Marilu Elder achieved her lifelong dream of owning a pet pig a little more than a year ago.
She knew Roscoe, a pot-bellied pig with a black coat, was the one for her when he snuggled his head against her shoulder the first time they met. Now, she has 11.
“It just is literally like a dog,” Elder said, looking at the pigs in her Atascadero barn.
Elder, her husband and two children run K&M Mini Pot Belly Pig Rescue on her half-acre property in the southern part of the city. Her pigs live in a metal-sided barn in her backyard — eight are her own “forever pigs” and three are fosters in need of new homes.
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But Atascadero code enforcement recently informed Elder they’d received a complaint about her operation. To keep her pigs in town, Elder will need to apply for a conditional use permit, which requires a sizable fee and public hearing.
The city’s code defines all swine as farm animals and requires owners have at least an acre of land to keep pigs. Pig owners can keep a up to four swine — three sows and one boar — on their properties. Any more pigs mean the owner is maintaining a hog ranch, which isn’t allowed in the city, according to Terrie Banish, deputy city manager.
Elder said she’s happy to obtain a permit, but she thinks the city is wrong to classify her pigs as farm animals.
“I think that’s the problem,” she said. “They have the wrong impression.”
Defining pot-bellied pigs
The animals are classified differently in nearby Paso Robles.
Its municipal code defines pot-bellied pigs under 24 inches tall as “miniature animals.” Owners can keep up to three pot-bellied pigs on their properties — any more requires a conditional use permit.
Lt. Tim Murphy of the Paso Robles Police Department, which oversees the city’s code enforcement activities, said residents interested in keeping animals other than dogs or cats should check with the city to make sure they comply with codes
Elder said most pot-bellied pigs weigh from 50 to 150 pounds — a far cry from market hogs, which weigh from 300 to 600 pounds.
Some of her pigs even spend time inside her house, where they curl up with her on the couch like any other pet would. And her animals live in wood shavings and straw and sleep on blankets, so they’re not the dirt-covered creatures that are traditionally portrayed.
“We are the cleanest pig parents,” she said.
Elder started her rescue when she realized so many pigs were in need of new homes. She said many breeders advertise “teacup pigs,” promising the animals will stay piglet-sized forever. But when the pigs grow, their owners realize they don’t have room for their pets.
“I didn’t realize what the need was going to be,” Elder said, “that it was so great.”
Elder said she plans to go through the process of obtaining a conditional-use permit, but she will speak before the City Council on Jan. 23 to make her case for reclassifying pot-bellied pigs as miniature animals. She’s also gathered more than 1,300 signatures on paper and online to present to city officials.
If Elder’s family can’t keep their pigs in town, they’ll be forced to move to another area, she said.
“We do this just because we care,” she said.