To keep himself calm, Larry Johnson relied on Carmel, a 22-pound potbellied pig who enjoys blueberries and having her belly scratched.
“I’m very close to her. She’s very close to me,” Johnson said. “She’s my emotional support.”
But Carmel and her two piglets were seized by Minneapolis Animal Care & Control (MACC) earlier this summer, leaving Johnson with sadness — and a $4,400 bill from the city to get his beloved pets back, at least until the window to get them back closed Monday evening.
The pigs were confiscated from Johnson, a 59-year-old Minneapolis contractor and Air Force and Navy veteran, because hoofed animals aren’t allowed in Minneapolis. City officials, however, said the problem goes further than that: The animals weren’t being properly cared for and Johnson’s triplex was “found to be in extremely unsanitary conditions,” said Caroline Hairfield, MACC’s director.
Johnson had been battling with officials to retrieve the pigs, which are at the animal control facility, and wants to appeal a judge’s ruling to do so. But the Minneapolis city attorney’s office said he lost all rights to appeal as of 6 p.m. Monday when he couldn’t come up with the money. He said he didn’t have it — especially after paying $1,200 to appeal the first time.
“People can’t come up with money that quick,” he said.
Hairfield said Monday that MACC still had the pigs and that they were being treated for a severe skin infection. Animal control officials were trying to find a sanctuary for them.
Johnson said he wanted to take the pigs home to his farm near Glencoe, Minn.
“I just want my four-legged daughter back … and her piglets,” he said. Abi Mason-Wells, a Minneapolis neighbor of Johnson’s, was fascinated by the pigs and offered to babysit them. When Johnson lost them she began advocating for him, setting up a GoFundMe page, starting an online petition and wading through paperwork.
She described Johnson as a good pet owner and a quiet man who will tell stories when you get him talking. His moods have been up and down since he lost his pets, she said.
“He’s a lot more relaxed when he’s had his pig time,” she said.
Johnson bought Carmel six years ago from a woman who couldn’t keep her. He said pigs make great pets because they’re smart, mischievous and independent. They don’t bark or chase squirrels, making them relaxing companions, he said.
“You have to really understand a pig,” he said.
The trouble with Johnson’s pigs started on June 29, when Johnson was planning to drive Carmel — his emotional support animal, he says — and her month-old babies from Minneapolis to Glencoe, he said.
Because he had no air conditioning in his truck, Johnson said, he let the animals out to frolic at the Hiawatha Golf Course in south Minneapolis. A couple and their dogs stopped to play with the pigs.
Soon, an animal control officer showed up. Johnson wrangled Carmel and one piglet into his vehicle, but the other piglet split.
Johnson, the couple and the animal control officer all gave chase.
The animal control officer finally netted the piglet and said she was taking it. Johnson said he wouldn’t leave without it.
Johnson said he received two tickets, one for having pigs in the city and another for being uncooperative. The officer said he needed to consult a vet about Carmel’s condition; she was thin and had lost some of her hair due to a skin issue.
Johnson took Carmel to the vet, who signed off on the pig’s health. He took that documentation to animal control but he still couldn’t get his piglet back.
The drama wasn’t over. On July 17, according to Johnson, a Minneapolis police officer used a search warrant to bust down four doors and the garage door at his triplex. Police took Carmel and the other piglet.
Hairfield said that police executed a search warrant because animal control believed the pigs “were in imminent danger.” She said the search revealed “conditions uninhabitable for humans or animals.” Johnson said the place was filled with his tools and that he’s since cleaned things up.
He was given 10 days to pay his fines and file an appeal to have his pigs returned. Animal control reduced the fee to appeal since Johnson qualifies as a low-income resident.
Johnson was told on July 31 that his hearing would be in two days, which wasn’t enough time to find an attorney, Mason-Wells said. He lost the appeal because, according to Hairfield, he was found to be an “unfit owner.”
Johnson’s last option, Mason-Wells said, was to find enough money to appeal again. That would have required paying $4,364, the cost to animal control for caring for the pigs during the 90-day appeal process. Johnson’s GoFundMe page garnered just $416.
Johnson said he was “on the edge of a nervous breakdown,” adding that no one he tells can believe how far city officials have taken things.
For him, the issue goes deeper than just getting his pigs back.
“We want this not to happen to somebody else,” he said. “We’re going to try to get the laws changed.”
Erin Adler • 612-673-1781