Potbellied Pigs Spark Clashes With Neighbors

Two families are fighting to keep their beloved pet pigs.

ByABC News
December 30, 2014, 10:10 AM

— -- It’s not unusual to find a dog or a cat in someone's home, but can a pig really be a pet?

This winter hasn't been easy for pig owners. In November, a woman and her potbellied pig Hobie were thrown off a U.S. Airways flight after the pig caused a ruckus pre-takeoff. And in Midlothian, Virginia, neighbors are asking the Johnson family to move away because of their pet pig Tucker.

Kim Johnson's allergies wouldn't allow for a family dog, so she and husband Mark Johnson did some research on alternative pets, which is how they came to own Tucker.

“Since it's been cold, he'll sit by the fire,” Kim Johnson told ABC News' “20/20.” “He usually gets bathed every two weeks or so, and then I do usually put lotion on him, because pigs do get dry skin.”

At nearly 160 pounds, Tucker, who is also a Facebook star, gets invited to cookouts and poses in costumes. Tucker is also a newly-certified emotional support animal, helping comfort Mark Johnson, who said he suffers from a psychological disability stemming from the tragic death of his 17-month-old son.

“He relaxes me. He knows when I am stressed. He'll come over to me. He consoles me,” Mark Johnson told “20/20.” “And there is no reason that he can't be a good pet for our family because he is not a nuisance. There is no reason that we can't have him for a pet.”

But this past June, a code officer came to the family home responding to a complaint.

“And she is like, ‘Well, someone has called in a complaint,' and that I had 10 days to get rid of him,” said Kim Johnson.

A neighbor's complaint highlighted the fact that the Johnsons' property was not zoned for livestock. When the Johnsons attempted to get a conditional-use permit to redefine their property as a stock farm, they were denied.

“They are worried about setting precedents. If they give us a special permit, then what is next? Elephants? Ostriches? Zebras?” said Mark Johnson.Some Midlothian locals were worried they would soon find themselves living near a designated “farm.”

“They have suggested that we should move,” said Mark Johnson. “They have said, ‘If we are in that position, we would move.'”

In Little Rock, Arkansas, Jyll Latham's neighbors seem to have a problem with her pig Sooie. Latham, who has had Sooie for more than two years, did her homework beforehand and found that her Vietnamese potbellied pig was not on the list of unlawful pets, but some neighbors complained. She first went to court over Sooie in summer 2013.

“She at one time got a petition and was going to get the neighbors to sign it so she could keep the pig. No one signed the petition. Nobody,” neighbor George Irvin told “20/20.”

Latham said she has suffered from depression half her life, and Sooie keeps her laughing. But the city council clarified an additional ordinance that requires a pig owner to have a 300-foot buffer of land between them and their neighbors.

While Latham has a decent-sized property, it isn't as large as the football field-size space required to separate her from her neighbors. She was given 30 days to get rid of Sooie. Latham is now suing and heading to federal court.

“I'm not willing to back down. I mean, the pet is a part of my family, and I'm willing to fight for that,” Latham said.

Kim and Mark Johnson are awaiting the decision of five county supervisors. But the Johnsons say Tucker is not going anywhere. He's family.

“We are not going to get rid of Tucker,” said Mark Johnson.

“No,” agreed Kim Johnson.

You can read more about Tucker and Sooie on their Facebook pages:

Tucker: https://www.facebook.com/TuckerthePig2014

Sooie: https://www.facebook.com/SaveSooie