One year later, and Aurora’s pot-bellied pig proponents appear no closer today than they were a year ago to getting the animals admitted into residential neighborhoods.
A year after it was set aside, last Thursday, the question of allowing livestock in Aurora’s backyard once again came before Aurora City Council members.
Juan Marcano, Ruben Medina and Crystal Murillo — who serve together on a policy committee tasked with evaluating residential development standards — heard a presentation from city staff on what it would mean to accept ducks and pot-bellied pigs in residential areas across the city.
Currently, chickens can be kept in any residential zoning area with a permit, though homeowners’ associations may have their own sets of rules. Beehives can also be installed near homes, as long as aspiring apiarists follow city regulations.
But for the most part, traditional livestock animals can only be kept on a residential property if the land is zoned rural-residential. About 238 acres qualify across the entire city — a tiny fraction of all residential properties and less than one-quarter of 1% of all land in the City of Aurora.
That hasn’t stopped some residents from petitioning their elected representatives to allow livestock animals in more parts of the city and a casual cruise on local social media neighborhood sites makes it clear some people aren’t waiting for municipal approval.
Porcine aficionados may be disappointed.
“I know there are folks who are very active in wanting the pot-bellied pigs,” Murillo said on June 2. “I don’t think it makes sense at this time.”
Anthony Youngblood, the city’s manager of animal services, again made the case for why pigs aren’t a good fit in suburban Aurora. He first described how many pig owners are uninformed or misled about the size of fully-grown adult pigs, which can weigh hundreds of pounds.
Buyers who haven’t done their research often purchase so-called “micro-pigs” or “teacup pigs,” only to abandon them later when they grow beyond what was advertised, Youngblood said.
He also said pigs can be noisy, with a pig’s squeal reaching up to 115 decibels in volume, around the same volume as a jet engine. According to information published by Purdue University, a dog’s bark can be as loud as 100 decibels.
Pigs can also transmit diseases such as salmonella and erysipelas, damage property when rooting and even injure humans if allowed to become aggressive, said Youngblood.
“We’re not equipped to handle pigs of that size, of that nature,” he said. “We are very worried about someone saying they can keep a pig at this weight, and they can’t.”
Council members on the committee agreed, and while they signaled support for an ordinance allowing residents to keep as many as four ducks on urban properties, the June 2 meeting meant it was back to the drawing board for pot-bellied pig advocates.
“It’s really disappointing how misleading a lot of the marketing for keeping pigs has been from folks who are trying to sell people pet pigs,” Marcano said. “Unfortunately, pigs are adorable, they’re very sweet animals, but those are just not really suitable for residential areas.”
Aurora’s animal magnetism
Aurora’s ban on pot-bellied pigs across most of the city has not extinguished interest in owning those and other livestock animals. Interest expressed by residents was also the catalyst for the pot-bellied pig conversation last summer, which did not lead to the rules being relaxed.
When asked how often the city’s animal shelter is contacted by residents looking to surrender animals other than cats and dogs, city spokesman Michael Brannen said the shelter receives around 20 livestock animals each year, as well as up to 100 animals like lizards or snakes, but that the number of people who contacted the city about giving up an animal was “much larger.”
Erin Brinkley-Burgardt — who along with her husband, Andrew, co-founded Hog Haven Farm in 2014 — said Aurora is the number one source of requests that her pig rescue in rural Deer Trail, Colorado gets for taking in animals. She said the rescue also no longer allows Aurora residents to adopt pigs because of the regulatory situation.
”The number of people who keep pet pigs in Aurora is very high,” she said.
Brinkley-Burgardt was raised in the suburbs of Denver, “1,000% a city girl until pigs came into my life,” she said. She became involved in rescuing pigs after she and her husband adopted their first pig, named Pipsqueak, in 2013.
She argued that pigs make good companions as long as buyers are familiar with their size and space requirements, and she said many of the behavioral issues cited by cities with bans and strict regulations are diminished when the animals have enough outdoor space.
“Any animal can be destructive if they’re not given the appropriate environment and enrichment,” Brinkley-Burgardt said. “Pigs are very affectionate animals. Their emotional intelligence is that of a 3-to-4-year-old human child. You’ll see people get them as emotional support animals pretty frequently. It’s almost like having a family member versus just a pet.”
Laws on pot-bellied pig ownership vary across the Denver metro area, according to information prepared by the city. Some jurisdictions — such as Commerce City, Lakewood, Northglenn and Westminster — place restrictions on how much a pig can weigh, which opponents say encourages pig owners to underfeed their animals.
