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Neighbors Squeal E-I-E-I-NO!

With an oink-oink here and an oink-oink there, a Lake Forest woman's three big piggies send residents wee-wee-wee all the way to City Hall

Three not-so-little pigs have created a ruckus among Lake Forest residents who contend farm animals don't belong in their storybook community.

Nearly 250 residents recently signed a petition asking the city to force removal of the pigs from Estelle Gonzalez Walgreen's $3.3million colonial-style mansion on Sheridan Road, one of the poshest addresses on the North Shore.

They complain that the pigs are disrupting their tranquillity with obnoxious noises, including grunts, snorts, oinks and belches, and fouling the air with offensive odors, especially after they load up on hay.

"No one wants these pigs here," said Kathleen Murphy, who in addition to asking friends and neighbors to sign her anti-pig petition, sued in June, claiming the swine shouldn't be allowed to live next door to her family's custom-built brick home.

But Walgreen, who brought the 200-pound-plus pigs to her 2.3-acre wooded lot in May after her divorce from Charles R. Walgreen, a grandson of the drugstore founder, said Tuesday that she won't give up the pigs without a fight.

"I love the pigs. I find them so intelligent, so docile and very loving," said Walgreen, a businesswoman and mother of two children, ages 7 and 10. "But what I'm most concerned about are my children. These are their pets, and they're very worried they're going to be gone. We're all distressed to find ourselves under attack."

In a letter she sent to city officials last month, Walgreen blamed the "histrionics" of some of her neighbors for the brouhaha over her pets--Pinky, 13, Piggy, 11 and Cooper, 1--whom she identified as Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs.

Walgreen grew attached to the animals after her then-husband gave her a 50-pound piglet in 1993 when the couple lived on a 10-acre spread elsewhere in Lake Forest.

As a baby, Pinky had his own second-floor bedroom with a red bassinet and a box full of pig toys before he ballooned to 400 pounds. He was banished from the white-brick manor after he got stuck in a fireplace.

Today, Walgreen said both Pinky and Piggy have slimmed down because of advanced age--91 and 77 in human years, she said--and both are too arthritic to manage the steps from her well-manicured back lawn into her home.

So she converted a two-car garage in her back yard into a barn so the pigs could curl up someplace warm at night, Walgreen said.

Lake Forest's zoning ordinance allows "farm animals" such as swine, poultry, cattle, goats and horses as long as they live on lots of at least 10 acres. Buildings housing the animals must be at least 200 feet from a neighboring property, according to the ordinance.

But Walgreen contends her pigs are pets and says she bought the only license the city offered her: a dog license. She said her garage is still a garage, even if pigs sleep in it at night.

Murphy and her husband, Robert, have a different view.

They complained to city officials after they spotted one of the pigs near a 4-foot chain-link fence that separates the wooded back yards of the two properties.

"I was standing in the kitchen one day, and the door and the windows were shut, and I started hearing this burping like little boys make when they're having fun and pretending," Murphy said. "I went onto the patio to try to find the source of the noise, and then I realized a pig was standing there making a continuous burp. It sounds like a far worse version of the human snore."

Despite the Murphys' repeated requests, and the petition, city officials refused to issue a citation against Walgreen, saying the city's animal-control ordinance was vague when it came to regulating household pets other than cats or dogs.

"We don't have any clear regulations on this [pig issue], and we can't just make up a regulation to issue a citation," Mayor S. Michael Rummell said.

Hogwash, say the Murphys.

A pig is a swine, they say, and Lake Forest, like several nearby North Shore communities, bars all 70-plus breeds from residential areas of less than 10 acres.

In addition, Lake Forest has laws against dangerous or noisy animals, the Murphys said.

"Never should a citizen be forced to sue another neighbor to have laws enforced," Robert Murphy told aldermen at a public hearing last week on the animal-control ordinance.

He also said that two real-estate agents told him the presence of the pigs had negatively affected the value of the couple's home, which had briefly been on the market before the pigs arrived.

Even Walgreen's former mother-in-law, Kathleen B. Walgreen, wrote to city officials, imploring them to force Walgreen to get rid of the pigs.

She said her former daughter-in-law lacked any "pedigree papers" to verify that her pigs are Vietnamese pot-bellied variety, a popular pet in the 1980s that typically ranges from 50 to 125 pounds.

In addition, Kathleen Walgreen warned that the pigs can become aggressive "when forced to do something they do not want to do."

"Pinky, the oldest of the swine, tried to bite my husband a number of years ago when we were guests at a social event at the Walgreen home," she said. "Because of their massive size, the potential for serious harm or injury to a child, adult or household pet is very real."

Estelle Gonzalez Walgreen denies the pigs ever tried to hurt anybody.

"I understand they're unusual, but they've never attacked or maimed anyone," she said.

In response to the lawsuit, Walgreen's attorney, Charles Byrum, filed a formal response denying that the pigs violate any of the animal-control or zoning ordinances.

Walgreen also denied her pigs emit obnoxious odors.

"I've always had a full-time staff person to tend to the animals so they're bathed every Sunday and their hay is fresh, so there's always someone tending to those issues," she said, contending they don't make any more noise than a barking dog.

At least one neighbor, Anne Dempsey, agrees.

"They pose zero harm to anybody," said Dempsey, who regularly allows her three children--ages 7 to 12--to play with the pigs.

She said that Walgreen's property is always clean.

"It's not like you look around and say, `This looks like a pig pen,'" Dempsey said. "My kids play in the grass with the pigs, and no one has ever stepped in any pig dung."

In response to the petition, Walgreen sent a letter to neighborhood residents inviting them to meet her pigs. No one has taken her up on the offer.

But Ald. Tom Swarthout (1st), who represents the Murphys' neighborhood, said there should be no wiggle room for debate.

"In my view a pig is a pig is a pig, and they need to be maintained in an environment that's appropriate, and Lake Forest is not an appropriate venue for pigs," Swarthout said.Walgreen said she's determined not to let her pets wind up at any one of the dozens of pig sanctuaries that have opened across the nation over the last few years to provide refuge to hundreds of pets like hers.

Walgreen, a board member of a non-profit animal-rescue facility called A Pig Sanctuary in Shepherdstown, W.Va., knows firsthand the animals sometimes face a less than fairytale ending.

"It's a shame," said Phyllis Battoe, owner of about 80 pigs who live at the Pig Pal Sanctuary near Springfield. "They're very special, and they make wonderful neighbors."

skuczka@tribune.com
Copyright (c) 2006, Chicago Tribune

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