City not hog wild about pet pigs

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In a city of high-rises and tiny apartments, pigs are found mainly on menus. Most New Yorkers wouldn't consider making pets out of a barnyard animal that's synonymous with sloppiness.

The city's health code specifically forbids it, forcing pig owners in the nation's largest metropolis to keep their swine secret -- or take the risk an unhappy neighbor might squeal.

"People think it's weird and a novelty, but they're really sweet and really smart animals," says Timm Chiusano, who keeps two potbellied pigs on the ground floor of his three-story brownstone in Brooklyn. "They can be fantastic pets."

Chiusano moved to his current home after raising his pets from piglets in a condo high-rise, where a neighbor once raised a stink about them piddling in the lobby.

Now his difficulties are largely logistical. Though billed as "mini pigs" when he got them five years ago, Cholula and Runtly now weigh in at 200 and 70 pounds, respectively.

He renovated his home with the pigs in mind, putting their beds and food on the first floor (their legs are too stubby to climb stairs) and installing special flooring that holds up to hooves. He's also constantly resodding his tiny backyard because the grass is essentially a salad bar for swine.

Danielle Forgione is scrambling to sell her second-floor Queens apartment after a neighbor complained about 1-year-old Petey the pig to the co-op board. In November and December she was issued city animal violations, and in January was told by the city and her management office that she needed to get rid of the pig.

"He's part of our family," says Forgione, whose pet weighs nearly 40 pounds, stands 15 inches tall and measures 21 inches long, snout to tail. "This is our pet. He's not harming anybody. He goes to the vet every six months."

Forgione purchased Petey as a therapeutic animal after losing her brother in a motorcycle accident last year.

But the city put its foot down and earlier this month denied her petition to amend the city's health code to create an exception for "domesticated mini pigs." She's exhausted her appeals and has until later this summer to remove Petey or authorities will do it for her.

City officials say pigs, even smaller breeds that are kept as pets, are a public health risk because they cannot be vaccinated for rabies and can become aggressive, especially during their first few years.

"Pigs are hard to police," says Salvatore Pernice, a Staten Island veterinarian who recently flouted the health code to purchase his 9-month-old mini-pig, Albert, from a breeder in Texas for $950. He picked the animal up at the Newark Airport and brought him home, where he's able to enjoy a backyard.

"I do think it's probably better to live in a place where they are able to root, graze and be a pig," Pernice said.

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