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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tucker the Pig

Stroganoff. What does stroganoff have to do with Tucker the Pig... well, I'm going to tell you. If you are a great foodie who loves his stroganoff, prepare to gag. Why? Because you are not going to like how I make stroganoff, not one little bit. If you are a Russian foodie, you should probably have a proper receptacle ready, in case it becomes necessary.

I learned how to make stroganoff from my mother. I'm not sure where she learned how to make it, but I'm pretty sure it was off of a can of Campbell's soup. A can of Campbell's tomato soup to be exact. That's right... I make stroganoff with tomato soup. Hamburger, sour cream and tomato soup. Why? That's how I grew up eating it. That is what I think of when I think of stroganoff. It is how I like it, it is how my husband likes it, it is how my son likes it. When I was a kid, I had no idea it was made any other way. I know better now, but I still like it the way I grew up eating it. It is still stroganoff to me. However, it is not stroganoff to everyone. I don't expect anyone to ever accept my version of stroganoff, but it doesn't mean I can't still have it.

How many of you have grown up thinking of pigs as livestock? An animal that lives on a farm until the day it is taken to market and made into bacon. You like bacon, I love bacon! I grew up in Iowa. We have more pigs than people. Pigs were a bad smell you passed on a country road and then meat that you ate for dinner that night.

That is a pattern of thinking that has become a big problem for Tucker the Pig. Tucker is a KuneKune pig who lives with his family in Brandermill,Virginia. He is a registered emotional support animal that lives with his family Mark and Kim Johnson and their children. A few neighbors have a problem with that. Just a few though. Out of 3800 houses in the subdivision and 84 in the Johnson's neighborhood 3 people have complained. Most are big fans of Tucker's and enjoy having him in the neighborhood.

Mark has had PTSD for several years due to the loss of his seventeen month old child. He had nightmares and insomnia. He was having problems functioning. His son was also starting to have some emotional issues as well, secluding himself, becoming depressed. A doctor suggested to Mark that a companion animal might help them both. They looked into dogs, though Kim has allergies to dogs. They looked into the "hypoallergenic" dogs, like the famed Portuguese water dogs that the First Family has. Kim's allergies stem from chemicals in a dog's saliva and urine rather than dander, so even those make her eyes swell and turn her nose into a faucet.

After a lot of research, Kim started looking into pet pigs. There are three species of pigs that are common as pets, the Pot Belly, the Juliana, and the KuneKune. Kim and Mark had decided that a pig would be a good choice for them. They learned what they could about keeping pigs as pets, and originally decided on a Juliana. They found a breeder and went to pick out a pig. The Pot Bellies and the Julianas were a little stand offish. Tucker, he ran right up to them. Though they knew he would be a larger pig than a Juliana, they decided he would go home with them. As Mark put it, "he chose us."

KuneKunes are a very friendly breed of pig. They love anyone and anything. Tucker gets along with people, dogs, cats, anyone. They give unconditional love that makes them great pets and even better therapy animals.  It is part of the breed's nature. A nature that almost brought the breed to extinction. Instead of the natural fear of people that most prey animals have, KuneKunes would run right up to people, who in turn would kill them and eat them. The population of the breed, that is from New Zealand,  fell to about fifty world wide. According to the British KuneKune Pig Society two men, Michael Willis and John Simister, realized the future of the breed was bleak and decided to buy at many pigs as they could. They found 18, and are likely the reason that the breed still exists today. Thanks to breeders and families that love the pigs, the population in the US is about 300, and about 3000 world wide. Without breeders the breed would likely be extinct.

While a KuneKune is never going to win the big boar contest at the state fair, they are not tiny pigs. Boars can reach the size of 250 pounds. Tucker, at almost two years old and 165 pounds is nearly full grown. Just like people though, even though the full height is reached, his weight could still increase. Even at that size he is no larger than the St. Bernard neighbor dog, and certainly smaller than the Mastiff dog down the street.

Yet, Tucker is still a pig. As such, he is different. In our society, there are people, sometimes just a few, that just don't like things that are different. Sometimes, those few have very loud voices. Often they don't take the time to learn about the thing that is different. They make assumptions based on old beliefs. They decide that they already know all they need to know, and that is all that matters.

Pigs have had a bad wrap since, well... biblical times. In those times, pork could not be preserved. A fresh kill could be eaten, if properly cooked. However, if not properly cooked, or if a carcass were kept for a day, the meat could sicken and even kill a person who ate it. Cooking practices being what they were, many people got sick from eating pork. The stigma of the pig being "a demon killing people," stuck with the species for a very long time. People believed pigs to be dirty and diseased. It took a very long time for people to start eating pork the way we do today. Even as we have, the idea of pigs being filthy is still there.

One of Tucker's detractors is an older gentleman. He simply does not like pigs. He doesn't want a pig in his neighborhood. He is one of the three that spoke against Tucker to the city council. He really has no argument against Tucker, except that Tucker is a pig. Tucker has never destroyed any property. Tucker is not out roaming the streets alone. Tucker is not a noise nuisance. Tucker spends a most of his day in the house, like any other pet. But the man does not like pigs, so no one should be able to have one in his neighborhood.

