Pot-bellied pig case sparks local scrutiny

More than a dozen potbellied pigs that appeared to be left unattended at a foreclosed French Valley property triggered a comprehensive response that ended last week when most of the animals were turned over to a rescue group.

Activists say the case, which took weeks to resolve, underscores some of the heart-wrenching challenges that can crop up when horses, pigs and other large animals are abandoned or left unattended.

Riverside County Animal Services officials – who were involved in the French Valley probe – said the response also underscores the heightened public scrutiny that has spun out of deepening economic woes and a high-profile animal abuse case that unfolded earlier this year in Temecula.

“It has raised a lot of people’s awareness,” said John Welsh, a spokesman for the county animal control agency.

Concerns over the French Valley pigs drew the involvement of neighbors, the county, animal activist groups, the real estate company that listed the property and a law firm that gave the agent advice on a newly enacted state law.

The concerns surfaced in mid-February when some Pourroy Road residents grew worried over the fate of about 16 potbellied pigs left on a nine-acre parcel that had been foreclosed upon days earlier.

One of the pigs had died and some of the others appeared to be old, hungry and lean, said Marianne Parker, who lives in the area.

Parker and other neighbors began feeding the pigs and contacted county officials, the real estate agent and animal rescue groups.

But qualms over whether the pigs could legally be removed from the property prompted ReMax agent Chris Murray to contact sheriff’s officials and a Sacramento law firm that advises banks on foreclosure regulations.

Murray wanted to ensure that he was meeting the requirements of a new state law, the so-called Animal Protection Bill, which took effect Jan. 1.

That law, sponsored by then-Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier (D-Martinez), allows bank representatives and real estate agents to immediately seek help for animals abandoned on foreclosed properties.

A fact sheet on the new law, which was sought to eliminate ambiguities in previous regulations, cites cases of abandoned animals, many near death, that have been found by bankers and real estate brokers.

The law also allows law officers to prosecute people who abandon animals in these circumstances.

Murray had sought legal advice because potbellied pigs, which are often kept as pets, are classified as livestock.

“He’s a real estate agent, not a livestock manager,” Tracey Louper, a clerk for the law firm, said in a telephone interview.

Louper said Murray also fed the pigs while he took steps to obtain a release from the former property owner.

While the new law provides much-needed clarity, further amendments might be need to address lingering gray areas that banks and real estate agents are beginning to encounter, Louper said.

The bill’s author, who is now in the state Senate, would be receptive to making changes aimed at increasing the law’s effectiveness, an aide said.

“You can never address all the complexities of an issue in one piece of legislation,” Shara Perkins, DeSaulnier’s communications director, said in a telephone interview.

Animal services officers and supervisors repeatedly visited the Pourroy Road property after the agency was contacted, Welsh said. But investigators concluded that the pigs’ condition did not warrant immediate seizure.

As a result, they were allowed to remain at the site until arrangements could be made with a rescue group that offered to take the animals, Welsh said.

About a dozen of the pigs were picked up last week. Another four pigs remain loose on the property and steps will be taken to lure them into a pen for eventual capture and relocation.

Michael Piceno, who is active with the Southern California Association for Miniature Pot-bellied Pigs, said the French Valley case was his first exposure to the new law.

He said information about its application has been slow to spread.

“This was my first time to deal with it,” said Piceno, who lives in San Bernardino County. “[Animals] are considered property and you have to look at that, too.”

As in some other high-profile cases, Welsh acknowledged that his agency’s handling of the French Valley case could spark some second-guessing by neighbors or regional animal activists.

“Lately there’s been a lot of discussion out there on various [animal control] cases,” Welsh said. “There’s sometimes the perception that more can be done or not enough has been done in certain cases.”

He said officials hope residents and activists trust the agency’s judgment as investigators examine animal welfare conditions on a case-by-case basis.

No two investigations are the same, and it would be hard to apply ironclad guidelines in all instances, he said.

Welsh said the new law has become a welcome tool for animal control officials.

He said his agency frequently cautions media outlets against using anecdotal accounts to jump to a conclusion that pet abandonment cases are spiking as foreclosure rates rise.

“That’s really hard for us to monitor,” he said.

Welsh said a recent Temecula case where hundreds of dead and starving cats and dogs were discovered has heightened public scrutiny of animal neglect and abandonment cases.

Such public attention – as well as a groundswell of interest in potential neglect cases – helps his agency identify and protect animals that might need care.

The Temecula case, which occurred within the jurisdiction of another animal control agency, drew widespread media attention as a 66-year-old man was arrested and charged with felony animal cruelty.

That charge is still pending against Elisao Gilbert Jimenez, who lived in a rented home in the Nicolas Valley area, and he is slated to appear in court again on Tuesday.

“When you have a situation that is that dire, it makes people more attentive,” Welsh said.

To comment on this article online, visit www.myvalleynews.com.