Denver requires residents to go through a hearing and permit process before bringing a pig onto their property. Englewood bans the animals completely.
Pet peeves among experts
Ragan Adams, a veterinary specialist at Colorado State University Extension, said that the main challenge that comes up with people having urban livestock is that potential owners don’t understand how much of a commitment taking care of an animal is.
In Fort Collins, she was always struck by the difference in appearance between some of the chickens she saw. While some of them seemed very well cared for, others “had kind of a rugged life” and didn’t seem to be getting all of the attention they needed.
“Some people don’t realize how much work having animals 24/7, 365 days of the year is,” Adams said. “It’s not like having a seasonal garden.”
There’s also a divide in that some people who lobby for livestock to be allowed in urban areas want to have animals so they can produce food, while others view them as pets. Neither is better or worse than the other, Adams said, but they come with different mindsets.
“People that plead to have animals in the city do it on the basis that it’s part of their food supply but oftentimes they treat them like pets,” she said.
Adams was involved in a 2013 Fort Collins decision to allow people to have up to two dwarf goats in urban backyards. While it was being considered, she said that many people on city council and others in the city didn’t seem to understand all the trouble goats (even the small ones) can get in to, like escaping from backyards or eating up an entire garden. Goats and other livestock also carry zoonotic diseases that most people aren’t aware of.
As part of allowing people to own goats, the local Humane Society had to inspect people’s enclosures to ensure it was sufficient for the animals to live comfortably and that they wouldn’t be able to escape. CSU Extension also produced a pamphlet on healthy living with goats that was required reading in order to obtain a license.
Making sure people are educated prior to owning animals is one of the best practices that cities can implement if they are considering changing their zoning laws, Adams said. Ultimately, the welfare of the animals is what’s most important.
“If you just want something to play with, get a bicycle,” she said.
Brannen, with the City of Aurora, also said people should do their homework about the needs of any animal, in addition to regulations, before bringing any new animals home.
“People who want to take an animal home should do an adequate amount of research to ensure they are prepared to manage the animal,” he wrote in an email. “They should research the animal’s breed, and understand their dietary and grooming needs. They should find out what is the activity level of the animal. They should find out if the animal’s character traits fit the home conditions.”
A 2018 paper written by UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences professor Catherine Brinkley analyzing urban poultry ordinances in 100 Colorado municipalities found that in the past five years, more poultry ordinances were passed or modified in the state than in the previous hundred.
Many people express a desire to raise their own chickens or other livestock because of unsanitary or inhumane conditions at commercial operations. However, the paper noted that most ordinances contained very limited regulations compared to requirements placed on farms and slaughterhouses.
“Most ordinances inadequately address both human and animal health and welfare concerns,” the paper said. “Provisions governing animal slaughter and routine veterinary care are rare, presenting a concern for monitoring and intervening in public health crises. In addition, shelters anticipate higher poultry intakes, particularly as unwanted birds are turned loose to become strays.”
Shelter operators interviewed by the researchers named “noise complaints, owners getting bored with the animals or not realizing the level of necessary care, and welfare seizures” as the major reasons people surrendered their chickens.
It seems like the pandemic accelerated the desire to bring a little bit of farmland into urban and suburban areas, even as amateur farming has seen an uptick in the years prior. Across the nation, businesses that sell chicks, coops and other supplies said in the final months of 2020 they saw a surge since the pandemic started.
Mark Podgwaite, a Vermont chicken breeder who heads the American Poultry Association, told the Associated Press he and other breeders noticed an uptick in demand for chicks since the pandemic began. His organization, which represents breeders and poultry-show exhibitors, has seen a jump in new members.
“Without question, the resurgence in raising backyard poultry has been unbelievable over the past year,” said Podgwaite, who keeps a flock of roughly 100 birds. “It just exploded. Whether folks wanted birds just for eggs or eggs and meat, it seemed to really, really take off.”
Before the pandemic, in 2019, Arapahoe County made the move to allow residents in unincorporated residential regions of the county — HOAs willing — to raise up to four hens (roosters and other fowl aren’t allowed, however).
They also allowed the backyard keeping of bees. A lot of less than 20,000 square feet can have up to two hive boxes, but an acre can have as many as eight.
In Aurora, the dream for at least a little bit of farm life is still alive. Marcano and others said June 2 that they would like to see city staffers bring back an ordinance which would allow residents to keep up to four ducks on their property.
— The Associated Press contributed to this article