The Plight of Princess Pickles, Festus' Controversial Emotional Support Pig

click to enlarge Princess Pickles, whose reign as a pet is being challenged by the city of Festus. - DEBBIE HILL
Princess Pickles, whose reign as a pet is being challenged by the city of Festus.

To the city of Festus, Princess Pickles, a one-year-old potbellied pig, represents the illegal presence of "livestock" within its limits. But in the ongoing controversy over a pig in a Missouri city, the pig's owner, Debbie Buff, is running out of time.

"She's like one of my kids," says Buff, who adopted the now year-old "mini pig" in August of last year. Buff says that she hadn't sought to make her home the palace of a regally named pig, but that a friend had told her about a family that was getting rid of a pig they'd only just adopted "in the spur of the moment."

That family's adoption-remorse led Buff to adopt (and name) Princess Pickles, who Buff says acts as an emotional support animal and, aside from a fenced-in yard, lives as an "indoor pet." However, in March, Buff got a notice from the city of Festus: She was being cited for violating city ordinance against owning prohibited animals.

According to a copy of the violation, Buff was written up on a single charge: "Pig in city."

Over the next months, Buff showed up to Festus city council meetings to argue her case: That a city ordinance written to prohibit "exotic, wildlife, poultry [and] livestock" should not include a pet pig who, according to a letter from Buff's psychologist at the Mercy clinic in Jefferson County, "should be allowed [to be kept] as an emotional support animal."

It was more than just a psychologist's words on paper. Buff says that the same year Princess Pickles joined her family, Buff's 24-year-old son tragically passed away. In the grief that followed, Buff says, it was Princess Pickles who supported her and her thirteen-year-old son.

"She's not affecting anybody's life in any kind of negative manner," Buff says.

For a time, it seemed like Festus would indeed accommodate Princes Pickles. In early September, Festus City Administrator Greg Camp told the Jefferson County Leader that he'd been directed by the city council to "do a little research" on other cities whose laws allow for pet pigs, and the mayor was quoted as saying he and the city council were still "deciding what action we’re going to take."

In the end, though, they decided to take no action — meaning Princess Pickles remains illegal in Festus.

"It looked like they were going to change the ordinance, but they didn't," Buff says. She claims that she was told that city officials were worried that amending the city code could "open up the door to other issues, if people want other kinds of animals, and that would cause a problem."

That means that Buff's original citation from March — delayed by a judge's order while the city council mulled over the issue — is now coming due. In a letter dated September 17, Festus Prosecuting Attorney Lawrence Wadsack acknowledged that "the City Council is no longer considering amending the applicable ordinance" regarding prohibited animals.

Wadsack's letter continued: "The City's intent in enforcement is to bring you in compliance with City Code rather than to prosecute you in court," and concluded by noting that, after a 30-day grace period, Buff would risk "citations being issued daily." According to the Leader, the risk amounts to a $250-per-day fine after those 30 days are up.

The grace period runs out tomorrow, October 17. Buff tells RFT that she's "considering her legal options," but has no plans to remove Princes Pickles from her current throne. To date, a petition titled "Keeping Princess Pickles the Mini Pig in Her Home with Her Family" has gathered more than 4,700 signatures.

"They think they're scaring me, to intimidate me to get rid of her," Buff says. "but I'm not doing that. I'm not doing that to my son or myself."

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at [email protected]
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