11 Responses to "Pot-bellied pig case sparks local scrutiny"

  1. Monique Martinez   March 7, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    I find this article extremely disheartening as I, along with Michael Piceno were the first people from SCAMPP to respond to the call of over a dozen pigs left in ghastly conditions. These pets were entombed in a small, urine soaked pen with no food or water. They were so starved and dehydrated that they were forced to consume their own feces. Only after a neighbor discovered this, were they let out of the pens to at least forage for themselves. SCAMPP was notified and responded with hundreds of pounds of feed and water as well as vet guidance on the renourishment of these emaciated animals. Several SCAMPP volunteers came together to help round up the pigs so they could be assessed and fed. Some were so close to perishing that members had to hand feed them in order to help them remember how to eat. SCAMPP is a social club not a rescue organization and most of the financial backing is supported by their members. Regular, everyday, hard working people who do everything they can to help these "throw-away animals".
    The down play of the animals condition is very upsetting. If animal control assesses rail thin, clearly dehydrated animals with exposed bones through flaps of hanging skin as not being a life-threatening situation then what is? And if all the other animals and livestock were removed from the property then why was the same standards not applied to the pigs? This has become an increasing concern as we (SCAMPP) are constantly receiving calls for help. Animal control officials can dilute the severity of these abandoned animals and good-hearted people will continue to do all they can to offer their support and assistance. Until then, we need to inform the public that animal abandonment IS a crime and that there are alternatives available to assist them.

  2. pat   March 7, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    The key seems to be the fact that these animals are considered "property". I think that when a person is evicted, "foreclosed", they are given 24hrs. to remove their "property". Anything left behind after that is no longer their property. Especially in rental cases. Maybe this is a state by state regulation, but if not, I would think the abandoned animals would become the "property" of the owner of the rental. Further, I would think the primary owner would be more than willing to turn these animals over through proper channels to ensure their safety.

  3. Tammie Sandon   March 7, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    The Sandon Shangri-La non-profit and CETA non-profit relocated the abandoned Winchester pigs to a foster location. The rescue of these pigs is being handled by the Sandon Shangri-La and CETA. Southern California Miniature Potbellied Pig Association did not handle this rescue.
    Thank you.

  4. Pigglesworth   March 7, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    I think it’s interesting that though the pigs were dying from starvation, animal control didn’t think the problem was bad enough to intervene. If Marianne, SCAMPP, and other pig rescues hadn’t intervened, they would have all died of starvation by now! Who’s running that place?? Use your common sense for goodness sake!!

  5. Pigglesworth   March 9, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Tammie: Are you delusional?? If the Southern California Association for Potbelly Pigs (SCAMPP) was not involved in this rescue, than why is one of their members’ pictured in this article working alongside Marianne?? As hard as they have all worked, you should be ashamed for even making that comment.

  6. Chad Russ   March 9, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Tammie, That

  7. Danah and Doug Lamb   March 10, 2009 at 10:36 am


  8. Tammie Sandon   March 10, 2009 at 10:36 am

    It’s wonderful that SCAMPP was the first to bring food, etc. to the starving pigs.
    I met some of their members and thought they were quite kind.
    As far as rescued, I’m referring to the end result for these abandoned pigs. My comment was not meant to be self-serving but accurate as to what happened to the pigs. The pigs were removed by The Sandon Shangri-La & CETA, are being fostered, two have been neutered and they are all getting stronger each day. As far as debating, I’ll spend my energies helping these potbellied pigs!

  9. Marianne Parker   March 10, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I would like to set the record straight on this. I am saddened to see the comments from the various rescues. These pigs would not have survived if it hadn’t been for everyone involved and to attack each other when we have the same goals is disheartening to me. Myself and some of the neighbors had been feeding the pigs PRIOR to anyone else getting involved. I called all of the rescue groups due to the number of pigs involved. These pigs would have survived with our help since we were buying food and supplies with our own money PRIOR to recieving any help. I did have help from SCAMPP members Mike, Monique and Chad. We were able to catch of few more of the pigs so they could be properly cared for and yes they did bring pig food as well as the other rescue groups. Also, we had lots of assistance from Pam and supplies as well. Sandon Shangri-La and CETA worked for days to help catch the remainder of the pigs and to medicate, vaccinate and worm them and get them into foster care and to put up proper fencing at their own expense. All of the organizations did a super job so again I am extremely saddened to see the comments here which undermines the whole purpose of the rescue and gives people the wrong message. I personally will not join any organization that finds it necessary to bad mouth others when the main purpose is to save the pigs since Animal Control was going to euthanize them. I am thankful for all the help but please stop and think before you write comments that won’t do anything but further harm everyone involved.

  10. WILLA BAGWELL   March 13, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    I wonder why it is that that those in the animal field do not work together, support each other, say kind words and help each other in a positive manner the way police and fire personnel do.
    It is not about our egos. It is about all of us being in this work to help the animals and do what is best for them cooperatively.
    I applaud of you that helped with the rescue of these poor pigs and I hope that the person that abandoned them is charged with abandonment.

  11. Annie   May 25, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Why isn’t the people who had the pigs proscuted for abandonment of the pigs. Couldn’t they have asked for some time to find homes for the pigs. I don’t know the law so I am just asking.


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