Festus family’s potbellied pig at center of support animal controversy

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FESTUS, Mo. – Controversy in Festus over a family having a potbellied pig as a pet.

Single mother Debbie Buff and her 13-year-old son, Aiden, say the potbellied pig named Princess Pickles lives in their house as part of their family. But Festus city leaders say the pig has to go because it violates a city ordinance.

Debbie gave Pickles a home in August of last year after another family didn’t want her.
Now she and Aiden are very close to her.

“This is her home. We’re her family. She loves us and we love her,” Debbie said. “(Pickles) brings comfort, companionship.”

Debbie says everything was fine until March when Festus Animal Control called after a complaint about Pickles.

Then Debbie found out that a Festus city ordinance prohibits residents from having potbellied pigs because they are considered livestock.

She was cited and has until October 17 to get rid of her pig.

But Debbie says Pickles means everything to her and Aiden.

“She’s very loving. She’s … a really, really good friend,” Aiden said. “She’ll always sit there if I need her. I’ll go over there and pet her.”

Debbie’s 24-year-old son Brandon died last year and she says Aiden faces several challenging medical conditions, including autism.

A letter from Debbie’s psychiatrist says she should be allowed to keep Pickles as an emotional support animal.

“It’s devastating,” Debbie said. “I’ve already been through so much, (Aiden)’s already been through so much.”

Debbie even went before the Festus City Council to ask for the ordinance to be amended but city leaders said no.

“Certainly, you find that it’s a difficult situation,” said Festus City Administrator Greg Camp.

Camp tells us multiple residents have voiced opposition to the pig and to changing the ordinance. And city leaders are concerned about making exemptions to city codes.

“It’s a precedent more than anything else,” he said. “I think as soon as the door is cracked even a little bit, you begin to get into a situation. it just turns into a slippery slope.”

“So, if we’re going to make an exemption for a mini pig then do we need to make exemptions for others. I think after a while it really starts to get out of hand.”

Debbie started an online petition to keep Pickles.

“My plan is to keep fighting with everything that I have, what I can. I mean, that’s all I know how to do,” she said.

Thousands have signed the petition but Camp says many of those signatures are not from the Festus area.

Camp says the city isn’t looking to fine Debbie, they just want her to comply with the ordinance.

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