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The Great Pig Fracas

Let’s face it. Admirable animals though they are, pigs have not received the same warm City of North Charleston welcome extended to cows and other animals. Though I have seen pigs kept as clean as any cat or dog, they do have an unfortunate reputation for being, well, smelly. Sometime in the late seventies, the City Council passed a ban against pigs living inside the city limits. So when Hambone and Riblet took up residence on Fernwood Drive, the stage was set for drama.

I first noticed the newcomers who had moved into the Dillard’s old house at the head of Fernwood Drive when I was out for a walk. The yard had been decorated, I saw, with various little yard ornaments and signs all with a pig theme, including what appeared to be a large, realistically drawn and painted cutout of a pig rooting in the grass. Then the cutout moved. Our new neighbors’ family included not only a grandmother, Ann Gemma, who moved here in November of 2005 after selling her home in Goose Creek, as well as her daughters and their children, but also two sociable pot-bellied pigs.

At first some of us thought the pig law referred only to livestock animals, but a bit of research revealed that the law actually forbade all “swine.” The presence of the pot-bellies led to a re-vote on the swine law on August 16, 2006. Mayor Summey and three others wanted to treat pigs the same as other animals, forbidding them on a case-by-case basis as needed under the nuisance laws. But the North Charleston City Council upheld the ban by a 6-4 vote. All city pigs were given 30 days to get out.

So why would the City Council vote that way? One important reason is that there have indeed been problems with pigs in the past: animals and yards that looked and smelled like areas on a large farm, but –unfortunately for the neighbors – located in small yards very close to other residents. Ann Gemma asked for an extension until November when her lease would be up. She was given to December 1.

There was much sympathy around the county for the pigs. On August 30, 2006, the newspaper reported, “Dozens of people contacted The Post and Courier after the story ran Saturday on Gemma's plight. Besides many kind words of support, several people offered help. . . . Carol Linville of Pet Helpers was livid at the city's belated enforcement of a law that has been on the books for 30 years but never enforced until now.” The next day the paper pointed out that the pigs had lived with Ann Gemma “since they were tiny piglets 14 years ago.” Mayor Summey was quoted as saying that “Something will work out to save her.”

On September 4 of that year, a letter from a Deer Park resident appeared in the newspaper. It said in part, “Drug dealers, home break-ins, shootings and potbellied pigs are just a few of the issues facing residents of Deer Park subdivision. Thank goodness, council members tackled the most serious of these issues and we no longer have to live in fear of the potbellied pigs. They were a very serious threat to the well-being of all of us. The way they would walk along the fence as the children went to the bus stop and wag their tails was enough to make any law abiding resident cringe with fear. I am so glad that I do not have to fear for my family's safety any longer. I guess the drug dealers and criminals can stay since they really aren't threatening at all.”

Then Ann Gemma and the pigs moved to Selah Street on a lot she apparently thought had not been incorporated into the City, and would thus be a safe haven. She was wrong.

On August 23, 2007, the fracas finally came to an end when Hambone and Riblet went to Dorchester County to live at Roark’s Wildlife Rufuge. The owner of the refuge, Roark Ferguson, was quoted by the paper as saying, “They have a giant pasture all to themselves with running water and fresh food every day.” He said of Ann Gemma, “She loved those pigs the way people love their children. They were well cared for.” Shortly thereafter, Ann Gemma moved out of North Charleston.