Are pigs and goats pets? B.C. cities say no

Two sleeping pigs on straw in barn.
Two sleeping pigs on straw in barn. Stock photo by Getty Images

It looks like a few municipalities in British Columbia are struggling with nontraditional pets being kept in urban family homes.

A couple months ago, Richmond rejected pygmy goats as pets, and now Victoria is having a hard time accepting potbelly pigs.

Victoria resident Mike Downey has been ordered to remove his two potbelly pigs — Athena and Vishnu — from his house because they offend a municipal bylaw on animal control. The bylaw prohibits any resident from keeping a farm animal within city limits. The bylaw describes a farm animal as: “any domesticated animal normally raised for food, milk or as a beast of burden and includes cattle, horses, swine, sheep, goats, mules, donkeys, asses and oxen but does not include poultry or bees.”

Downey has published his letters to the city and the city’s responses on this subject in their entirety on Facebook. From the looks of it, the city was sympathetic towards his situation and granted him more time to find a suitable alternative home for his pigs. In fact, his deadline to find a new home for the pigs ended this week. The extra time, however, did not satisfy Downey so he resorted to an animal advocacy group — Animal Justice — to help keep his pet pigs.

Anna Pippus, director of Animal Justice and a lawyer, has written a well-drafted and comprehensive letter to one city official explaining why the potbelly pigs should not be considered “farm animals.” In her letter, she explains how potbelly pigs are not raised for food. She urges the city to consider the purpose for which an animal is kept. She also clarifies that a city environment can be suitable for the pet pigs, because standard living conditions in agricultural facilities are much worse.

Pigs that are raised for meat — she wrote — are often kept in “tiny gestation crates, barely larger than their own bodies.” She dismissed the city’s concern that urban yards are not large enough for pet pigs. She also added that stereotypical concerns about pigs being odorous are not well-founded, because these animals are quite picky and often divide their space into separate areas for eating, sleeping, and excreting.

Pippus told the bylaw is “not all black or white.” She emphasized that city officials do appear to be sympathetic toward Downey’s situation, but may feel their hands are tied. However, the city has the authority to interpret the bylaw in a substantive way; otherwise the law won’t make sense in application.

Pippus also mentioned the city has proposed that Downey moves to an area outside city limits where farmland is available. This is not viable for someone who has lived in his house for 20 years in a neighbourhood where kids often stop by to pet Vishnu and Athena and enjoy their presence.

The director of Animal Justice further pointed out that Downey is in fact vegan. The pet pigs are definitely not raised for food and should not fall under the definition of a farm animal. Yes, some pigs are raised for their meat, as are some rabbits. In some countries cats and dogs are raised for food. It’s not reasonable to interpret the bylaw in a far-reaching way.

Pippus suggests the city looks to the underlying objectives of the bylaw and interprets it accordingly. If the city sticks to its removal order, Animal Justice will help appoint a local lawyer for Downey to challenge this in court.

Let’s hope Vishnu and Athena get to stay in their rightful home. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, it’s very refreshing and commendable to see strong advocacy for animal rights.

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