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Thursday, April 15, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pig Out: Owners Want Pet Porkers Legalized

There was an "oink oink" here, and "oink oink" there, and an "oink oink" everywhere in Volunteer Park yesterday afternoon as a group of pot-bellied-pig owners testified at one of the darndest City Council hearings in some time.

City Councilman George Benson tried to suppress a smirk but had to acknowledge it was one of the "most unusual" hearings he had ever attended.

"I never thought of pigs except as pork chops, pork and sauerkraut," and several other tasty meals, Benson said following the hearing that attracted about 12 pigs, their owners and a group of about 80 curious onlookers.

City Councilwoman Sue Donaldson, who heads the council's land-use committee and who chaired the meeting, said the hearing involved "the most unusual group of participants (the pigs, not their owners)."

Donaldson held the second half of the hearing at the Capitol Hill park "because I didn't want pigs coming into City Hall" where the first half, or the "pigless," portion of the hearing was conducted yesterday morning.

At issue is licensing the estimated 300 pot-bellied porkers in the city. The critters are now illegal because they are considered livestock, which is outlawed.

Donaldson proposes licensing the critters but charging an initial fee of $150 to help cover the cost of a new vehicle that she believes would be needed because Animal Control personnel should not be expected to lift pigs that easily can weigh 150 pounds. By comparison, owners pay $10 a year for a license for spayed dogs and $22 a year for unspayed dogs.

She also is attempting to limit the size of the pigs to 120 pounds and 22 inches high.

For the most part the pigs were well-behaved and seemed to take little notice of the testimony that lasted only 20 minutes, another unusual factor for a City Council hearing.

One large pig, Albert, with tusks showing, gently accepted Cheerios from a small girl while another fell asleep against its owner's equipment bag. There were some squeals or "oinks," however, heard during the hearing.

Michele Betts of Greenwood, who was there with her pig, Willy G, told the hearing she believes that the $150 proposed fee discriminates against pigs.

Before the meeting, Betts said, "I have wanted a pig all my life. . . . I want to keep him and I don't want to give him up. He's part of the family now, I'm really attached to him."

Dorothy Richardson, who owns Starbright, also objected to the high fee for pigs. "Twenty-five dollars is OK, but $150 is taking us to the cleaners and it isn't fair," she testified.

Priscilla Valentine, who attended with her pig, Nellie Valentine, said before the hearing that it is important that the pigs be licensed. "We want our pets to be legal so we can take them out in public."

Valentine says pigs are smarter than dogs; she has taught Nellie 20 tricks, including riding on a skateboard and fetching the newspaper. "They are cleaner (than dogs), they have no fleas, they don't shed and they are very affectionate," Valentine said.

During the morning hearing, the owners said the pigs, originally from Asia but now bred in this country, are easy to care for, make ideal pets in an urban setting and are basically gentle animals.

But Ellen Taft of Seattle Pro Leash, an outspoken Capitol Hill advocate of enforcing leash laws, said the small pigs pose enforcement and health problems.

Bill Luedke, an Enumclaw attorney and a regional director of the North American Pot-Bellied Pig Association, said hundreds of cities have adopted pot-bellied-pig ordinances. "Arguments against pot-bellied pigs are `hog wash,' " Luedke declared.

Tom Dundon presented petitions he said contained about 450 signatures from area residents who favor legalizing the pigs.

Another hearing is scheduled before Donaldson's committee at 9:30 a.m. May 12 at City Hall.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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