When is a pet no longer a pet? What if you were told your Great Dane was now a horse and you could no longer have it on your property? Is a pot bellied pig a hog? Apparently one Whitehall Township official has the authority to make such sweeping distinctions over what constitutes a pet even though documentation and definitions state otherwise.
Such is the unfortunate position Ms. Holly Hacker, a 13 year letter carrier in Whitehall Township a suburban community located just north of Allentown in Lehigh County, PA and her pot bellied pig Porkus Maximus find themselves in.
In a mature neighborhood of well-kept modest homes in Whitehall, Holly Hacker and Porkus Maximus reside amongst a population of primarily retired residents and young families settling into their first homes.
Holly, a first time homeowner of the past two years, was thrilled to be able to fulfill a 23 year dream of adding a pot bellied pig to her family when she happened upon Porkus at the Bloomsburg, PA fair shortly after moving into her corner property located at 2115 N. 3rd Ave in the West Catasauqua section of Whitehall.
“I just always knew I wanted one, and I finally got into the position this many years later of owning my own home, and that was the first thing I wanted to do. First I considered a dog, but he just really happened by chance.”
Attending the fair has always been an annual tradition of Ms. Hacker and her family and little did she realize on that fateful fall day some two years ago, she would fulfill her two decade long dream.
“Every year my family and I go to the Bloomsburg Fair. It’s around my father’s birthday and we all meet up at the fair no matter where we live or where we are. I met a woman at the Bloomsburg Fair who raised pot bellies and she also raised small deer. My son and I would go to the fair and feed the deer with bottles.”
“Here I was going to the fair never realizing the pot bellied pigs were actually for sale. So she said she had one that was older from a previous litter, because they were too much money for me after just buying my house and setting it up. So I actually got him off the discount rack.”
“It just fell into place after all this time, me and my son both looked at each other with big eyes and we were both like; we can finally do this! I’ve had Porkus’s name picked out for over 20 years and my son added Maximus.”
Holly describes Porkus as, “a joy and the best baby in the world,” and she often refers to him as 100lbs of love. On the day we visited he was inquisitive, docile and perfectly behaved; the ideal family pet. “He’s like a toddler, real affectionate. When he was little you could pick him up. Now it’s harder of course and they like to be grounded. They’re not a pet that’s for everyone, they’re not a throwaway pet. That’s a big concern to me. If you want one of these you need to do your research on them. They are very specialized you need to have locks on all your cabinets. They are very smart and curious. My biggest concern is that they are not apartment type animals, so they wouldn’t be suitable for example in Allentown in an apartment or in a tiny yard.”
“They need to have selenium from the ground, they need to forage and that is really important. This is my cause for Porkus, but also if other pot bellied pigs would be allowed to stay in the area that they have proper homes and are cared for in a good loving environment.”
“They last 18- 25 years if they are healthy, and Porkus is very healthy, his weight is perfect. His vet always says to me, ‘you’re doing such a great job.’” “I pull up information on the internet as to the proper sizes and weight.”
When Porkus was first brought home no one noticed his arrival since he was only around 7lbs and was litter trained. He was only outside when he had to go out because it was winter and he was so small. Once the spring came he was outside more although Holly had informed her neighbors about him shortly after bringing him home.
Initially Holly erected a temporary fence so that he could do his foraging. When it was time to install a permanent fence, Holly went door to door with her ideas for a style and to ensure it would blend in with her community and not be an eyesore. She also wanted to be able to enjoy the view in her neighborhood and allow Porkus an opportunity to greet neighbors and passersby so she ultimated selected an attractive chain link fence.
“People walk by, they enjoy him, and they want to see him. If I thought I was doing something wrong I would have put up a high fence and hid him. That’s not the point of this; it was for me to have a nice safe area for him. He needs to be protected from dogs, they [pot bellied pigs] are prey animals, they don’t go after anything, but other animals will go after them.”
“I wanted it the fence to keep Porkus safe, and I wanted it to look nice and be favorable to the neighbors, so I went to them and asked them what they thought. They have to look at my fence too. I guess because I deliver the mail I see these things. I don’t want to look at a big wall. Number one was that he was protected.”
Porkus and Holly’s troubles began a few months ago when a township code enforcement officer abruptly stopped by the property and informed a devastated Holly that she would need to have Porkus removed within five days as he was “livestock.” No warning letters were sent, just a verbal and sudden mandate.
