This Little Piggy Got Evicted


Marianne Barnes has been harboring a big secret these past five years, and it hasn’t been easy.

She has lied to her landlady, lived on the outlaw side of Anaheim civic codes and distracted various city workers to keep them from peering over the alley wall into the little wooden pen in her sideyard.

All to shield Poppy.

But now the secret’s out. All 300 pounds of her. Poppy, an out-sized Vietnamese potbellied pig whom Barnes raised from a piglet, went off Monday afternoon to hog heaven, which in this case is the 1-acre home of Steve and Karen Williams in a rural area of Yorba Linda.

So the pressure’s off. Barnes’ house is pig free. Anaheim codes against livestock are unbroken. Bittersweetness hangs in the air.

“It breaks my heart,” said Barnes, 72, her eyes welling after volunteers from Los Angeles-based Pigs Without Partners squeezed Poppy into a pet carrier for the trip. “Look at the nice people she’s going to live with. It makes me happy.”


Barnes insists her heart was in the right place when she took in Poppy after the pig’s previous owners decided they couldn’t keep her. Barnes has taken in unwanted animals for the 20 years she has lived in the house, she said.

As Noah could attest, a couple of animals can beget a menagerie. Once people discovered Barnes would take in strays, she got strays to take in.

“I’ve probably found homes for 100 animals,” Barnes said.

But she decided to keep Poppy, whom she bought from acquaintances of her boss, because of the pig’s personality. The name reflects both the California poppy, Barnes’ favorite flower, and Barnes’ first few days with the pig.

“She was just like a little firecracker,” Barnes said. “She was just a feisty little thing.”

At first, Barnes hid Poppy from her landlady, who didn’t allow pets.

But as the pig grew, hiding it became more than a simple sleight of hand. Potbellied pigs often come with a salesman’s promise that they’ll stay the size of a small dog. But size actually hinges on how much the pigs eat in the first 2 1/2 years of life, then their exercise regimen and diet as adults, said Dr. Steve Whipple, a veterinarian with the Crown Valley Veterinary Hospital in Laguna Niguel. Whipple, who volunteered to examine Poppy and do some remedial hoof-trimming to ease walking, said he treated a 500-pound pot-bellied pig in Las Vegas last week.

In Poppy’s case, she was fed a lot of fruit--bad for pigs, as it turns out--and got no more exercise than the waddle from her wooden hut to her glass food dish.

Keeping the pig secret was stressful, Barnes admitted. The stress increased once she received some unnerving legal advice.

“I found out through a friend, an attorney, that you can’t have pigs in Anaheim,” Barnes said. “I had to keep her hidden. My neighbors didn’t know.”

Living the lie was not easy. The landlady would stop by and edge toward Poppy’s small wooden pen, separated from the alley by a shoulder-high fence.

“If it looked like she was going in that direction, I’d talk to her about something else,” Barnes said. “I had to use all my wits. When the city workers would come [to work in the alley], I’d talk his head off. I knew he couldn’t wait to get away from me, but I couldn’t let him look over that wall.”

Barnes was effective.

“I didn’t know she had a pig,” admitted landlady Marie Lenain, who learned of Poppy’s existence three weeks ago. “But now all these things are coming back. I wanted to put a brick wall up back there on the alley. She told me not to bother--her son would take care of it.”

As any moralist will tell you, all lies end. Barnes saw the handwriting on the wall when Lenain told her a few weeks ago that she was going to sell the house.

Realtors would be coming around. Potential buyers. Inspectors.

“I had to do something,” Barnes said. “The jig was up.”

Barnes’ older sister knew that day would come and had set aside an article about Pigs Without Partners, which finds adoptive homes for pet pigs. Barnes called, and Poppy’s move to legitimacy began.

The pig’s new owners said they’ll put Poppy on a diet to drop her weight to a healthier range, to be determined by how well she moves and sees (overweight potbellied pigs’ eyes disappear under folds of fat). Poppy will be joining their other, smaller pig, Oscar Mayer, and a passel of chickens, cats and horses.

“It’s surprising what can go in 1 acre,” Steve Williams said.

It’s also surprising what can go in a small suburban lot in Anaheim.

“Today,” Barnes said as Poppy squealed from inside the travel carrier, “the neighbors are going to know we have a pig.”