- Brian Chilson
- A PIG IN THE CITY: W.P. Sooie and owner Jyll Latham.
America is a country that loves to argue. Chocolate vs. vanilla. Democrat vs. Republican. Imported vs. domestic. When it comes to the choice of a pet, though, things can get especially heated. Though the debate between dog versus cat will probably rage until Judgment Day, most people who come to love an animal, no matter what the species, would be ready to fight if their pet was threatened. Little Rock resident Jyll Latham says she plans to do just that for her small Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named W.P. Sooie.
With an exemption for ownership of pot-bellied pigs in a section of the Little Rock municipal code that prohibits keeping hogs in the city, it would seem Latham's petite porker would have the law on his side. Animal Control and the Little Rock city attorney, however, say that no matter how big the pig, it falls under the category of "livestock" and has to go. It will be up to a judge to decide on May 8.
Latham has owned W.P. Sooie for 10 months. At 58 pounds and about the size of a medium-sized dog, he fits right in with the other pets Latham owns. He wears a collar and a leash, loves miniature marshmallows and sits on command. Latham has pictures of Sooie perched on Santa's lap at Christmas, and said he was housebroken much quicker than any pet she's ever owned.
"He's smart," Latham said. "He likes people. ... He went tailgating with us last September. People just love him. They usually do a double take and say: 'Oh, God! It's a pig!' He'll grunt at them, and he's just as happy as he can be."
Latham was a renter when she purchased Sooie. She said that prior to buying her pet she researched the Little Rock municipal code, and found that the prohibition on keeping hogs in the city has an exemption for pot-bellied pigs. Confident that she could legally have the pig in the city limits, she bought the tiny swine. When she decided to move earlier this year, Latham said, she knew she probably couldn't find another apartment that would allow her unusual pet, so she bought a home in a neighborhood north of I-630 near Barrow Road, and moved in at the end of March.
Right away, Sooie picked a spot in the backyard to do his unmentionable pig business — beside a chain link fence that's less than fifteen feet from the back door of Latham's neighbor, Donald Rawls. Rawls told Arkansas Times that the smell was an issue almost immediately.
"I don't have anything against the pig," Rawls said. "I want her to clean up after the pig. First month she lived here, she didn't do too good of a job of that."
After trying several methods to keep the pig away from the fence, Rawls said he asked a friend who was going to the Little Rock City Board meeting to inquire whether there was an ordinance that could be enforced. Rawls said that's the only inquiry he has made with the city regarding the pig. He said it was never his intention to have Latham's pet removed from her home.
"I didn't know there was any kind of regulation that said she couldn't have a pig," Rawls said. "I'm not up on pig law."
Latham said that the first Little Rock Animal Services worker who came to the house looked over the yard and Sooie, then gave her an all-clear to keep him. Believing the issue was settled, Latham said she didn't get that worker's name. Then, on April 5, Latham got an enforcement notice from animal services, stating that she was in violation of the city ordinance regarding "Keeping of Prohibited Animals," with a notation reading: "You have 7 days to remove your Pig out of city limits or we will." On April 24, an animal services officer returned, issuing Latham a citation for violation of city ordinance 6-43, which deals with "Keeping of Livestock." The citation compels her to appear in the Little Rock District Court's Environmental Court on May 8.
The Keeping of Livestock subsection, which Latham said she didn't consider before buying Sooie because he's clearly not "livestock," reads: "It shall be unlawful to keep cows, goats, horses, or other hoofed animals in a pen or lot within three hundred feet of any residence other than the residence of the livestock owner or business establishment."
Tracy Roark is the manager of Little Rock Animal Services. He said that the exemption for Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs in the "Hogs Prohibited" subsection doesn't negate Sooie's status as a "hoofed animal" that is subject to the "Keeping of Livestock" ordinance. Roark said it is legal to have a pot-bellied pig in the city limits only if the pig is kept at least 300 feet from the nearest neighbor. Latham's yard isn't that large. While Roark couldn't recall any other issues with pot-bellied pigs in the city, in 2007, an owner of two pygmy goats who lived on Wolfe Street in Little Rock was fined under the ordinance, and eventually lost an appeal.
"I can't say, OK, you can have this small [pig]," Roark said. "The code reads as it reads, and I have to enforce that code. ... People complain, and we have to react based on what the code says." Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter supports Roark's opinion that codes 6-41 and 6-43 should actually be read in conjunction. "It sounds like they've cited them and I think they've got a reasonable interpretation of the ordinance," Carpenter said. "If [Latham] wants to fight them, she'll go before Judge [Mark D.] Leverett and he either agrees with them or he doesn't."
Little Rock lawyer Ryan Lazenby, who will represent Latham and her pig when the case goes to Little Rock District Court on May 8, said the two ordinances are clearly at odds. He said pot-bellied pigs are pets, not livestock, a point made by the specific exemption for pot-bellied pigs written into the Little Rock code. "It's a mess," he said. "That's all I can say about it. The city doesn't have a clear stance on it, and that should really be fixed."
While waiting for her court date, Jyll Latham has started a support page for Sooie on Facebook at facebook.com/SaveSooie, which has 250 "likes" as of this writing. She spent $500 to secure the services of an attorney, and said she expects to spend more on legal fees before it's over. "I was never planning on hiring a lawyer for my pig," she said, "but I would fight just as hard for my kids."
Latham said she doesn't have a lot of alternatives for what to do with Sooie if her court date doesn't go his way. Latham, who said she has worked as an animal rescue volunteer in the past, knows that if placing a homeless dog or cat is hard, placing a homeless pig might be doubly hard. She's optimistic, saying she'll appeal if the court finds against her, but she's clearly worried about the future of the pig she calls her "little buddy."
"He's not a barnyard animal," she said. "He wouldn't be happy in a barnyard. The breeder would probably take him back, but he'd live outside and wouldn't be happy with that. That's not how he's used to living. He's absolutely an inside pet."