Here's the thing, there are people who simply do not like dogs, or cats, yet because they are traditional pets, you don't have city council meetings about them unless they have been a nuisance of some sort.  A dog needs to bite someone, or destroy property before the city council would even consider talking about the pet, much less threaten to make the family get rid of it.

That is what happened to Tucker. Because one person didn't like pigs, and two others were afraid that Tucker would "drive down property values," the Johnson's were told to get rid of him. They fought! They started more research. They learned that, of course, pigs were considered livestock and not allowed within the city limits unless the property had three acres of land. The Johnson's property did not. They requested a conditional use permit to redefine their property as a stock farm. One person that objected to this was afraid it would set a precedent, if they let the Johnsons get to keep the pig "what would be next? Zebras, ostriches, elephants?"

Here is a funny thing about the zoning laws in the community. Yes, pigs are considered livestock, but so are rabbits. Yes, I said rabbits. However, while you cannot have a pet pig or a pet rabbit, you can have up to six chickens in your yard. They are considered companion animals. A chicken, a companion animal.

The Johnsons didn't think to look into zoning laws before getting Tucker. "I was thinking in terms of a pet, I didn't even think it would be a problem." Mark said. The breeder he bought Tucker from did not bring up the subject either. The breeder should have. The breeder of any kind of animal should be sure that the animal they are selling is going into a home where it can stay. Randy's ordeal has taught us that. Though Dawn Blackburn advised Randy's family to ask their landlord and had been told by the family that the landlord gave permission. Dawn has now decided to do landlord checks herself in the future for prospective buyers that are renters.

The insistence of many people including the Humane Society of Missouri, in Randy's case, to consider even pet pigs as livestock is ludicrous.

According to the USDA the definition of livestock is Livestock are domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce commodities such as foodfiber and labor. Other than being a domesticated animal, neither Tucker nor Randy fit into this description. 

The ASPCA defines companion animals as The ASPCA believes that companion animals should be domesticated or domestic-bred animals whose physical, emotional, behavioral and social needs can be readily met as companions in the home, or in close daily relationship with humans. Tucker and Randy both completely fits this description. 

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit, such as alleviating or mitigating some symptoms of thedisability, to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. Emotional support animals are typically dogs and cats, but may include other animals. In order to be prescribed an emotional support animal by a physician or other medical professional, the person seeking such an animal must have a verifiable disability. To be afforded protection under United States federal law, a person must meet the federal definition of disability and must have a note from a physician or other medical professional stating that the person has that disability and that the emotional support animal provides a benefit for the individual with the disability. An animal does not need specific training to become an emotional support animal. As defined by  Wisch, Rebecca (20013). "FAQs on Emotional Support Animals"The Animal Legal & Historical Center. Michigan State University College of Law. Retrieved 1 March 2014.  

Tucker is a pet. Randy is a pet. Whether they are  normal pets, or your idea of a pet, or not your idea of a pet, Tucker is a pet to the Johnsons and Randy is a pet to Dawn. Just like tomato soup stroganoff is stroganoff to me. Tucker fits the definition of an emotional support animal. Just because he comes in the package of a pig does not change that fact. As a matter of fact, pigs are the number two most popular emotional support animal after dogs. He is intelligent, he is lovable, he loves his people and just about everyone else. He provides comfort, he plays and snuggles.  As long as he continues to get social interaction, love and training he will continue to be a great pet. The same as a dog. 

On January 14 the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to allow Tucker to stay with the Johnsons, under certain conditions. These conditions include things like he can't be out of the house without a leash unless in his fenced yard. He can only be out of the house for a certain amount of time per day. His poo, though less pungent than a dog's due to Tucker's vegan diet, must be cleaned up everyday. A dog can poo wherever it wants, and there is no law saying it must be cleaned up. If these and a few other conditions are meant, they will revisit the decision in one year. Hopefully, at that point they will allow him to stay permanently. Stay where he is loved, stay where he is needed. 

Randy is still in quarantine at the Longmeadow Rescue Ranch. "Pigs have the intelligence of a three to four year old child," said Mark Johnson. "Keeping Randy in isolation is like keeping a child in isolation. We are as afraid as Dawn is, that he is just not going to come out the same pig as he went in." 

"It is amazing how smart and intelligent he is," Mark said, speaking of Tucker. "He knows everything we talk about. He knows the names of his food. He knows the names of friends that come to visit. He gets excited when we tell him someone is coming to visit and he will follow them to the door as they go to leave. It's like he saying, 'why are you leaving, stay a little longer.' He knows the word goodbye." 

Upcoming projects for the Johnsons include an interview on the talk show "The Doctors" sometime in February. Mark, Kim and Tucker will all be on. Kim is also planning on writing children's books revolving around Tucker. Tucker is an important member of the Johnson family. The same way your cat or dog is important in yours. 

If Dawn is ever able to bring Randy home again, he will be an important part of her family. 


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