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Hinsdale Woman Fights For Pet Pigs

April 16, 2003

Dawn McCarthy considers Cza Cza and Petunia her pets.

The village of Hinsdale considers them swine. After battling for months over the fate of the portly pink potbellies, the fight can now be decided in federal court, where McCarthy has accused the village of violating her constitutional right to due process--and her right to have pigs.

McCarthy, 47, has asked a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order to keep Hinsdale from banishing the pigs.

"They're my pets," McCarthy said before a hearing Tuesday on a related issue in DuPage County Circuit Court. "Would you tell someone to get rid of their dogs or cats?"

Village officials say the case is simple: pigs aren't allowed in Hinsdale.

"There are different types of communities. There are some that allow horses, for example," said village prosecutor Linda Piecynski.

Hinsdale is not among them.

"You want to have a million-dollar house next to a pig pen?" Piecynski asked.

Some of McCarthy's neighbors do not. McCarthy was cited Sept. 9 for unlawfully keeping swine after officials received complaints. McCarthy said a neighbor looked over her fence and saw one of the pigs in the back yard, then called police.

"The lady that reported me said they didn't bother her," McCarthy said.

Piecynski has a different take on the situation.

"My understanding is the neighbors thought something was up because it stunk so bad," she said. "I'm told [potbellied pigs] aren't supposed to smell, but these did. That's how we found out about it."

Such battles are not unheard of.

Penny Yocum, president of the North American Potbellied Pig Association in Neenah, Wis., said she fights one or two cases a year in her home state of North Carolina. In most instances, potbellied pig owners are cited for violating local livestock ordinances.

"There are a lot of misconceptions because pigs are swine," Yocum said. "These potbellied pigs are extremely well mannered. Usually, we don't have to fight very hard--we just present our case and the ordinance is changed."

Vietnamese potbellied pigs became popular as pets in the mid-1980s because they are exotic and easy to train. The fad faded quickly, leaving thousands of surplus pigs. Now, there are more than a dozen sanctuaries across the U.S. for abandoned potbellies, including one outside Harvard.

Legal battles continue as communities decide whether pigs are unusual pets or banned farm animals.

In 1999, Carol Stream trustees voted to boot a pig named Lily from her home.

A year later, Elmhurst voted to allow a potbelly named Pepper to stay in his home, but closed the door on any new pet swine.

In McCarthy's lawsuit, filed Friday, is a letter from the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which recognizes potbellied pigs as ornamental pets, and says the U.S. Department of Agriculture "likens them to cats or dogs."

Her attorney, Dennis Sopata, acknowledges that Petunia and Cza Cza violate Hinsdale's ordinance, but says the ordinance is overly broad.

"The animals aren't dangerous. They're not hurting anyone," Sopata said. "There are all kinds of ornamental pets that are more dangerous than potbellied pigs," he said, listing large snakes and vicious dogs.

McCarthy believes one reason she was cited by the village is because of its concern over image.

At the height of their popularity, potbellied pigs went for thousands of dollars.

"I'm sure if it was still at $50,000, everybody in Hinsdale would have one," she said.

No date has been set for the lawsuit. A judge in DuPage County Circuit Court Tuesday continued a hearing on the citation against McCarthy until May 6.

Piecynski had hoped for a quicker ruling.

She fears the pigs' back-yard wading pool could attract mosquitoes, which could carry West Nile virus.

"We're not saying she can't own the pigs. We're not saying we're going to take them," said Piecynski, who said that if Hinsdale wins in court, McCarthy could find a new home for Cza Cza and Petunia outside the village, or she could move out herself.

"How she chooses to comply with the law is up to her."

By Jon Yates
Chicago Tribune

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