KINGSTON TWP. — A citation against a local family for cohabiting with Gemma, a pot-bellied pig, was dismissed Wednesday, but District Judge James E. Tupper’s decision does not give the family permission to bring their four-legged family member home anytime soon.
“The pig is a violation of (Chapter 2, Section 202 of the Kingston Township animal nuisance ordinance) that is currently in place,” Tupper said. “Pot-bellied pigs are an issue debated all over. There are many heartbreaking stories of people having to give them up due to violation of township ordinances.”
If Gemma returns, her family will be fined $1,000 a day for every day she remains in their residence, Tupper said.
Tupper’s decision followed a two-hour civil hearing that was attended by 16 people, including Kingston Township Police Chief Michael Moravec, zoning and code enforcement officer William Eck and neighbors willing to testify against Gemma’s continued residency.
Gemma’s owner, Heather Brennan, and her parents, Karen and Charles Laskowski, took Kingston Township to court over a $200 citation issued by Eck on May 6, 2016, said attorney Larry Kansky, who represented the family. The citation was issued because Gemma was a violation of Section 202 of the municipal animal nuisance ordinance, which states it is “unlawful for any person to keep any pigs, hogs or swine at any place within the township, except those areas zoned for agriculture.”
The citation was determined to be deficient after Karen Laskowski testified that she followed the directions of Eck’s letter dated Feb. 18, by filing an appeal and paying $500 for a zoning hearing held April 14.
The zoning hearing was dismissed by attorney Donald Brobst, representing the Kingston Township Zoning Hearing Board, who said the violation was not a zoning ordinance but an animal nuisance ordinance that was outside the realm of the zoning board.
Karen said the 75-pound, pot-bellied Vietnamese pig was relocated on April 18 to Pita Farm in Wapwallopen “for the pig’s safety.”
“Death threats were made against her (Gemma),” Karen said.
Attorney Benjamin Jones III, representing Kingston Township, asked Karen if she owned the pig.
“No,” she said.
“Who owns the pig?” Jones asked.
“Ivy Meres,” Karen answered.
Jones asked if the pig would return to their home.
“That depends on the outcome of today,” Karen said.
Gemma, a registered emotional-support animal, was acquired by Brennan in the fall of 2015. The family was living in Exeter Township, where Gemma was permitted.
When the family looked at purchasing a home in Kingston Township, off Mount Olivet Road, Karen called the municipal office to find out if Gemma would be allowed. Karen was told yes by a woman who answered the call, she said.
The family purchased the home and moved in December 2015.
On Jan. 16, Duane Atkinson, of Oak Drive, first saw the pig.
The pig was being walked down the driveway and toward a pen set up in the home’s front yard, Atkinson testified Wednesday.
Atkinson said he objects to the pig residing in the neighborhood after his experiences living in an agricultural area. Pigs draw flies, he began to say before Kansky, objected to further description.
“Have you ever seen flies around the pig?” Kansky asked.
“I never got close,” Atkinson said.
The testimony led attorneys for the plaintiffs and the defense to debate the definition of a household pet under Township Ordinance 204. The ordinance defines household pets as “any dog, cat, or other domestic animal normally and ordinarily kept in or permitted to be at large in the dwelling of its owner.”
When Eck took the stand, Kansky asked, “Did you research pot-bellied pigs?”
“No,” Eck answered. “A pig is a pig.”
Pot-bellied pigs have been raised as domestic pets since 1985, Kansky said. Former state Gov. Tom Ridge previously declared March 1, 1998, as National Pot Bellied Pig Day, he said.
“Pot-bellied pigs can be house broken and trained to do tricks,” Kansky said.
Gemma’s family say they may sue the township to straighten out the ambiguous ordinances and allow Gemma to return home, or they may move out of the municipality altogether.
Reach Eileen Godin at 570-991-6387 or on Twitter @TLNews.