(NECN: Jack Thurston - Essex, Vt.) - A group of piglets and adult pigs living inside a home in an Essex, Vt., neighborhood may be cute to many animal lovers, but they've caused quite a stir between the homeowner and town officials.
The police were recently called to the Essex home Florence Gruber shares with her partner, Alan Tsefrekas, for a noise complaint. While there, they discovered at least 47 pigs, all of them inside. Gruber told NECN the number may actually have been even higher.
"They're safer, cleaner, and quieter than dogs," she said.
It turned out the animal owner and breeder was violating town policy. Essex said the pigs are categorized as livestock, so they cannot stay in an area that's zoned as residential. Gruber disagrees with the classification, saying her "mini-pigs" grow to be about 100 pounds. That weight is significantly lighter, she said, than large hogs raised on many farms.
"They are not farm animals," Gruber said of her animals. "They're bred for house pets."
"Everybody's got to play by the same rule," countered Dana Hanley, the community development director for the town of Essex.
Hanley said the pigs have to be gone by Jan. 22. She said it was purely the zoning and not health concerns that got the pigs evicted, but town officials did give NECN photos that appear to show more unsanitary conditions than what NECN saw when the homeowner welcomed us inside.
Hanley said she has not visited the home herself, but that other town employees described to her the numbers of pigs and living conditions as a "hoarding-type situation."
"There are a lot upstairs, there may be some hidden around the house that aren't necessarily apparent when you first walk in the door," Hanley said.
Essex is not the first town to tell Gruber the pigs have to go. Eight months ago, a judge in New Jersey ruled she had to remove nearly 30 pigs from her property in Paulsboro, N.J., when she was living there.
"They're in the house; they don't affect the neighborhood in any way," Gruber claimed of her Vermont property on Monday. "The vast majority of the neighbors didn't even know there were pigs here."
The town said it's working with Gruber and animal agencies to help get all the pigs adopted into safe homes. Gruber told NECN many have already gone to nice living situations and others are spoken for. "We've had a terrific response," Gruber said. "We've gotten really good homes for these pigs."
Gruber said she is considering asking for special permission to keep two to four of her favorite pigs. She also told NECN she may move to a community where these animals are allowed, but noted that this experience has been financially and emotionally draining, so her days breeding pigs may be over.
As of now, Essex said if the pigs are not all gone soon, site visits, fines or other injunctions are possible.
Farmers looking to adopt the pigs should contact the Essex, Vt. town offices at (802) 878-1343.