July 19, 2024

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Family fights city’s red tape seeking to separate boy from emotional support animal

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A two-year-old Vietnamese potbellied pig name Ginger and the nine-year-old boy who relies on her for emotional support are in the middle of a tug-of-war between his family and the City of Newton over the fate of the porcine.

Owen Grigoreva and his family have been told by the city that Ginger is considered livestock and not allowed in town according to the Newton city code.

Photo of Grigoreva Family courtesy of KWCH

Owen’s mother, Jessica, and others spoke to city commissioners earlier this year, asking for the code to be amended allowing Ginger to remain with the family as an emotional support animal. Commissioners rejected the request, and the Grigorevas have retained counsel to negotiate a resolution to the standoff.

Owen says he wouldn’t be the same without Ginger and hopes the commission sees that.

“She helps me when I feel sad, when I feel angry, she helps me with that a lot,” Owen said. “Please let Ginger stay with us because she’s like to be part of my family.”

The city’s efforts got off to a stumbling start as its first citation of the family was signed not by a law enforcement official, as the city requires, but by the local animal control officer on a city traffic ticket. Grigoreva Family Attorney David Graham asked for dismissal of the complaint due to the bureaucratic error, but the city attorney withdrew the citation and re-filed the charge. The next Municipal Court appearance in the case according to Newton City Manager Kelly McElroy is September 7th.

The family faces considerable penalties in keeping the pig if the court rules against them, according to the Newton City Code:

“Any Person who shall be convicted of violating any provisions of this Article shall be punished by a fine as hereinafter provided. Each day that a violation of this Article occurs shall constitute a separate offense and shall be punishable hereunder as a separate violation. The fine prescribed above for the first conviction for a violation of a provision of this Article shall be an amount not less than $100 nor more than $200; and for the second conviction for a violation of the same provision shall be an amount not less than $200 nor more than $500; and for the third or any subsequent conviction for a violation of the same provision shall be an amount not less than $500 nor more than $1,000. The fine shall be in addition to any applicable court costs or impoundment fees. For the purposes of this subsection, prior convictions shall include any past conviction of the same offense with a conviction date that is within five (5) years prior to the offense date of the offense prosecuted as a second, third or subsequent offense”.

No penalties are being assessed against the family during the legal proceedings.

Attorney Graham blasts the city for its position:

“Certain businesses can have unlimited pigs in the city, but an individual can’t even have one. Since when do businesses have more rights that humans?

“Furthermore, if the city legitimately believes it is harmed by my client “harboring” a pig, then it would file a civil lawsuit against her. Instead, the city is accusing her of a crime. The charge is a serious misuse of the criminal justice system.

“My client goes to court for arraignment on the new charge on September 7, 2023, at 2:00 p.m. I shall defend her zealously and believe she will be acquitted.”

According to local media, the family has received an outpouring of support not only in Newton, but around the world.

For Jessica Grigoreva, it’s a matter of supporting her son and his best friend:

“My son has been emotionally distraught at the thought of losing his emotional support animal. She sleeps in our house at night, most of the time in his room. They are very close friends. I feel like the city of Newton has followed their policies and procedures, but I do not feel like they have taken time to listen to our story. When I have spoken to the community more than 90% of those that have responded have been supportive. Many community members (that we don’t even know) come to the commission meeting, and court dates. They want to see the city allow us to keep Ginger. We will continue to fight for Ginger and my son. We have places that will take Ginger, but the emotional stress it would put on our son and Ginger would be devastating.”

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