In late June, Larry Johnson was in his truck, traveling from his duplex in Minneapolis to his farm near Glencoe. He was accompanied by his potbelly pig, Carmel, and her two piglets.
It was a hot Saturday, and Johnson doesn’t have AC in his truck, so he stopped at the Hiawatha golf course to let the animals cool down. A couple with some dogs stopped by to dote on them, as people often do when Johnson’s out and about with his pets.
That, he says, is when Minneapolis Animal Control showed up.
It’s perfectly legal to keep pigs in St. Paul and plenty of the surrounding suburbs, but not in Minneapolis. Johnson hurriedly ushered Carmel and one of the piglets back into his truck, but the other bolted and started a chase involving Johnson, the animal control officer, and the well-meaning couple, who were mostly concerned the baby pig was going to get hit by a car.
The officer eventually caught the piglet in a net, Johnson says, but it quickly turned into a standoff. She wouldn’t let him have his piglet back, and he wouldn’t leave without it. Johnson is a veteran, and these pigs, he says, are his emotional support animals. They go everywhere with him. He calls Carmel his “four-legged daughter.”
In the end, Johnson got hit with three citations. One for keeping pigs in Minneapolis, one for being “extremely uncooperative” with the officer, and one for Carmel’s health (she looked a little thin, and like she had a touch of hair loss due to mange). If Johnson wanted his piglet back, he had until the following Wednesday to get Carmel checked out at a clinic, and 25 days to either pay the fine or request a hearing. Otherwise, animal control might take his other pigs too.
He quickly dropped by his vet—whom he sees twice a year for regular check-ups—and got his pigs examined. Once he had papers attesting to their overall health and a little treatment for Carmel’s mange, he waited until Monday, when animal control’s office would open. But when he showed up and asked for the piglet, they still wouldn’t let him take it home.
The citation said “25 days,” so Johnson thought he had until near the end of July to get this sorted out. But a warrant dated July 11 gave a peace officer permission to show up and search Johnson’s duplex. Officers showed up less than a week later, “smashed in the doors,” and took the vet records Johnson had hurriedly procured, as well as Carmel and her other piglet, he claims.
“Yes, animal control has the pig,” Minneapolis spokesperson Sarah McKenzie says.
She says officers took them first and foremost because Johnson wasn’t allowed to have them in the city, but she also says they found the property in pretty poor condition, with clutter and “animal urine throughout.”
Johnson says the clutter was all the tools he keeps inside rather in his garage, because he worries they'll be stolen. He also says Carmel had been staying at his place in Minneapolis because she was pregnant again, and shouldn’t be in close quarters with other pigs. Regardless, both she and the babies were gone, and he had 10 days to pay his fines and file an appeal and get them back.
“We came up with the money for the hearing after they reduced it… because of his income,” his neighbor, Abi Mason-Wells, says. She’s been working with Johnson to clean up his place and come up with a plan to legally house the animals. She says he was notified on Wednesday, July 31, and his hearing would be on August 2, the following Friday.
“We couldn’t find a lawyer in that amount of time,” she says. She went with Johnson to the hearing anyway, and the two of them had a “terrible” day in court. They lost, and their one remaining option was somehow coming up with enough money to appeal again by August 7.
Johnson gets choked up when he worries about animal control possibly having Carmel and the piglets “destroyed.” But McKenzie says there are no plans to kill the pigs. If Johnson doesn’t appeal, she says, they’re considering finding them a new home in a shelter. She says they’re fine, but that they're being treated for "severe skin issues" and "malnourishment." As Wednesday drew to a close, the city was still waiting to hear from him.
He says he wants to appeal, but he isn't sure how he'll get the money. “They’re being ridiculous over a pig.”