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Woman Roots For Rights For Potbellied Pigs

Pet Status Sought Through Legislation

December 15, 2002

MACK - Nearly 70 potbellied pigs snuffle contentedly through the straw in a maze of pens decorated for Christmas with red bows and colored lights at Pig-A-Sus Homestead Sanctuary and Educational Health Center.

This is where a push to change Colorado law regarding pigs is coming from, along a desert wash 5 miles from the Utah border that calls itself a pig haven and looks like pig heaven.

All the pigs here have names - Petunia, Wilbur, Pork Chop and Pea Pod - and will waddle over when called, their little piggy tails twitching in anticipation of an ear or belly scratching.

Beginning this week, they are waiting their turns for a dip in the brand new pig spa, believed to be the only one of its kind. It's a 4 1/2- foot-deep heavenly blue baptismal font outfitted with therapy jets to help the stressed joints of overweight pigs. They can paddle through the warm water while listening to pig-spa music recorded especially for them by a local pianist.

Even passed-on pigs get the royal treatment here in a little cemetery with mini-headstones bearing memorial testaments such as "Pickles, my beautiful." Each Christmas season, there is a candle-lighting ceremony under the bare elms for mourned potbellies.

It's obvious that these critters are anything but just swine, particularly to Pig-A-Sus owner Sioux Robbins, who has dedicated her life to saving the once popular but now passe and too often abandoned potbellies.

Robbins believes nothing is too good for these lumpish creatures. Pampering pigs is easy for a woman who has been known to grocery shop with a piglet tucked in her sweatshirt hood.

So a natural step, in Robbins' mind, is for Colorado to become the first state to remove potbellied pigs from the agricultural animal category and elevate them to the status of companion animals.

That means they would have the right to waddle and grunt around the living rooms of city dwellers, visit their owners in hospitals and even sit by their sides in restaurants.

"I think Colorado should step forward and be a forerunner in this," said Robbins, who has been taking in abandoned and abused potbellies since 1996.

Robbins spends her days tending to those pigs and her nights networking online with other potbellied-pig fans around Colorado and with other sanctuaries around the country.

She said she plans to present a petition to legislators and have a bill proposed in the next General Assembly. She has already been buttonholing politicians, including Gov. Bill Owens.

Robbins heard that Owens was going to be at a political soiree in nearby Fruita last year, so she showed up with a well-mannered pig in tow to try to persuade him to take up her cause.

Robbins now proudly shows a letter he sent her thanking her for her input and offering to give the measure his consideration if the Colorado legislature should choose to remove potbellies from the ranks of cows and ordinary swine and classify them with Labradors and Shih Tzus.

Rep. Gregg Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs, said he is considering carrying the legislation. "From what I know about it, I would consider it. People who do have these pigs think they are very much companions and not farm animals," he said. He said he would visit the sanctuary.

Lana Hollenback, president of the national Pigs As Pets Association, said Colorado is going to be a porcine proving grounds.

Governors of several states, including Florida, Pennsylvania and Alabama, have issued proclamations honoring potbellied pigs as companion animals. But those don't carry any legal weight.

In 1998, an Alabama pig owner won the right from the Alabama Supreme Court to keep her pig in a subdivision. But that ruling didn't give other owners an automatic green light.

Colorado would be the first state to tackle the issue through a statewide legislative change.

"What's happening in Colorado is the talk all over the country. Everyone is watching it as a good starting point," Hollenback said by phone as one of her four potbellies grunted in the background.

Since potbellies were brought to the United States in the late 1980s, they have become cherished pets for many who look at their flat snouts, sagging bellies and bristly hair and think "cute." Potbellied pig owners say the animals can be even more loyal, affectionate and intelligent than dogs, making them excellent therapy and companion animals and useful to law enforcement for sniffing out drugs and dead bodies.

The problem is the piglets can grow up to 250 pounds and live for 20 years or more. For some owners the "cute" wore off and the novelty died. Others were forced to give up pigs because of neighbor's complaints.

Currently, Robbins has pigs whose owners reluctantly gave them up because of zoning regulations. Some pigs became homeless after their owners went into nursing homes.

One burly swine named Wilbur was found during a drug bust. A few were sent here because they bite.

Robbins said more of these pigs could be adopted out to new homes if the legislature could simply see fit to separate potbellies and regular hamhock-supplying farm pigs.

She said she knows it will be a battle, but as a framed print on her kitchen wall reads, "The sty's the limit."

By Nancy Lofholm
Denver Post Western Slope Bureau


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