Md. county says potbellied pig has to go

Gwendolyn & Friend

Pat Brown

Forget swine flu. There’s a new pig going viral, and her name is Gwendolyn.

The potbellied pig, about 20 years old, has been a welcome resident of Berwyn Heights nearly her entire life, says her owner, Pat Brown. But after Prince George’s County inspected Brown’s house recently, it was determined that the porker violated the zoning code and had to go.

Brown, a nationally known criminal profiler and cable news denizen, has appealed the order and sounded the horn for support. She has been on local television, contacted the National Enquirer and started a Facebook page in December aimed at stopping the “pigsecution” of her beloved pet.

The Facebook page is titled “Save Criminal Profiler Pat Brown’s Pet Pig, Gwendolyn!” It has more than 2,000 fans.

“She is a geriatric pig,” said Brown, 54. “I think the law is ludicrous. . . . My neighbors love Gwendolyn. . . . It’s not an issue with anyone except a bureaucrat sitting behind the desk.”

Brown received a zoning violation notice last month citing an ordinance that prohibits keeping “any animal that is not customarily a household pet” in her residential zone, language that Brown says is hogwash.

Thomas F. Matzen, deputy director of the county’s Department of Environmental Resources, which sent the violation notice, said the county has reviewed this issue before. In the early 1990s, two attempts to get potbellied pigs codified as residential pets failed in the County Council, he said. Matzen also said the county would take no action until the appeal has been resolved, which, depending on whether the matter lands in court, might not be until late this year.

“I think there has been a question of, is a pig a part of a ‘customary household pet,’ and I don’t believe that it is,” Matzen said.

Matzen said Brown could apply for a special exception to keep the pig in her home — a long, costly option Brown said she never knew was possible and would probably take longer than Gwendolyn has left to live. Experts say most potbellied pigs don’t live past 15.

Rodney C. Taylor, chief of the county’s Animal Management Group, said his agency investigated Brown’s home after receiving an anonymous complaint, identified Gwendolyn as a potential zoning violation and referred the matter to zoning enforcement officials.

Taylor said Brown’s situation is fairly rare, but the county has made residents remove pigs in the past.

“They love to be in mud, love to be in water, they love to root,” Taylor said. “They need to be on a farm where they can really enjoy being a pig.”

Relocating Gwendolyn would be akin to a death sentence, said Melissa Susko, executive director of the PIGS Animal Sanctuary in Shepherdstown, W.Va. She said that in her experience, if a pig Gwendolyn’s age were removed from familiar surroundings, it would probably get depressed, stop eating and die.

“Any pig hates change,” said Susko, whose sanctuary has more than 200 pigs from as far away as Hawaii. “Senior pigs, usually over 8 or 9 years of age, they literally die of a broken heart.”

Gwendolyn is not the first pet pig to snatch headlines or cause a stink. Actor George Clooney’s late potbellied pig, Max, once hogged the ink for reportedly sharing the bed of the former People magazine “Sexiest Man Alive.”

Then there was Estelle Gonzales Walgreen, ex-wife of drugstore chain heir Charles R. Walgreen, who faced the ire of neighbors in ritzy Lake Forest, Ill. They complained that her “three big piggies,” as the local press called them, were noisy and smelly. The Lake Forest City Council banned the animals in 2006 but gave Walgreen four years to move them, although foreclosure on Walgreen’s mansion took care of that in 2008.

Brown said she thinks a former disgruntled tenant to whom she rented a room tipped off county authorities about Gwendolyn over an unrelated gripe.

Experts said pet potbellied pigs — smaller than the breeds slaughtered for pork — caught on as a fad in the 1980s. But after the initial intrigue wore off, many were abandoned or handed over to animal shelters. Others have had to be given up in various places because of zoning laws.

“When they get them as baby pigs, they weigh six to eight pounds, and they’re really cute. And then they get older, and they get to 75 pounds or, if they overfeed them, 120 pounds,” said Kevin Pelzer, a veterinarian at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine who specializes in farm animals. He said potbellies can be housebroken and can make perfectly fine pets, although they are known to sometimes root up linoleum floors and carpet.

Several of Brown’s neighbors said Gwendolyn is fine by them. Cassandra Crawford, 38, said she has lived on the street for years and only learned of Gwendolyn from recent news reports. Others said they had seen the pig in the yard but weren’t bothered by it.

The neighborhood’s apparent acceptance might be because several commonly held assumptions about pigs are false, according to experts. Unable to sweat, pigs don’t smell much. If given enough space, they will instinctually designate separate areas for food, waste and sleep.

In many cases, the term “hog-wild” is a misnomer. Susko said they sleep 19 hours a day, on average.

“They’re quiet; they don’t bark in the middle of the night,” said Calvert County Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large), who owns six potbellied pigs. She said Prince George’s officials should take a look at how Calvert has dealt with the issue, defining potbellied pigs as domestic pets.

Inside Brown’s home, Gwendolyn has been a source of companionship and entertainment over the years. There were the times she’d spook visitors after waddling out of a closet where she liked to rest. There were the ingenious ways she’d devise to get at hidden snacks, such as opening the fridge with her snout. (This once lead to an act of “cannibalism,” Brown said, after Gwendolyn devoured a package of bacon.)

With her squinty eyes, droopy ears and bristly black hair, Gwendolyn, resting indoors under the covers, wasn’t causing much mischief Thursday. Having been brought into Brown’s house from the cold, the tired, aged pig in a blanket sat nearly motionless, save for the occasional snort or wail if a visitor approached.

Brown said the noises translated — roughly — to, “Leave me alone.”


Published in: on January 1, 2010 at 1:37 am  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Save Gwendolyn! I went through the same exact thing, she can still win.

  2. Hi, I need your help. I am going through a similar problem with my pet piggy. My husband and I just moved to Corpus Cristi TX with our 1 year old miniature pot bellied pig Hamlet. They do not allow any type of swine in Corpus, but I could never imagine losing my baby. Do you have any advice on the first steps I should take to get the law changed? Thank you 🙂

  3. Karen,
    The best thing I can tell you is get in touch with Pat Brown. She is on Facebook. I’ll send her a message about you but I want you to get in touch with her as well. Keep me informed please, I’ll try to do whatever I can to help. Take care sweetie


  4. Thank you for replying! I sent her a message on fb 🙂

    • I sent her a message for you also:)

  5. When i visit a blog, chances are that I see that the construction is poor and the writting bad. Regarding your blog,I have to say that you have done a good job here.

  6. Most of the blogs online are pretty much the same but i think that your blog can be an exception. Bravo !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: