“Hogwash!” was the cry when Neil, Sierra Madre’s pot-bellied pig, got cited for being overweight.
Specifically, an animal control officer labeled him a hog, which is illegal to possess in the tiny town northeast of Pasadena.
The officer had been sent to the Montecito Avenue neighborhood where the 17-year-old pig lives to investigate reports of a noisy rooster, which is also illegal in Sierra Madre.
When she looked over the picket fence next door, past the mailbox painted with a fanciful pig’s head, she noticed Neil in the yard.
Deciding she couldn’t cite the rooster without citing the hog, she wrote warnings for both, advising their owners that the city’s animal ordinance would require them to get rid of the animals.
That’s when social media erupted. Neil quickly found himself with his own Facebook page and Twitter account and was the subject of discussion on local blogs.
“Neil is being evicted from Sierra Madre for being overweight,” one person commented. “What if that were the case for homosapians? Half the town would have to be evicted.”
Another pot-bellied pig fan described Neil as “the real treasure of Sierra Madre” and noted that he had been named Mr. November in the local Realtors calendar and is considered a local landmark. Others suggested that the ouster of Neil would be a public relations disaster for the city and that maybe he should be named grand marshal of the town’s next 4th of July parade.
“Everybody in Sierra Madre knows about Neil the pig. He has his own yard and his own house. It’s adorable. They bring kids on field trips to visit Neil,” said Lisa Bowman, a radio show host who helped organize a save-Neil-the-pig rally Thursday.
Neil’s owner, Katherine Emerson, said she inherited him when her mother, Diane Emerson, died six years ago of cancer.
"She referred to him as her son," she said. "I promised I would continue to watch him for her.”
Emerson, who teaches in the School of Social Work at Cal State L.A., acknowledged complaining to the city about the neighbor’s rooster. Its crowing 40 feet from her home awoke her for more than two months, she said.
Neil got a reprieve from the city before Thursday's protest rally could take place. Instead, the 30 or people who gathered at the city’s Memorial Park turned it into a celebration.
Police Chief Larry Giannone said officials spent hours studying the municipal code and the difference between pigs and hogs before Neil’s eviction papers were rescinded.
"He’s a pig. Our code specifically refers to hogs,” Giannone said. “He gets to stay the iconic symbol of Sierra Madre.”
And Neil is just that, the police chief admitted. “Kids feed and pet him on the way to school. The rooster was cut and dried: It’s not allowed. Its owner voluntarily gave it up to the humane society.”
So community outrage helped save Neil’s bacon. That’s something for Sierra Madre to crow about.