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NJ Woman Forced to Part With Pet Pig

By Queen Muse
|  Thursday, May 15, 2014  |  Updated 11:16 AM EDT
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NJ Woman Forced to Part With Pet Pig

Operation Save Our Sheldon

Morgan Slaughter says all she wants to do is love her pet, but she's not feeling the love from officials in Somers Point, New Jersey, who say her pet has to go.
 

Slaughter adopted a 32-pound, mixed African pygmy pig named Sheldon last April. She and her 5 year-old son are now being forced to part ways with their beloved pig because officials in the New Jersey town say it violates the city's code.

"There's all of these supposed animal lovers on city council and on the board. Where's the love? Where's the understanding? This whole thing is just ridiculous," Slaughter said.

According to Slaughter, early last year, an SPCA officer alerted the city that she was keeping a pig at her residence. Shortly thereafter, the city issued a notice for Slaughter to abate or get rid of the pig, but she disregarded the notice setting off a legal battle that has been going on now for more than a year.

An ordinance in chapter 120 of the Somers Point code states that "no person shall own, keep or harbor a potbelly pig, poultry, or other livestock within the City."

Other animals that the code bans include chickens, geese, ducks, and pigeons, as well as sheep, goats, horses, and other livestock creatures.

Violations of the code carry serious penalties, including fines from $200 to $2000, as well as up to 90 days imprisonment.

What Slaughter brings into question is the city's decision to amend its code, specifically adding pigs, and a host of other animals to the prohibited list just weeks after they hit the proud pig owner with her first citation.

Prior to the September 2013 code amendment, there was no specific rule against Somers Point residents keeping pigs as pets.

Slaughter argues that her pet should be allowed under the old law, since she had adopted the pig before the amendment was enacted. She believes the code amendment indicates a personal attack against her choice of pet.

"I think it is personal. I think its a power thing, to prove a point. And its unfortunate to see them playing small town politics like this," she said.

Somers Point County Clerk Carol Degrassi said amendments to the city's code are a regular occurrence.

"If something is brought to their attention as a problem and the code needs to be amended to address it, then yes, they will probably do that. I would say it’s fairly common," Degrassi said.

Somers Point Code Enforcement Official Jim McBrien, who is responsible for ensuring adherence to city ordinances, was unavailable for comment.

Slaughter has battled with the city through at least six court dates in her fight to keep her pet pig.

In October, she created a Facebook page for supporters of her effort called Operation Save Our Sheldon. The page has garnered more than 6,000 likes.

On Tuesday, Slaughter suffered her first big loss when a judge ruled that she would have to remove the pig immediately or face continuous fines for every day the pig remained in her home.

Slaughter's supporters took to the Facebook page expressing their disappointment with the city's decision to remove her pet.

"I would never move to your town. Pets like Sheldon are no different than a dog or cat," Facebook user Paul Bartholomew wrote.

"The zoning board and city council are heartless people who don't know the facts about these pets. If I was a resident I would be looking to move elsewhere."

Another proud pet pig owner, Mary Vetter, argued that pigs are a lot less of a nuisance than dogs.

"I see the whole issue as being misunderstood. These animals make great pets. From what I've seen, people with negative opinions, lacking in the knowledge or understanding of them are the ones creating the problems," Vetter said.

"People really need to check with their townships prior to making the purchase. After all, there are no issues with contamination from run off and as far as odor - dog mess and mulch smells worse."

To avoid additional penalties, Slaughter temporarily sent Sheldon to live with a friend in nearby Egg Harbor Township.

Codes in Egg Harbor City, Gloucester Township, and the Borough of Glassboro do not specifically ban pigs as pets, but call for pet owners to keep any domestic or non-domesticated animal from being a nuisance to neighbors and public property.

Slaughter now has 20 days to appeal the judge's ruling. She could also apply for a variance under the city's code, but the process could cost anywhere from $750 to $1,500; amounts the single parent said she simply can't afford.

"I'm a single parent so I don't have an endless stream of money to just blow on a variance. A lot of this just comes down to the financial aspect and I just don't have that kind of money," she said.

"I think I will apply for an appeal. I don't know exactly where that will take me either, but I figure it's worth a shot."

Her only other option is to let the pig go.

"I'm not 100 percent sure what I'll do at this point. I have a friend a few towns over that has a farm; he offered to take him, and I guess I could give him back to the breeder I got him from, but I really don't want to get rid of him."

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