‘I had tears’: City won’t change ordinance for 9-year-old to keep emotional support pig

After a lengthy discussion, the Newton City Commission decided not to amend an ordinance for a Newton family to keep their son’s pot-bellied pig. (Source: KWCH)
Published: May. 12, 2023 at 2:36 PM CDT
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NEWTON, Kan. (KWCH/Gray News) – A town in Kansas has decided not to allow a boy to keep his emotional support animal, a pot-bellied pig named Ginger.

After a lengthy discussion at its meeting Tuesday night, the Newton City Commission decided not to amend an ordinance for 9-year-old Owen Grigoreva and his family.

The commission heard from Owen’s mother among a few supporters, but in the end, they decided not to amend the ordinance, in part citing extra demand on staff that could come if they made an exception.

A representative of Newton’s police department and the city attorney said they’d work with Owen’s family to find new accommodations for Ginger.

The city’s ordinance disallows the family to keep Ginger even though she’s an emotional support animal for Owen. Part of the issue cited by Newton City Attorney Chris Towe is that by law, Kansas categorizes pot-bellied pigs as livestock.

Owen’s mother, Jessica Grigoreva, addressed that issue along with the purpose Ginger serves for her son. She cited allergies as the reason a pot-bellied pig works better as a support animal for her son than a dog would.

She also made a case for why pot-bellied pigs shouldn’t be considered livestock.

“They’re not food. They don’t get to be the size a regular hog does,” Grigoreva said.

Towe said that categorization from the state’s agriculture department limits options for a pot-bellied pig if one were to get out or be abandoned in Newton. He said shelters couldn’t take in the animals. Furthermore, he said the city’s animal control vehicle isn’t equipped to haul a pig.

Grigoreva said Ginger is smaller than some large dogs and said that there was never a specific complaint against the pig that brought it to the city’s attention. She said a neighbor saw Ginger and reported it to the city, but there’s never been a specific complaint regarding smell or any other issue.

In support of Grigoreva, Newton resident Courtney Napier said it was “reasonable and fair” to allow a miniature pot-bellied pig in the city. She cited examples of other cities that allow the animals, including Wichita and Lawrence.

Another resident speaking in support of the Grigorevas said the situation presents an opportunity for Newton to be open-minded as it continues to grow.

“At a minimum, I think there’s a lot of information we can learn about the pot-bellied pig before a definite decision,” she said.

Newton City Commissioner Clint McBroom said he sympathized and understands the Grigorevas’ situation, but looking at the situation as a whole including possible added demand on city staff and considerations for other animals that could come up, he said at least for now, he’s not comfortable with making any changes.

He said he thought a lot about the situation, prayed about it, and “tried to come up with a reasonable solution.” McBroom said he’s hopeful the Grigoreva family can find somewhere for Ginger in which Owen can easily visit her.

“My heart hurts for you guys, it really does,” he told the family.

Expressing a similar sentiment, Commissioner Kathy Valentine addressed the toughness of a decision.

“It’s just a difficult position for us,” she said.

On a night when roosters and goats were also part of the conversation, Valentine said she couldn’t support a change to the ordinance as it could lead to city leaders having to repeatedly revisit its rules with residents seeking exceptions.

“If we agree to allow pot-bellied pigs, there’ll be other things,” she said. “It’s a hard decision, very hard.”

Mayor Leroy Koehn commended the three commissioners in attendance Tuesday night, as well as the Grigoreva family and those who spoke on their side, making a case for an ordinance change to allow them to keep the pot-bellied pig.

“I think for me at this time, we need to stay the course and not make any changes,” Koehn said. “But I do think we need to think about it going forward.”

Owen, of course, is not happy with the decision.

“I had tears, I was really stressed out,” Owen said.

Jessica Grigoreva said she’s been summoned to court to talk to a judge about the situation and she’s been told the city will have more discussions in the next couple weeks concerning the ordinance that currently says Ginger can’t live in city limits.

“Until the court date, they don’t require us to move her. She did suggest that we find a place for her in case it does come to the point where she needs to be moved,” she said.

Owen said he wouldn’t be the same without Ginger and hopes the commission sees that.

“She helps me when I feel sad or when I feel angry. She helps me with that a lot,” he said.