It paints a strange picture in one’s mind. A 39-year-old man walking his two pigs on a leash down a street in Vic West.
But that is what Mike Downey did.
Several times a week, Downey would take his two potbelly pigs, Athena and Vishnu (named after the Greek goddess of war and Hindu god), out for a walk in the same way a dog-owner would.
The two indoor pigs (Athena weighs in at 110 pounds, while Vishnu weighs close to 130 pounds) have lived with Downey in his Vic West home for just over three years. But recently they were relocated to a barn near Brentwood Bay on the west side of the Saanich Peninsula. Downey had to get rid of his pets after the City of Victoria told him they go against city bylaws, threatening him with a $250 fine for every day the animals remain in the home.
However, Downey is fighting to have the laws updated so he can keep his pigs.
Downey originally got the pigs when they were four months old from a breeder in Florida and now treats them as if they were his own children.
“Pigs are the fourth smartest animal on the planet. I started to do some research and you could teach pigs to play video games,” he laughed. “I got pigs because they’re smart. I can teach them tricks in under 20 minutes and they remember it for their whole life.”
He has taught them a number of tricks, including teaching Vishnu to say “mama,” and sings to them as well. Above all, they love cuddling.
“When they were four pounds, they used to run and jump on my bed and you’ve never seen pigs jump before unless they want to cuddle,” Downey said.
But Downey isn’t giving up on his loveable pets and will be forced to move out of the city if bylaws can’t be changed.
He has hired a lawyer to help get city bylaws updated and is prepared to take the city to court, if necessary. He has also started an online petition to let him keep his pigs that has garnered more than 2,000 signatures.
“I’m not going to sit down and take it. I want to fight for my right to keep potbelly pigs as pets,” he said, adding he knows of three homes and five pigs in a six block radius from his home that have had their potbelly pigs taken away because of the bylaw.
“This is a bylaw issue.”
Coun. Jeremy Loveday, council liaison for the Victoria West Community Association, said changing the bylaw is not something the city is currently looking at.
“It’s clear that they are his pets and he loves them the way a person would love a dog or a cat. I have great empathy,” Loveday said.
“But at this point I haven’t heard of anyone at the city pushing to look at this section of the animal control bylaw. What I have to think about is, if we change this bylaw, how would it affect the city if everyone was allowed to have two or three pet pigs? That’s what we would have to consider. How would that start to affect neighbourhoods?”
For more information visit his Facebook page Save Mikes Pet Pigs.