News / Winnipeg

Winnipeg woman gets temporary permit to keep pig in the city

Coun. Mike Pagtakhan said a human rights consultant advised the city to give Emily Sydor one-year to demonstrate Podgy can be used as a service animal.

Podgy, the five-year-old pot-bellied pig, who will be allowed to live in Winnipeg so long as he becomes a service animal

Provided / Emily Sydor

Podgy, the five-year-old pot-bellied pig, who will be allowed to live in Winnipeg so long as he becomes a service animal

A Winnipeg woman who’s been fighting city hall to keep her pet pot-bellied pig will be granted a one-year permit to prove he's a service animal --an idea at least one industry expert calls “ridiculous.”

“This makes no sense at all,” said George Leonard, a certified master dog trainer with Manitoba Search and Rescue (MSAR), a team that trains both service and therapy dogs.

“I don’t think this is a good idea.”

The story of Emily Sydor and Podgy, her five-year-old pot-bellied pig, started in September.

She appealed a violation order from the city’s animal services agency that stated she wasn't allowed to keep Podgy within city limits because commercial animals are prohibited.

Sydor and her father, Bob, then appeared before the committee on protection, community services and parks on two separate occasions, arguing that Podgy is being trained as a service animal.

Sydor says she has a special bond with Podgy, who she says helps with her mental well-being.

Another hearing had been scheduled for Friday, but Coun. Mike Pagtakhan, who chairs the committee, said the city decided to grant Sydor a one-year permit to demonstrate that Podgy will, in fact, be used as a service animal.

Pagtakhan says the permit includes conditions, such as that in January 2017 Sydor has to submit a training plan for Podgy, and by that June has to prove he's being trained.

Animal services can revoke the permit at any time if she does not comply, he added.

Sydor will also have to reapply for the permit next December.  

Pagtakhan said it was a human rights consultant who advised the city to give Sydor additional time to demonstrate Podgy could be a service animal.

Leonard, however, rejects the idea a pot-bellied pig could ever be a service animal.

He explains a service animal is a dog that is specifically trained to mitigate a person’s disability, and has access right.  

When looking at Sydor’s case, he sees a number of red flags.

From the lack of testing to determine if a pig can perform specialized tasks—which is required of service dogs--and the absence of any service pig trainers, to questions about the animal’s capability to read visual cues and what doors this opens for other non-conventional pet owners.

To address that very concern, Pagtakhan says the committee will request the agency to formalize a policy on service animals, which currently doesn’t exist.

“We don’t just want to have folks coming in here saying, ‘I’ve got a horse. It’s a miniature horse, it’s not a big horse, but that’s my service animal.”

He says city staff will have to consult with the experts in the animal service industry to determine which animals can be trained as service companions.

“Certain animals have to have a certain disposition and willingness to be trained and to be able to do the job of a service animal,” Pagtakhan said.

“I don’t think a bird, like, or poultry could be a service animal.”

Leonard acknowledges that confusion can sometimes exist amongst owners between a pet that gives them comfort and then requiring a service animal.

On Thursday, Pagtakhan expressed no openness to see the city change its overall rules to allow other commercial animals to be kept as pets.

“I don’t think you could have a horse in the city. I don’t think you have a goat in the city. I don’t think you should have pigs in the city either, that’s just my personal view.”

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