Back in the late 1970s, there was a fad including Vietnamese Pot Bellied Pigs as family pets. In one northern California town, there was a ban on farm animals in residential neighborhoods—and pigs were on the list of “including and not limited to cows, horses, pigs, chickens, ducks…” enacted in the ordinance. One half of a pair of feuding neighbors called the city planning department complaining their neighbor had a pig.
Investigating the complaint, the planning department agreed and ultimately cited the pig’s owners for not getting rid of the animal they were call a “family pet.” All planning actions at the staff level are appealable, and the family appealed to the city council. The night of the heavily attended, family-publicized meeting, the television cameras were rolling as the planners explained the content of the code and why the family was violating zoning regulations. Facts, logic, photographs, and statements were presenting supporting the planners’ case.
Then the family had its say. The father talked about the pig—I wish I could remember its name—and how it was smart, used a litter box, was smaller than the complaining neighbor’s German shepherd, and any number of emotional reasons why they should be allowed an exception to the code. The father concluded his plea by saying that the pig was very smart, made no noise, and was well-trained. With that, he pointed to the Council Chamber doors. Opened by one of the children, the audience was treated to the pig dressed in a tux, bow tie, top hat, and spats romping down the center aisle. Upon reaching the father, the pig pushed itself up on its hind legs and turned a circle on two legs, then plopped down and looked at the audience with that “pig face grin” for which the animals are well known in cartoons. The audience let loose with a reasonably loud “awww.”
How are you going to fine a family for that? The Council was trapped, here’s the planner and City’s attorney saying, “the law is the law” and a family with crying children begging for an exception.
With television cameras watching, what else could the Council do? They directed staff to write an amendment to the law making an exception to pot bellied pigs.
For me, every community in which I worked, one of my objectives was to remove animal regulations from zoning codes. Let the dog catcher deal with it.