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Beloved pot-bellied pig in Sierra Madre avoids eviction

Neil the pig is not a hog, authorities rule, and can therefore remain in his Montecito Avenue neighborhood and retain his status as a symbol of the city.

October 25, 2013|By Bob Pool
  • Neil's owner, Katherine Emerson, said she inherited him when her mother died six years ago. “She referred to him as her son. I promised I would continue to watch him for her.”
Neil's owner, Katherine Emerson, said she inherited him when her… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

"Hogwash!" was the cry when Neil, Sierra Madre's beloved pot-bellied pig, was cited for being overweight.

Specifically, an animal control officer labeled him a hog, which is illegal to possess in the town northeast of Pasadena.

The officer had actually been sent to the Montecito Avenue neighborhood to investigate reports of a noisy rooster, which is also illegal in Sierra Madre.

But when she looked over the picket fence into the yard next door, past the mailbox painted with a fanciful pig's head, she noticed Neil rooting around in the dirt.

Deciding she couldn't very well cite the rooster without citing the hog, she wrote warnings for both, advising their owners that city law required them to get rid of the animals.

That's when social media took over. Neil quickly found himself with his own Facebook page and Twitter account and became the subject of discussion on local blogs.

"Neil is being evicted from Sierra Madre for being overweight," one person commented. "What if that were the case for homosapiens? Half the town would have to be evicted."

Another pot-bellied pig fan described Neil as "the real treasure of Sierra Madre" and noted that he had been named Mr. November in a local realty company's calendar and was considered a "local landmark."

Others suggested that the ouster of Neil would be a public relations disaster for Sierra Madre and that maybe the city should reverse course and name him grand marshal of the town's next Fourth of July parade.

"Everybody in Sierra Madre knows about Neil the pig. He has his own yard and his own house. It's adorable. They bring kids on field trips to visit Neil," said Lisa Bowman, a radio show host who helped organize a save-Neil-the-pig rally.

Neil's owner, Katherine Emerson, said she inherited him when her mother, Diane Emerson, died from cancer six years ago. "She referred to him as her son. I promised I would continue to watch him for her."

Emerson, a lecturer in the School of Social Work at Cal State L.A., acknowledged complaining to the city about the neighbor's rooster. The crowing, she said, interrupted her sleep for more than two months, she said.

Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs normally live 12 to 14 years. But Neil will be 18 before long. "In May he's going to have to sign up for the draft," she joked.

Emerson doesn't know how much Neil weighs, but noted that hogs are generally over 120 pounds and are raised to be slaughtered, not domesticated as a pet.

As it turned out, Neil got a pardon from the city before the protest rally could even take place. Instead, the 30 or so people who gathered at the city's Memorial Park turned it into a celebration.

Police Chief Larry Giannone said officials spent hours studying the municipal code and the distinctions between pigs and hogs before Neil's eviction papers were rescinded.

"He's a pig. Our code specifically refers to hogs," the chief said. "He gets to stay the iconic symbol of Sierra Madre."

And Neil is just that, the police chief admitted.

"Kids feed and pet him on the way to school. The rooster was cut and dried: It's not allowed. Its owner voluntarily gave it up to the humane society."

So community outrage helped save Neil's bacon. In Sierra Madre, that's something to crow about.

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