When is a pig not a pig?

If you ask Courtney Elliott, her 30-pound Juliana pig, Charlotte, is no farm animal. She is essential to the Canal Winchester resident’s well-being, providing emotional support for someone who has coped with severe depression and anxiety.

Canal Winchester city officials claim otherwise, telling Elliott in writing that “pigs and other swine are only permitted to be kept on property zoned exceptional use where agriculture and agriculture farm animals are permitted.”

The Sarwil Drive South home Elliott shares with her husband and children is zoned residential.

“They keep saying she’s a pig, and we all know she’s a pig, but she’s an emotional-support animal that’s no bigger than a dog,” Elliott said. “She’s comforting, and it’s just something you have to see or be around. It would be devastating for us to get rid of her.”

Charlotte’s fate is in the hands of Canal Winchester City Council, which is scheduled to consider Elliott’s appeal of the zoning violation after a June 15 public hearing at 6:30 p.m.

According to Chapter 505.13 of the city’s codified ordinances, swine are among prohibited animals, as are rats, skunks and constrictor snakes.

Under the ordinance, “any person, officer, agent or employee of an organization who has any living dangerous or prohibited animal within the Municipality shall remove same from the Municipality within thirty days from the effective date of this section.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously May 11, recommending that the violation be upheld by City Council. Elliott received the violation when a neighbor complained to the city, she said.

“We’ve always prohibited pigs on residential property,” said city planning and zoning administrator Andrew Moore, who added that Elliott did not research city code prior to bringing Charlotte to her home.

City code allows horses and goats to be kept in “single-family” residential districts but with certain regulations, including that the property must be at least 5 acres and limitations with no more than one horse or four goats per 2.5 acres. Other restrictions relate to fencing, setback requirements, storage of manure and odor control.

City Council also approved new regulations for chickens, rabbits, ducks and bees in March 2018.

The minimum acreage for keeping chickens, ducks and rabbits in city limits is 1 acre, with no more than six chickens, ducks or rabbits per acre. The minimum acreage for keeping bees in the city is 1 acre, with no more than two hives per acre.

Elliott said Charlotte is not your typical swine. Rather, she’s much like a dog but more intelligent.

“She lives in my house and only goes outside to use the restroom,” Elliott wrote in a letter to the city. “She is very smart and completely potty trained. Unlike a dog/cat or any other animal along those lines, she is much cleaner. People tend to think pigs are dirty, but in reality, dogs and cats are dirty. She can’t get fleas and does not sweat, so she doesn’t smell.”

Elliott also pointed out that Charlotte “always uses the restroom in the same area away from where she eats.”

Charlotte arrived more than a year ago after Elliott researched emotional-support animals and what might work best for her mental health.

“You may ask, why wouldn’t another animal work?” she wrote. “I’ve tried a dog/cat and hamster, also a fish. No other animal helped me as much as Charlotte has.”

Although pigs aren’t listed as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they could serve as emotional-support animals or therapy pets.

According to the North American Pet Pig Association’s website, “emotional-support animals may travel with their owners on an airplane and may live with their owner in locations covered by the Fair Housing Amendments Act regardless of a ‘no pets’ policy.”

Although such documentation isn’t required, Elliott provided to the city a note from her physician, which explained how her “quality of life is improved with this animal and the presence of this animal is medically necessary to help mitigate the symptoms she is currently experiencing.”

State law provides for some protections under Ohio Administrative Code 4112-05-02, allowing for “animal assistants.”

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office published a newsletter in August 2019 regarding such animals but didn’t specifically address the municipal ordinances.

“‘Animal assistant’ is the phrase used in Ohio law for this type of animal that aids the disabled. Specific examples include a dog which alerts a hearing impaired person to sounds, a dog which guides a visually impaired person, and a monkey which collects or retrieves items for a person whose mobility is impaired,” the newsletter states.

“These are examples of animal assistants that perform tasks, and so they are commonly called ‘service animals.’ Another type of animal assistant is the ‘emotional support animal.’ This type of animal does not perform a task but nevertheless provides a therapeutic benefit to the person with a disability by simply being with the person. Thus, ‘animal assistant’ is an umbrella term encompassing both ‘service animals’ and ‘emotional support animals.’

“In contrast with pets, animal assistants are often prescribed by a medical provider or some service or support agency. As a result, they should not be confused with (or considered) ‘pets.’”

Elliott said she has sought legal advice but said she isn’t sure it’s “worth going through all that.”

She and her family are considering selling their home and moving out of Canal Winchester if that’s what it takes to keep Charlotte.

“I know she’s a pig, but she means so much more to me,” Elliott said.

ThisWeek assistant managing editor Scott Hummel contributed to this story.