Pig the pig

A pig named Pig owned by Catherine Stecher attends an Animal Control Board meeting in 2016. The Billings City Council on Monday directed staff to study a special permit process to allow pigs now living within city limits to remain there — so long as they're permitted.

MIKE FERGUSON, Gazette staff

Pot-bellied pig owners lobbied the Billings City Council — some of them emotionally — during Monday’s business meeting to reconsider the council’s Sept. 11 decision to ban potbellied, micro and mini pigs from living within city limits.

Elizabeth Rogers said she received two notices from animal control officers — one Friday, the next Saturday — to remove her pig, Hamlet, within seven days or face fines and possible citations.

In addition, her landlord has given her 30 days to vacate her rental property because she’s in violation of a city ordinance if she doesn’t remove the pig, whom she says she relies on for emotional support.

“He has lived his entire seven years as a domesticated pet,” she told the council. “He’s such a part of our family, and he does a lot for my well-being.”

Catherine Stecher was moved to tears pleading with council members to reconsider its ban.

“I need help. I want to keep my pig, and I don’t want to uproot my children from the school they have been going to since kindergarten,” she said. “I would move for this pig, if that’s what it comes to.”

State Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings, praised residents for once again bringing the issue forward.

“These are normal people,” he told the council. “We don’t see a lot of normal people get involved in politics. Criminalizing something this trivial is kind of sad.”

The council took no action to rescind its earlier action. In response to a question from Councilman Chris Friedel, City Attorney Brent Brooks said the council cannot grandfather something — such as existing pet pigs — that’s not allowed under city ordinance.

He told the council it also cannot suspend enforcement of the ordinance. Animal Control Supervisor Tom Stinchfield has said he is enforcing the ban on a complaint basis.

At meeting’s end, the council did unanimously approve an initiative from Councilman Ryan Sullivan to direct staff to study a special permit process for pigs currently living in city limits. There was no indication when that information will be presented to the council.

That’s the way that communities like Denver allow the pet swine in city limits, said Sullivan, who used to live there.

“I’m trying to allow people who have self-reported not to have to ship out of here,” he said.

Honoring the city administrator

At the start of the meeting, the council presented retiring City Administrator Tina Volek with a plant and a gift certificate — and also offered her profuse praise for her 13 years running Montana’s largest community.

“It has indeed been a privilege and pleasure to work to try to bring change and improvement,” Volek said. “I think we have a wonderful community in which to live, and I look forward to seeing the city grow and progress.”

Volek gave credit for her success to city staff and to her husband Steve, “my stalwart and my backup.”

Many council members expressed appreciation for Volek's steady hand over her 13 years as city administrator. She retires at the conclusion of her contract, which runs out Sept. 30.

“I appreciate your sensibility, the way you have handled yourself and the way you can control your emotion when council people get out of line,” Councilman Larry Brewster said.

“Of all the executives I have worked with, you are right up there at the top in terms of being effective and getting the job done,” said Councilman Al Swanson.

“I’ve never worked with someone with a higher level of commitment to their job,” said Councilman Shaun Brown.

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City reporter for The Billings Gazette.