out several times that the city's request for owners to "come into compliance" would, in reality, mean that an owner would have to either move or get rid of their pet. Dugan and Copeland both said that many of the members of the full animal services board who have been against allowing pot-bellied pigs in the city were counting on a grandfathering clause to keep existing pets from being taken from their owners. They said the omission of that clause would represent a "significant shift" that would likely sway votes away from a prohibition.

After the subcommittee realized they were deadlocked, Roark said he would draft two ordinances that represented the competing views, and would present them to the animal services board. After the meeting, Roark said he should have the proposals drafted in three to four weeks.

Jyll Latham, the owner of W.P. Sooie, was there. (W.P. himself was just outside the window of the meeting room during the meeting, wagging his tail at the end of a leash held by a family member and scooping up miniature marshmallow). Latham said she's disappointed that the subcommittee wasn't able to come to a decision, and said the length of time the dispute has dragged on has been excessive. Asked if she has plans if the final vote doesn't go her way, Latham said. She said the meeting was "an exercise in futility."

"It's frustrating," Latham said. "It's been going on six months. It's not just one pig. Whatever they decide affects everybody."

Asked if she has plans if the final vote doesn't go her way, Latham said with a smile that if Sooie has to go, she's considering getting "an English Mastiff/Great Dane/St. Bernard mix." "Then we'll talk about smell," she said. "I can have four of those."

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