Wyverne Flatt, 54, is likely headed to a jury trial to fight to keep his emotional support pig.
That was the result of a Tuesday appearance before Town Justice Ronald Dygert in the Town of Palatine court, where the Village of Canajoharie is arguing that Flatt is unlawfully living with a pot-bellied pig. According to court documents obtained by The Daily Gazette, the village alleges that Flatt’s possession of Ellie, a 100-pound pot-bellied pig, violates a 1990 local zoning code that bans residents from living with farm animals in the village. Flatt, who appeared in court for the 14th time Tuesday, argues that Ellie is an emotional support animal, not a farm animal, and should therefore be permitted.
Neither side is backing down, setting up a criminal trial slated to start March 22 that could potentially result in Flatt spending up to 6 months in jail if he is convicted of harboring an illegal farm animal. In addition, Flatt could face about $18,000 in fines in a separate civil case that the village has threatened to file, he said.
Flatt said he is “dumbfounded” that the village won’t drop the case.
“My pig is not a farm hog. It’s not used for meat. It’s a companion animal. And yet we’re still going through with this,” he said. “There is nobody being bothered by this pig. All this pig is here to do is help me.”
Flatt, who came to upstate New York from Charleston, South Carolina, two years ago, said he was gifted Ellie by a friend in 2018, when the piglet was small enough to fit in his hands. Ever since, Flatt said Ellie, who will cuddle on the couch and watch movies with him, has helped him through difficult points in his life.
“At the time, I was going through a bad divorce,” Flatt said. “After I got her, my mother passed away and she was with me the whole time. She’s smarter than a dog, she’s very affectionate.”
But Flatt said he has run into problems with Ellie in Canajoharie ever since a code officer visited a property he purchased in the village and found the pig.
At Tuesday’s court hearing, Flatt displayed the card he keeps in his wallet that proclaims Ellie as being a “registered emotional support animal” through United Support Animals. The registration is dated May 7, 2020, which is after the village’s October 2019 accusation that Flatt was illegally harboring a pot-bellied pig in an apartment, according to court documents. Ellie’s emotional support animal registration card says “registration does not expire; valid for the life of the animal,” and Flatt said he obtained the registration, in part, to possibly be able to travel with Ellie.
However, the court documents contain pieces that question Ellie’s status as an emotional support animal, including an October 15, 2020, letter from Village Health Officer Kenneth Riley, who was asked to evaluate the appropriateness of keeping a pig in the village.
“The pig is registered online as an emotional support animal with a letter of support from his primary care provider. I spoke with the provider who was not aware of the size of the pig or the condition of the apartment caused by the very large pig living there. The provider has agreed this is not appropriate or healthy for the patient and has agreed to rescind her support of his keeping this ‘emotional support pig,’” the letter reads.
Regardless, there hasn’t been widespread outcry against Ellie. In fact, about a dozen residents holding signs in support of Ellie accompanied Flatt outside his court appearance and at a Village Board meeting last week, during which the board held a public hearing on its proposed animal law, which would essentially clarify the current animal law, according to the mayor.
At that meeting, neighbor Janet Stanley, who owns Lee’s Shops at Wagner Square, and was not part of Flatt’s faithful advocates, said she has never had a problem with the pig.
“I never smelled it, I never heard it. I never even knew it existed until all this hubbub in town started,” Stanley said. “It’s a pot-bellied pig. It’s not a pig that he’s going to butcher for bacon. It’s a pet. It’s a support animal for him.”
Court documents include an affidavit from next-door neighbor Teisha Kitchen, who “attest that Ellie is a sweet pig, is not at all dirty and causes no one around her any harm. In fact, I really like the pig and enjoy being around her.”
At last week’s public hearing, Village Mayor Jeff Baker, who was not at Tuesday’s court hearing, said he couldn’t comment on the ongoing case, but he said the proposed animal law would be “reaffirming our status in the year 2021,” adding, “We update codes periodically to keep up with the changing times,” he said.
The proposal for the updated animal law says that a “surge of violations of the current animal law provisions necessitates the clarification of village policy, and is intended to add consistency to the application of the code provisions relating to animals.”
No action was taken at the public hearing, and Flatt was frustrated that the Village Board wouldn’t answer his questions. Kirsten Dunn, the village’s attorney, also declined comment after Tuesday’s court hearing, saying her client requested she not speak.
Flatt said he is left questioning the village’s leadership.
“We don’t need people who are going to carelessly spend taxpayer money over something so frivolous,” he said. “I thought this was trivial small-town nonsense. But now with the money being spent, why they are still coming after me, I don’t know. I have no idea what this is all about.”
As for the property he’s purchased in the village, his intent had been to open a Tex-Mex restaurant. But, for now, he said those plans are on hold because of the dispute over Ellie.
“It’s slowed my ability to decide whether I want to stay in a village that’s run by this kind of thing. Now don’t get me wrong, the people in Canajoharie are fantastic people. My problem is with the town government,” he said. “Our government is stale. They are doing things that I don’t believe are right. I think they are spending money in frivolous ways, and I think a lot of change needs to happen.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] at at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.