Man Fights City Hall for Ability To Keep 'Emotional Support' Pigs

Larry Johnson's pet pigs have run afoul of Minneapolis' ban on city swine.


Man's best friend isn't always a dog, and that can cause you a lot of trouble when dealing with the city government.

For the past several weeks Minneapolis resident Larry Johnson has been trying to get several of his pet pigs back from the city's animal control department. The 59-year-old contractor and military veteran's quest has been complicated by high appeal fees and a prohibition on keeping pet pigs in city limits.

"I just want my four-legged daughter back…and her piglets," Johnson told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Johnson's troubles started back in late June when he was taking his pets, a 22-pound pig named Carmel and her two piglets, to his farm in the nearby town of Glencoe. When Johnson stopped at a public golf course to let the pigs get some air, one of the piglets escaped and was grabbed by an animal control officer who had been on the scene.

The animal control officer, Johnson told the Tribune, refused to give the piglet back, and issued him two tickets. One was for keeping a pig in the city (all hoofed animals are illegal in Minneapolis without a special, 21-day permit), the other for being uncooperative.

Johnson was also told to take Carmel to the vet (since she appeared to be underweight and suffering from hair loss) before his seized piglet would be returned to him.

Local news site City Pages reports that Johnson took Carmel to his regular veterinarian, where she was given a clean bill of health. However, even after showing the vet's evaluation of Carmel to animal control, Johnson says they still refused to release the seized piglet.

Things escalated further when, in mid-July, police showed up at Johnson's house and seized his remaining two animals when he wasn't home.

City officials tell the Tribune that the pigs were taken primarily because it is illegal to have them in the city of Minneapolis.

In late July, Johnson, with the help of a neighbor, came up with the $1,200 needed to file an appeal to Minneapolis Animal Care and Control (MACC) over the seizure of his pigs. After paying the money, Johnson was granted a hearing in just two days, leaving him with little time to find a lawyer.

Johnson lost that appeal. He had the option to appeal again but that would require him to pay $4,300 to the city to cover the costs of caring for his three pigs over the 90-day appeal process.

A GoFundMe was launched on Johnson's behalf, but it managed to raise only around $400 before the deadline to appeal, which was Monday.

MACC is still in possession of Johnson's pigs. A spokesperson for the agency says it is trying to find another home for them. Johnson, they argue, was an "unfit owner" who kept his animals in an "extremely unsanitary" condition.

Johnson says he has always been attentive to the needs of his pigs, and that they were well cared for at his home. Losing what he describes as his "emotional support" animals has been very stressful for him.

"I don't sleep at night because I'm used to Carmel snuggling in with me," Johnson told local CBS affiliate WCCO.

Local governments often have strict rules on what types of animals are permitted within city limits. Washington, D.C., bans hedgehogs. Don't even think about trying to keep a pet ferret in New York City.

And while the argument can be made that local health officials have a role to play in preventing pet animals from becoming a nuisance, there's no indication that any of Johnson's neighbors had a problem with the animals he kept.

Indeed, one of Johnson's neighbors has shown her support by launching a petition to try to secure the release of his pigs. A better move might be to lift the city's ban on keeping these animals in the first place.