MARIONVILLE, Mo. (AP) - Francis Bacon and Jax are social and seem smart, but they have relatively tiny brains. Both seemed oblivious that their fat was in the fire.
The two Marionville residents are well-behaved, presentable and genial enough. Offer an apple or a handful of raisins, and they’ll literally eat out of your hand.
The problem is they’re pigs.
And these little piggies - micro pot-bellied pigs, certified as emotional support animals - sparked a series of heated conversations at the Marionville Board of Aldermen’s Thursday night meeting.
Though the pigs play an important role in their owners’ families, their presence violates the city’s zoning ordinance. And while city officials didn’t vote to give them any leeway at a recent meeting, Mayor Doris Rapp and the rest of the board allowed about an hour to discuss a pressing question: What’s Marionville to do about the comfort pigs?
Carolann Scott Leo described the events leading up to Francis Bacon joining her family in an interview and in front of the board meeting.
She’s a single mother with two teenage kids, whose father walked out when they were younger. Several years back, a surgery and a mastectomy had Leo in and out of the hospital, putting a strain on the family.
“We went through a really, really hard year,” she said.
While she was laid up one time, a friend sent her a little picture of a pig. Nothing fancy, Leo recalled. Maybe just an emoji.
But the cartoon oinker got her thinking and soon, she fell in love with the idea of owning a pig, she said.
Pigs aren’t cheap, even the micro pot-bellied style she had her eye on, and Leo, who works two jobs, said she couldn’t come up with the requisite $500. A breeder in Aurora heard her story, though, and took pity, eventually giving her a pig of her own in March 2013.
Thus Francis Bacon, named with tongue in cheek after the English philosopher, came to stay in Leo’s house and yard.
The porker’s sizable stomach filled up with food Thursday night as he gently lumbered around Leo’s front yard, performing small tricks like kissing his owner in return for a snack and appearing very much in hog heaven when his pot belly was rubbed. The pig was friendly and calm, and his discomfort with the presence of a stranger was assuaged when plied with a small apple and a belly rub.
Leo has paperwork showing her pig is registered as an emotional support animal (different from a therapy animal or service animal, which is important for legal reasons).
“I’m not a redneck who’s just keeping a pet pig in her backyard,” Leo insisted. “He lives with us. He’s part of our family.”
Another Marionville woman, Jennifer Renner, also has a micro pot-belly for emotional support, though Renner’s Jax (short for Jaxon) mostly is for the benefit of her son, who has ADD and ADHD.
“Anytime I don’t want to medicate him, he’ll go play with (Jax), and it completely comforts him,” Renner said in an interview. “Anytime he gets rambunctious, I just send him with the pig.”
Renner said her 10-year-old son and the pig share a December birthday, which will be Jax’s first. She keeps Jax on a leash, and he’s still small enough she can pick him up and carry him around when he gets tired.
The snuffling swine seemed like harmless pets in Leo’s front yard. But both animals have run afoul of the law.
Marionville’s zoning ordinance is not uncommon in that it prohibits farm animals in residential areas, though the city does have an exemption for chickens.
Leo’s troubles continued after her medical problems. About this time last year, she said she got engaged “to an absolutely wonderful gentleman.”
But her fiance was killed in Chicago. Leo said that she went up to the city in a state of “emotional shock” and entrusted some local boys to take care of her lawn while she was gone.
Francis Bacon got out during this time and ended up in a neighbor’s yard. It’s a point of contention whether the pig was actually rooting or whether he was just trespassing, but at any rate, the neighbor complained to the city, which cited Leo.
This sparked an ongoing legal battle in which the city has informed Leo her pet pig violates the law.
Leo provided the Springfield News-Leader with copies of Francis Bacon’s emotional support certification and a letter from a social worker who notes Leo’s ongoing mental health issues. Leo, who described herself as an open book, gave the newspaper the OK to publish sections of this letter.
The social worker, Tamara Boggess, notes that though “time and time again, people and experiences in her life became emotional and physical threats … Carolann is resilient and has managed to survive these successive traumas” by developing coping mechanisms.
“One of these healing coping skills was establishing a therapeutic relationship with her pet pig,” the social worker wrote, describing the animal as “a lifeline” and the source of a “consistent, mutual, and sustaining relationship.”
“In the darkest of times, Francis has brought unconditional love and joy not only to her, but her grieving children,” the letter continues. “For Carolann to lose this relationship and the support it brings, especially at this juncture in her life while grieving the violent loss of a loved one, would be detrimental to her mental health at this time.”
Renner also showed the News-Leader a document declaring Jax a certified emotional support animal. She said her son has had nightmares about the local animal control officer coming to take away the pig.
“I just want my son to be able to keep his pet,” she said.
Leo and Renner have been aided by the advocacy of Vince Jennings, a Marionville resident running as a Democrat against U.S. Rep. Billy Long.
Jennings, speaking to the Board of Aldermen, reminded them that Marionville had previously shown leniency to a farm animal. In 2005, Mayor Rapp issued a written pardon to a rooster named Peaceful who had been incarcerated in a city garage for the crime of (allegedly) crowing too loud.
But they have a duty to uphold their laws, as city attorney Ken Reynolds reminded them.
“We can’t violate our ordinance,” Reynolds said.
Leo, whose court date has been postponed, contends that she had Francis Bacon registered as an emotional service animal prior to the city’s deadline. But Rapp noted that Leo submitted the certification documents late.
Daryll Riddick, the city’s animal control officer, brought to the meeting a certified letter he said was sent to Leo informing her the pig did not comply with the law. He told the board it was not common for pigs to be allowed in other southwest Missouri cities and towns.
“I feel the city ought to stand behind the ordinance,” Riddick said.
Others in the Marionville audience were more sympathetic.
“This is America, and you should be allowed to have what you want where you want it as long as you’re not hurting anybody else,” said Ethan Wolfe.
Reynolds offered some possible solutions. Perhaps Leo and Renner could go to the local board of adjustment and apply for a zoning variance, allowing them to get specific exemptions, he said.
Another possibility, floated by Alderwoman Jessica Wilson, was amending the city’s zoning laws to either allow for emotional support animals in general or pot-bellied pigs specifically to register with the city like other pets.
This could be a slippery slope, Reynolds said, as another board member and the local animal control officer wondered: Could there be emotional support goats? What about llamas, or monkeys?
The board allowed the pig proponents to make their case first during a general open comments section of the meeting and again during a specific period carved out for considering changes to local animal control regulations.
But no action was taken at the meeting.
In the meantime, Leo invited the board to come over and meet Francis Bacon. She wants them to visit her home and see that there’s no barnyard stench, no unsightly hog wallow.
She said she just wants them to meet the youngest member of her family.
Information from: Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com
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