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Pot bellied pig faces possible eviction from Akeley

Heather White may have to bid farewell to Tilly due to a city ordinance forbidding pot bellied pigs. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

Tilly, a pot bellied pig, may be facing eviction in Akeley. Owner Tania Sorvisto arrived at the council meeting this week with daughters Heather, 5, and Danielle, 7, White to request the ordinance prohibiting Vietnamese pot bellied pigs in the city be revisited.

The pig, she said, is litter box trained and considered a house pet.

Benjamin Taylor, who accompanied Sorvisto, said the pigs are considered to be one of the most intelligent of house pets.

But a city ordinance states "farm animals" - specifically including pot bellied pigs - must be kept within an agricultural district of the city or on a residential lot of at least 10 acres.

The Sorvistos, who reside on South Graceson Avenue, don't meet these requirements. The yard is not fenced.

City officials were notified of the pig's residency after a neighbor heard it squeal.

"That's my first pig complaint in 14 years," police chief Eric Klein said of his tenure in law enforcement.

Pot bellied pigs are considered a domesticated breed, he said.

"They're sold in pet stores," council member Jennifer Mitchell pointed out.

"I'm concerned with possible diseases they could be carrying," mayor Scott Vettleson said. "This is an unknown that I feel uncomfortable with. If something happened, and we let her in, we could be held responsible."

Council member Jon Johnson expressed concern with "opening up the town to farm animals. Someone could come in with a pet sheep."

"Sheep aren't sold in pet stores," Mitchell pointed out.

Troy Hegg suggested requiring a vaccination record before proceeding.

Mitchell made a motion that would allow the family to keep the pig and change the ordinance code to include pot bellied pigs as domesticated animals.

But the motion met a tie vote, with Johnson and Vettleson voting in opposition, Hegg and Mitchell in favor. (Cliff Johnson was absent.) The motion failed.

"This should be addressed on a case by case basis," Mitchell said.

Johnson moved to table the issue until the next meeting, allowing the family to keep the pig pending further investigation on issues such as necessary immunizations.

According to an Internet site authored by veterinarian Lianne McLeod, "pot bellied pigs can make an interesting and much-loved addition to a home...

"Pigs are quite trainable, much the same as dogs. However, their intelligence can make them a bit of a handful. They are curious and playful, but also headstrong and sensitive. Without appropriate stimulation, they will become easily bored, and possibly destructive."

Local veterinarian Kevin Haroldson, who grew up on a hog farm, agrees pot bellied pigs are intelligent animals. "But they belong in a barn. I don't see them as an inside animal.

"It's a stretch to lump them with other companion animals," he said.

"From a vet's standpoint, I have no problem," he said of pot bellied pigs as pets - but not as house pets.

"A hog is a hog," he said. "They dig in the dirt and lie in the mud."

"I love her. I play with her," Danielle White told council members Wednesday night. "I love her so much I really want to keep her."