“I was in shock and I was standing here on the porch, my neighbors are watching and they are taking it all in. My neighbors are my neighbors, this is a really super-great community and they love Porkus just like I love Porkus. He is part the community. People walk down the alley, they walk their dogs, I know their dog’s names. He absolutely is 100lbs of love, he doesn’t cause any problems, doesn’t bark. He just loves to greet people at the fence.”
“So she [the code enforcement officer] pulled up in the alley and that’s what she said and I told her she’s going to have to send me something in writing because I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. The first thing I did is I went to the dictionary to look up the definition of livestock.”
“It never even dawned on me that someone would think he is livestock. So when I looked in the dictionary it said livestock were animals that lived on a farm; that are for profit and sale. He’s not for profit, he’s not for sale, he’s not even for breeding because he is fixed. And a farm would be a business.”
“I feed him a non-commercial pellet feed, that I also pay sales tax on which makes him a pet. If he was livestock Iwould buy it in bulk and it would be non-taxed because it would be used for farming purposes. I also paid tax on him when I purchased him which makes him a pet just like a dog or a cat. I buy my food at Pet Supplies Plus here in Whitehall which is a pet store.”
“The IRS does not require me to file a Form F which is for farming. Because I am not making any money on him, he is not a farm animal. I just cannot wrap my mind around why anyone would say he is a farm animal. They’re not, they’re raised as pets I have so much information that backs up my stance on this.”
“Besides the tax information, the Department of Agriculture says they are pets. The only reason they are ever classified as livestock is if they are coming in or out of a country that is known for swine disease. That is the only time that they are ever considered livestock and that is just to have a label to put them under. I have a letter to that effect that states they are considered pets.”
“I have provided all this to the code officer and she decided that wasn’t enough to sway her opinion that he is livestock.”
A hearing on the matter has been set for September 20th at 7pm it will be held at the Whitehall Township building located at 3219 MacArthur Rd in Whitehall, PA 18052. Anyone wishing to support the cause of Porkus is encouraged to attend.
Holly also has a petition on a box affixed to her fence for people to sign. Approximately more than 80 percent of the West Catasauqua area residents have signed in favor of Porkus, this by sheer word of mouth without having to go door to door. Holly’s fellow letter carriers are also supportive to her cause as well and have been spreading the word throughout the community.
“What I am asking for is clarity because I was cited with being a livestock farm. My question to the panel is; what is a livestock farm? You should go to the dictionary for that, to me it seems clear, but maybe not to everyone.”
When asked if the outcome of the hearing were not favorable, Holly responded she would move rather than surrender Porkus. “If I had to move I would move. This is my home, this is a nice area. It’s close to work. I never thought in a million years that he would be considered livestock. There is really nothing that addresses the pot bellied pig, there is no law and they have only been here since 1985. They actually started in Canada.”
In fact on March 1, 1998 then Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge declared the day to be Pot Bellied Pig Day and a proclamation was signed to record the designation.
“I never thought something so sweet and loving could lead to this, my spirit is broken over this, the tears I’ve cried. I’ve wanted him for so long and I finally got my opportunity and my heart is broken. I’ve had to retain an attorney and spend a lot of money. The vet has said he is a domesticated family pet.”
“On a more positive note, my route changed at work and I now take care of Fellowship Manor [nursing home]. I always knew pot bellied pigs were therapy pets. I didn’t know what was involved, I got approval from the vet and he said this would be a good thing. I called Fellowship and they were so happy. We went and filled out the paperwork, and we’ve been going ever since. We normally go the first Sunday of the month. Sometimes we just pop in and we go down the hall and everyone is happy when Porkus is there.”
“I take lettuce and they feed him and ask all kinds of questions. I took him to the dementia center. They all had smiles on their faces. Not only is he loving, he is will to share that love.”
Porkus is genuinely beloved in the community. The neighbors consider him the mascot of the neighborhood and all feel a sense of ownership toward him. Neighbors regularly come out of their homes and visitors young and old stop by to say hello to Porkus. Porkus has had a delightful co-existence within his community.
When asked for a final thought on the issue Holly simply stated, “They [Whitehall Township] have to come up with some sort of compromise.”
Article written by Deb Boylan
All photographs in this article and slideshow unless otherwise credited are courtesy Ruth Rohrer
This story has captured the attention of Fox News Philadelphia and a report is scheduled to air this evening (September 6, 2011) during the 10pm broadcast. http://www.myfoxphilly.com/
For additional information on Pot Bellied Pigs visit the North American Pot Belly Pig Association: www.petpigzone.com
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