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Family’s potbellied pigs provide emotional support, but township says they can’t have them

Family’s potbellied pigs provide emotional support, but township says they can’t have them

By Shelly Stallsmith, York Daily Record:


A drive down Norman Street on a sunny Friday afternoon in July shows a quiet neighborhood.

Single-family dwellings line the dead-end street not far from Hayshire Elementary in Manchester Township.

It’s hot, so there are no kids playing in the street or in the yards that appear to measure no greater than one-quarter of an acre. There are no dogs barking, and no sounds of lawn mowers or farm equipment.

And no sound from the pair of potbellied pigs that live in the 500 block of Norman Street and are at the center of a dispute.

More: Yoga with Pigs: Yes, you read that right.

Kevin and LuLu, potbellied pigs adopted three years ago by Jessica and Jason Maul, can be seen from the street through the fence as they munch on watermelon slices in the backyard. It’s not until you get within a few feet that you can hear their gentle snorts as they enjoy one of their favorite treats.

“(Kevin and LuLu) mean a lot to me, they make life happier,” said Ethan Schroyer, the couple’s son. The 12-year-old is a big reason why the Mauls adopted the 3-year-old pigs.

Ethan was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and anxiety before he was old enough for kindergarten. Because they didn’t like the effect some medicines had on him, his parents explored the option of getting emotional support animals as he got older.

After going through the pros and cons of a variety of animals, the pair settled on potbellied pigs.

“The pigs are more docile than dogs, and that works better with someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder like ADD or ADHD,” Jessica said. “A dog barks and licks and are very hyper. (Pigs) are very low key.”

Losing ‘his person’

Jessica and Jason thought they had plenty of time to find the perfect support animal. They had authorization from Ethan’s therapist and were narrowing their search.

And then the bottom fell out of their world. Jessica’s father died unexpectedly in their living room on July 11, 2016.

Ethan was in the room as his grandfather, the person he was closest to, his “person,” collapsed onto the coffee table, unable to breathe. Ethan ran to get his mom, who called 911 and went across the street to get a neighbor who was studying to be a nurse.

By the time the women returned to the house, Jessica’s father was taking his last gasps.

“My dad and Ethan had a special relationship,” Jessica said. His death sent the then-9-year-old into a downward spiral.

Jessica and Jason bumped up their timeline to get a support animal. It turns out potbellied pigs do better in pairs, so Kevin and LuLu came to Norman Street.

They share the house and backyard with two dogs and three cats. Neither pig is as tall as Jackson, the larger of the Mauls’ dogs, but all three weigh about the same, just north of 80 pounds.

First sign of trouble

The Mauls didn’t think that getting potbellied pigs would be a problem. They looked into the definitions provided on the Manchester Township website and thought Kevin and LuLu qualified as a household pet as a “small animal normally and ordinarily kept in or permitted to be in the dwelling of its owner.”

LuLu and Kevin don’t have a separate shelter. They spend most of their time in the house with Jessica, Jason, Ethan and two other children ages 6 and 17. Jessica says Kevin likes to climb into bed with her in the morning and stretch out as if he were a dog.

Potbellied pigs are not mentioned by name on the township website. Dogs and cats are mentioned as household pets. In a separate definition, small animals are described as a “rabbit, hare, guinea pig, rat, mouse or chinchilla; and any domestic fowl or bird such as a chicken, turkey, goose, duck, parrot, parakeet, canary or pigeon (except homing pigeons).”

Ordinance 27-1118, Pets and exotic wildlife, says “no livestock and no swine shall be kept on a lot of less than 10 acres in a residential district.”

The township’s zoning ordinance says in Section 27-105, definitions, that “Animal husbandry” is defined as the “care, raising and keeping of livestock (animals such as cattle, sheep and swine) and poultry,” and that is only allowed in agricultural areas.

The Mauls live in a residential medium density district that does not allow for animal husbandry.

According to zoning inspector David Unger, the Mauls were in violation of Manchester Township’s zoning ordinance and were sent a notice. They were told to remove the “swine/pigs” within 30 days of the April 25 notice of violation or appeal the decision.

Their decision was easy.

Appeal to keep pigs

Jessica presented more than 20 pieces of research, petitions and letters of recommendation as exhibits in a hearing before the zoning board on July 10.

She had letters from Ethan’s therapist and certification of the pigs regarding their ability to be emotional support animals. She had an online petition with nearly 2,500 signatures and another where she went door to door in her neighborhood.

She said her neighbors signed the petition, except for one man who says he doesn’t sign any petition and a woman who admitted she called the township about the pigs. When asked at her home about her issues with the pigs, the woman declined to answer.

“I live five houses down, and I never met them,” another neighbor, Jody Hunt, testified at the appeal. “I got the notification in the mail about the hearing, and I went to their house. I’m an animal lover, and I wanted to see the pigs.

“I spent two hours there. I was curious. There was no smell, and the kids were always touching the pigs. You could tell they made the kids happy.”

David Smith, who lives two houses from the Mauls, takes his grandson to see the pigs, he told the zoning officers.

“I lost my mom 18 months ago, and I wish I had something that made me as happy then as those pigs do for him,” Smith said of Ethan.

Livestock vs. pets

Ask Jessica, Jason and any of the children, and the answer is clear … Kevin and LuLu are pets. Pets with a purpose.

Ask government officials, and it isn’t so cut and dried. The Manchester Township definition of livestock is “any wild or domestic animal of the bovine, swine or sheep family.”

According to Jessica, there are distinct differences between potbellied pigs and their farm-raised cousins.

“LuLu and Kevin are both spayed and neutered, as livestock is used for breeding purposes,” she said in her testimony. “Their food is taxed just as any other pet food is in the state of Pennsylvania. Livestock feed does not have sales tax imposed. Pennsylvania’s state taxing authorities consider potbellies to be pets.”

So does the president of the Pennsylvania Livestock Association, who told Jessica “potbellied pigs are not livestock, but are household pets,” she said.

Jessica provided the zoning board with a spreadsheet that listed her research into the stance of municipalities in York County. Her calls found that 12 boroughs and 13 townships allow potbellied pigs to be kept as pigs.

Her research found that three municipalities do not allow the pigs as pets but are interested in looking at the information to see if their policy needs to be changed. Two more areas would allow the pets if the owners obtained special permits or variances.

Appeal denied

Zoning hearing board chairman Craig Wisherd and member Kristen Beecher denied the two appeals regarding the pigs.

They could find no fault with the violation notice, so that appeal was denied. And they could find no reason to issue a variance based on hardship.

“I appreciate the testimony,” Beecher said. “From an emotional stance, I see it, I’m a mother myself. But this hardship was self-created.”

In order to get a variance based on hardship, an applicant must meet four criteria. Wisherd and Beecher felt the family could have avoided this with a phone call to the township office to ask if Manchester Township allowed potbellied pigs to be kept as pets in residential areas.

Now the family is back where it was in late April: find a new home for Kevin and LuLu, face a daily fine, or appeal to the board of supervisors.

They will appeal. Jessica and Jason said they aren’t just doing it for themselves, they would like to see a change in the township for anyone interested in having potbellied pigs as pets.

“Ideally, we would like to see the township develop appropriate rules for potbellied pigs, not a ban on them,” Jessica said in her testimony.

They hope to get on the agenda for the board of supervisors’ August meeting and have created a Facebook page to garner support.

Family’s potbellied pigs provide emotional support, but township says they can’t have them

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